Many golfers prefer to sweep the golf ball off the ground rather than hit down and take a divot. Curtis Strange is one of many great golfers who used a sweeping swing with a lot of success.
Advantages of a sweeping swing:
The club head comes into the ball on a flatter swing plane, enlarging the contact zone at the bottom of your swing arc. You will be less likely to come down too early and steep, digging into the ground (fat shot).
When you do happen to hit the ground before the ball, a sweeping path will be more forgiving because the club head will be more likely to slide over the ground and into the ball. This gives you a much better chance for a decent shot even when you contact the ground early.
With this greatly reduced ground contact, there will be much less strain and ware on body parts, like the hands, elbows, and shoulders.
Since you use a sweeping swing with your driver, there are consistency advantages when you use a similar swing style throughout your set of clubs.
Equipment type will also play a factor in utilizing a sweeping swing:
You can use a sweeping swing with standard irons, but they are the most difficult because of their narrow sole.
Hybrid irons have a larger wider sole, and greatly improve the success of using a sweeping style swing.
Standard and high-lofted fairway woods have the largest sole, offering the most forgiveness for a sweeping swing.
Should You Consider a Sweeping Swing?
The only thing that really matters in the golf swing is what the club head is doing as it contacts the golf ball. Your impact position will ultimately decide how far the ball travels, and in what direction. Everything that leads up to impact is only important because it sets the stage for that moment of truth. Your impact patterns will determine what kind of shots you can hit, and what kind of scores you can shoot.
One of the big parts of the impact equation is the angle of attack that you are going to use coming into the ball. Some players like to swing down through contact, taking a big divot out of the turf. Other players prefer to sweep the ball off the ground, barely clipping the grass at all. Each method can be used with great success, but you will need to tailor your mechanics and swing fundamentals to match the approach that you wish to use.
Before going any further, it should be noted that this concept applies only to your iron shots. All golfers should be sweeping their driver and fairway metals, as hitting down on those clubs is going to lead to poor results. It is only when you are working on your iron swing that you need to weigh the pros and cons of these two methods. Since there are players who have performed at a high level with each option, you can be confident that either path has the potential to lead you to better golf.
The only true mistake that you can make when picking between a sweeping swing and a downward hit is to not make a decision at all. Your golf swing needs a clear direction, and your practice sessions need to be focused in a way that allows you to make consistent improvements. If you are constantly going back and forth between these two styles – or worse, you don't even know what style you are using – your swing will never make progress and your scores will stall or even move higher. It is essential that you make a decision on this point and then move forward with your game confidently.
All of the instruction below is based on a right handed golfer. If you play left handed, please reverse the directions as necessary.
The Benefits of Sweeping
You should understand upfront that most golf teachers will promote a swing that attacks the ball on a downward angle, rather than one that sweeps it off the top of the grass. With that said, there are plenty of reasons to consider using a sweeping swing for your iron shots. Even if it isn't the most popular method on the course, you could still wind up using it to great effect. You should never be afraid to be different when it comes to your golf game, as long as you are working toward your goal of shooting the lowest scores possible.
Following are three benefits of using a sweeping swing with your irons. If these benefits sound like they could help your game, this method might be worth a closer look.
- High launch angle. One of the first things you will notice when you pick the ball off the top of the turf is that your shots will launch on a higher angle than if you hit down through the ball. Sweeping the ball off the grass will give the club effectively more loft, meaning that your shots will head into the sky quickly. However, since sweeping the ball doesn't impart as much backspin as you get from hitting down, your shots will quickly flatten out in the air and your overall trajectory will likely be lower than a player who takes a big divot. So, for most golfers, a sweeping iron swing is going to lead to a high launch but a lower overall trajectory.
- Consistent distance control. Some players who hit down on the ball aggressively have trouble controlling their distances – especially with their short irons. You may find that you are better able to manage your distance control when you pick the ball off the top of the turf. This method usually offers a consistent response from the ball coming off the club, leading to reliable distances. Also, you will be using the 'true' loft of the club at impact, lessening the changes of hitting a low rocket that sails over the green. Distance control is a huge part of playing good golf, so this advantage should be strongly considered.
