A player's hand position at impact should change slightly depending on what type of club they are using.
With the wedges, irons and hybrid clubs, the hands should be at varying degrees ahead of the ball at impact to encourage a descending blow and correct swing arc. With the fairway woods and especially the driver, the hands need to be level with, or slightly behind the ball when off a tee, at impact.
These different hand positions are all dependent and indicative of a correct swing arc. With the wedges and short irons, the swing arc, the circular motion the club takes around the body, bottoms out just after the ball during a normal shot. This is why a divot is produced after impact with the ball.
To create this slightly descending blow with the wedges, irons and hybrid clubs, the hands need to return ahead of the ball at impact; the hands lead the club head into impact. If the club head overtakes the hands, the club arc would most likely bottom out before the ball, striking the turf before impact leading to a heavy shot. Here is how players can ensure their hands are ahead of the ball at impact.
When hitting a shot with any club, one way to help ensure the hands return at impact ahead of the ball is to use the correct ball position. If you are hitting a pitching wedge with the ball positioned towards the front toe, it would be extremely difficult to achieve a correct swing arc without a huge lateral shift towards the target. For a pitching wedge, the ball should be positioned in the middle of the stance to allow the swing to bottom out its arc just after the ball. As the clubs get longer, the ball moves further towards the front foot. Long irons should be played out of the front of the stance. With their extra length, they should bottom out just after the ball, if the hands are ahead at impact.
Although players want their hands ahead of the ball, with most shots there are limits. Getting the club handle and hands too far forward of the ball at impact could create too steep an angle of attack. This would cause huge divots to be flung up after impact and inconsistent ball striking. To ensure the hands return to a correct position at impact, right handed players can use the left thigh as a checkpoint. At address, players can lean the shaft towards the target, pressing the hands forward until the hands are in front of the left thigh. This forward press just before the swing 'pre-programs' the impact position. When swinging through the ball, players should feel as though the hands return to the same position; opposite the left thigh. If this position is achieved, the strike will improve and the angle of attack should be appropriate to the particular club's swing arc.
Why the Hands Should Be in Front of the Ball at Impact
If you only have one goal in your golf swing, it should be to create a beautiful impact position. When your impact position is correct, you stand a great chance of hitting quality shots. Everything you do in the backswing and downswing leads up to impact, so the whole story of your swing can really be told by the positioning of your body as the club strikes the ball. While swing technique varies greatly among professional golfers, the majority of them look very similar when viewed at impact.
A good impact position includes a number of different elements, such as hips that have turned open to the target and eyes that are focused down on the ball. Another component of a great impact position is getting your hands in front of the golf ball. This is a point that many amateur players struggle with, yet it is critically important to the success of your swing. When your hands get past the ball at impact, you will know that you have allowed the club head to lag behind in the downswing – the single most important ingredient when trying to create power. Lagging the club head behind your hands is vital to making powerful swings, and arriving at impact with your hands in front of the ball is proof that you have been successful.
The importance of this point should not be undersold. If you are unable to get your hands past the ball at impact, you will have very little chance of hitting strong, accurate shots – it's just that simple. Hitting shots while your hands are behind the ball at impact is a challenging task to say the least. When your hands drag behind, you will be 'flipping' the club head at the ball at the bottom of the swing, making it difficult to reach a square position at impact. Also, you will be using the majority of your club head speed prior to impact, meaning your shots will never live up to their full distance potential. If you know that you have trouble getting your hands past the ball at impact, be sure to work on this point before addressing anything else in your game.
One additional benefit to getting your hands ahead of the ball is the ability to hit down through your iron shots. Many average golfers make the mistake of hitting up instead of down, meaning they scoop the ball off the turf and hit weak, floating irons. Instead, you should be hitting down aggressively, taking a divot and putting plenty of backspin on the ball which will help it hold its line. Without getting your hands past the ball at impact, you will have essentially no chance of hitting down properly.
All of the instruction below is based on a right handed golfer. If you happen to play left handed, please reverse the directions as necessary.
Visualize an Ideal Impact Position
It's great to get your hands in front of the ball at impact, but that is just one part of a somewhat complicated equation. Unless you get the rest of your body in the right positions as well, it won't matter where your hands are - you won't be hitting good golf shots. Going into the process of improving your hand position at impact it is important to understand what the rest of your body should be doing as well.
Following is a quick list of what position you should be reaching with each of the body parts relevant to the golf swing -
- Shoulders square to the line. When you get back down toward impact, your shoulders should be in a position that mirrors the position they were in when you started you swing. That means that they should be parallel to the target line, with the left shoulder slightly higher than the right. If you find that your shoulders are significantly open to the target at impact, you will need to work on staying down in your swing a little bit longer to hold on to that square upper body position.
- Hips open to the target. While your shoulders should be staying down through the shot, it is best for your hips to be rotating aggressively toward the target. When impact is made, your hips should be open to the target line, with your left hip pulling hard away from the ball. Many amateurs fail to use their lower body actively enough in the downswing, leading to shots that lack power. It is your hip rotation that should be starting the backswing to begin with, and that rotation needs to continue on through impact and into a balanced follow through.