- Good shots from uneven lies. It can be hard to hit the ball cleanly from an uneven lie when you are swinging down through the ball aggressively. For example, if the ball is above your feet and you try to dig down into the turf to take a divot, there is a good chance that you will hit the shot fat. Those chances are far lower when you sweep the ball off the ground. Since most golf courses have plenty of uneven lies to deal with, improving your iron play when the ground isn't flat can put you ahead of the competition.
Those are just three of the potential benefits that you can enjoy when you decide to swing your irons with a sweeping motion at impact. Of course, not all golfers will experience the same results, so you will have to test this method out for yourself to see if the benefits listed above actually come to fruition in your game.
The Drawbacks of Sweeping
No one technique is perfect in the game of golf – all of the choices that you make in your swing will have pros and cons. Such is the case with sweeping the ball off the ground with your irons. As noted above, there are plenty of positives to this method, but there are some negatives as well. The only way to make an intelligent, informed decision is to weigh both the pros and the cons before choosing the right path for you.
The three drawbacks listed below are all problems you may encounter when trying to sweep your iron shots off the turf.
- Difficulty with poor lies. This point is at the top of the list for a reason. As you work your way around the golf course, you will likely run into a variety of lies throughout your round. Sometimes you will have a great lie in the middle of the fairway, while other times you will have to deal with deep grass or bare dirt. The ability to hit quality shots from all kinds of lies is one of the things that separates a good golfer from an average one. In general, players who hit down on the ball will have an easier time dealing with poor lies. If you swing down on a steep angle, you will be able to contact the ball before the ground, meaning the lie of the ball won't have as much of an effect on the outcome of your shot. By contrast, sweeping the shot off the ground means that your club head is coming in low and can be affected by the course conditions around your ball.
- Loss of backspin. The ability to add backspin to your shots in important in a variety of ways. First, backspin is what helps your ball get high into the air, allowing it to carry long distances. Also, a high backspin rate is great for holding the ball on the green on your approach shots. Unfortunately, if you sweep the ball off the ground, you will likely lose backspin as compared to a swing where you hit down from above. The process of hitting down through the ball allows the grooves on the club face to impart spin on the ball, but that just doesn't happen as effectively when you make a sweeping swing. For some players, this will only be a minor issue, while others will find it to be a serious problem.
- Trouble under pressure. As you get nervous, it becomes more and more difficult to execute your swing precisely. A shot that you might have no trouble hitting perfectly on the driving range can be hard to pull off when you are playing the 18th hole in an important match at your club. With that in mind, the method of hitting down on your irons offers a little more margin for error than sweeping the ball off the ground, meaning it will hold up better under pressure. Should you opt for a sweeping swing with your irons, you will need to spend plenty of time practicing your technique so you can execute the swing properly even when you are feeling nervous.
It is entirely possible that you will only be affected by one or two of these drawbacks when you try a sweeping swing for yourself. In fact, you may find that none of these three points apply specifically to your game. However, it is good to understand what you can expect from a negative perspective when it comes to sweeping the ball off the ground. Now that you have a good idea of the pros and cons of this golf technique, you can move on to trying out a sweeping swing for yourself.
Five Key Elements in a Sweeping Swing
If you decide that you are going to work on sweeping your iron shots off the ground, you will need to match the rest of your swing fundamentals to that goal. A swing that sweeps the ball off the turf will look significantly different than one which hits down through the ball. Your body will need to be in a slightly different position, and the plane of your swing will need to be adjusted as well. Only when your whole swing matches up with the idea of using a sweeping swing will you be able to achieve positive results.
The list below contains five keys for making a good sweeping swing with your irons. If you can hit on all five of these points in your own swing, you will be well on your way to hitting quality shots on a consistent basis.
- Weight in the middle of your feet. Many golfers have a habit of moving their weight out onto their toes during the downswing – which isn't always a bad thing. However, when you are trying to sweep the ball off the ground, you will need to make sure your weight remains centered in the middle of your feet. Getting out onto your toes will create a steeper downswing angle in your swing, which is exactly what you want to avoid. Throughout the backswing, as well as the transition into the downswing, focus on keeping your feet flat on the ground with your weight evenly distributed between toe and heel.
- Flat swing plane. This is one of the most important points to remember. A flat swing plane is one where your hands are relatively low at the top of the backswing, which is exactly where they need to be if you are going to sweep the ball through impact. A steep backswing would put your hands higher in the air, and you would end up taking a divot after striking the ball. To achieve a flat plane, focus your takeaway on a gentle rotation of your shoulders while your hands stay out of the action. This can be a difficult transition if you are used to using your hands actively in the backswing, but it is a necessary change to make a sweeping swing.
- Complete release at the bottom. There is no way around this point – if you wish to sweep the ball off the ground, you have to fully release the club through impact. That means that your right hand gets involved in the action and fires the club through the hitting area. Many golfers like to 'hold on' to their swing near impact, limiting the role of the right hand and blocking the ball toward the target. That is an okay way to swing if you are hitting down through the ball, but it won't really work when sweeping your iron shots. Commit to your swing fully and release your hands at the bottom to generate a quality strike.
- Stable head position. You have to make perfect contact with the ball if you want this swing style to pay off on the course. To improve your chances of making great contact, work on keeping your head as stable as you can during the swing. There is no need for your head to move from side to side (or up and down) during the swing, so make an effort to keep it still while the rest of your body goes to work. Along with a stable head position, you should also be sure that your eyes are remaining focused on the back of the ball during the swing. The combination of a stable head position and steady eyes will make it easier to find the sweet spot on the club face time and time again.
- Great lower body rotation. In reality, this is a point that can be applied to basically any golf swing. However, when the goal is to sweep the ball off the turf, you need to be sure that you are achieving a great lower body rotation in the downswing. Without a good lower body turn to the left, your swing would get too steep right at the end and you would stick the club head into the ground. From the top of the backswing all the way through impact, your lower body should be working hard to turn toward the target.
It would not be a good idea to head to the driving range with the goal of working on all five of these points at once. Instead, you should make trips to the range when you have the chance and pick off one of these elements at a time until all five are present in your swing. Golf is a game that is best approached with small, simple, gradual improvements. Trying to completely overhaul your swing in one trip to the range is a plan that isn't going to succeed. For best results, be patient with yourself and only tackle one of these points at a time. The process might take a little bit longer with that approach, but your final results will be worth the wait.
Should You Sweep Your Short Shots?
If you have decided that you are going to sweep your iron shots when making a full swing, you might be inclined to have that same approach apply to your short game shots. But is that the right decision? Should you be trying to pick the ball off the top of the turf when hitting a chip or pitch, or should you be going down through the shot and taking a small divot? Well, it depends. On some short game shots, you can pick the ball nicely off the turf with great results, while other shots really should be struck with a descending blow.
On a basic chip shot, it is perfectly acceptable to sweep the ball off the ground. Most players like to chip the ball without much backspin, allowing it to bounce and roll when it lands on the green. By sweeping the shot off the grass, you will be able to hit a beautiful chip and run style shot. You can hit this shot with anything from a sand wedge down through your long irons depending on how far you have to reach the target. Spend plenty of time practicing this standard chip shot so you can call on it when necessary.
While sweeping chip shots works well for many scenarios, it will not be effective when you face a shot that requires some backspin. A great example of this situation is when you are short sided to the hole and need to add some backspin to the ball in order to stop it near the target. Without backspin on a short sided chip, you may not be able to get the ball stop prior to running well beyond the hole. In this case, you will have to hit down on the ball with a lofted wedge to accomplish the spin you desire. It is tremendously helpful to have a spinning chip shot in your arsenal that can be deployed at just the right moment.
Another short game shot that does work nicely with a sweeping swing is a flop shot. For this shot, you want to lay open the face of your sand wedge and make an aggressive swing with the club head moving parallel to the ground at impact. By sweeping under the ball with an open face, you can send the ball straight up into the air so it will land softly with very little roll. The flop shot is a challenging play that you should only use when absolutely necessary, but it another nice weapon to have in your bag that can be called upon from time to time.
Overall, you will need to learn to vary your angle of attack on short game shots based on the situation in front of you. There is no 'one size fits all' approach to the short game, so you shouldn't limit yourself to only sweeping the ball (or only hitting down). Being flexible is one of the keys to a great short game. Practice a variety of shots, both with a sweeping motion and a downward hit, and you will discover a number of ways to get the ball close to the hole.
Is the sweeping swing going to work for everyone? No. With that said, there are plenty of golfers who could benefit from trying to pick the ball off the top of the grass. If you have never quite been comfortable hitting down into the ground at impact, feel free to give the sweeping method a try on the driving range. Plenty of quality golfers have used this style of swing to play good golf, and you could soon add your name to that list.