- Head down over the ball. Your head position should remain mostly still throughout the golf swing. When you reach impact, you should have your head in a similar position to where it started, with your eyes looking down at the ball. It is crucial that you are looking at the ball at impact, as it is hard to make solid contact consistently when you aren't even looking at the ball. Keeping your eyes on the ball might seem like basic golf advice, but it is actually one of the most important fundamentals in the game.
- Left foot flat on the ground. Keeping your left foot down flat on the ground at impact is a good way to ensure that your lower body will continue to rotate properly. If you were to allow your left heel to come up off the ground, that vertical movement could cause your rotation to stop prematurely - and your hips would not be able to get into the proper position at the moment of impact. During your downswing, focus on making sure that left heel maintains contact with the ground and you will improve your chances of moving through impact with maximum club head speed.
As you can see, there are a number of important positions to check at impact, in addition to the position of your hands relative to the ball. Each of these fundamentals is connected to the others, so getting even one of these points wrong can lead to a number of problems in your golf swing. While working on your hand position at impact, keep these other fundamentals in mind to avoid losing track of the big picture.
The Power of the Lag
As mentioned earlier, the ability to lag the club head behind your hands is one of the most valuable skills in golf, because it can unlock power you may not have even known you had. Lag is an elusive trait to acquire in a golf swing - probably because it is so difficult to teach. Rather than directing you to get into a specific position, the best a golf teacher can do when it comes to lag is to explain what it feels like and hope you are able to find it mostly on your own. It is frustrating to go through the process of trying to learn how to lag the club, but the revelation can be thrilling when you finally nail it down. A swing that features plenty of lag will be capable of launching the ball into the air with relative ease. If you have ever watched a professional golfer hit a drive and wondered how they could hit the ball so far with seemingly little effort, you were seeing the power of lag at work.
It might help to think of lag as something similar to cracking a whip. A person who is swinging a whip doesn't necessarily force the whip to unwind quickly - instead, they just start a gradual motion which builds speed until the end of the whip is deployed at incredible speed. This is the same kind of effect that you are going for with your golf swing. As you unwind your body toward the target, your hips will pull on your upper body to turn left, which will in turn pull your arms and hands down toward the ball. With each moment that goes by, your rotation will be building speed and your hands will be moving faster and faster. If the club head is lagging behind your hands correctly, it will act like the very end of the whip - only unleashing its power when you get down to impact.
Most amateur golfers don't lag the club properly, and they pay for that mistake in the way of lost distance. A failure to lag the club is like cracking the whip early in that the club head will use up its top speed before it ever reaches impact. Your hands will have already released the club head earlier in the downswing, so you will be left to just drag the club through the hitting area - leading to a weak swing and low club head speed. The longer you can hold onto the angle between your left arm and the shaft of the club, the more potential for speed you will have when you get down to the bottom of the swing.
This is where the position of your hands at impact comes into play. If you are able to put your hands in front of the ball (meaning closer to the target) at impact, you can be confident that you at least did a decent job of lagging the club head. Getting your hands past the ball at impact doesn't guarantee perfect lag, but it does mean that you are on the right track. To work on improving on your lag ability, try the following drill -
- On the practice range, take one of your short irons out of the bag.
- With just your left hand, make a few practice swings. You should not be hitting any balls at this time. During these practice swings, think about lagging the club head behind your hand during the downswing. This should be relatively easy to do without your right hand on the club to interfere with the swinging motion.
- After several practice swings with one hand, put your right hand back on the club and hit a couple of shots. Even with both hands on the club, try to remember the sensation you had during the one-handed practice swings. Allow the club head to lag behind your hands in the downswing, and let the club build speed all the way to impact.
- Go back and forth between making one-handed practice swings and hitting two-handed shots. In time, those one-handed practice swings can go a long way toward helping you feel the sensation of lag in your golf swing.
Once you learn to lag the club, you will wonder how you ever played the game at all without lag in your downswing. It is possible to add several miles per hour to your swing simply by improving your lag, which will translate to plenty of additional distance on the course. Make sure your hands are getting past the ball at impact and you can be confident that you are at least on the right path when it comes to lag.
Create an Aggressive Attitude
You might not think of golf as an aggressive sport. Games like football and basketball seem more naturally aggressive, but there is actually plenty of aggression required to hit great golf shots. That aggression should be used through the impact area as the club head accelerates through the ball. If you are passive, instead of aggressive, at the bottom of the swing, your ball flight will never live up to your expectations.
One of the best ways to instill an aggressive mindset in your golf swing is to focus on carrying your hands past the ball at impact. Getting your hands to pass the ball at the bottom of the swing requires an aggressive move with both your arms and your lower body rotation. If either of these parts of your swing decide to take a passive approach, your hands won't get past the ball and the quality of your shot will suffer. Prior to each shot, commit yourself to an aggressive downswing that leads your hands past the ball at impact – this simple change in attitude can quickly make you a better player.
It is one thing to swing aggressively on the driving range, but it is another thing altogether to make aggressive swings on the course. When you are faced with a shot that has to go over some water, for example, it is easy to get tentative and make a weak swing. You need to be able to make your best aggressive swing under all circumstances, even when there is danger lurking out there near your target. In order to carry that aggressive technique all around the course, you need to start by building confidence on the driving range. If you can spend plenty of practice time hitting quality shot after quality shot, your self-belief will quickly begin to grow. Once you are back out on the course, you can call on the memory of those great practice shots to convince yourself to make bold and aggressive swings.
To get the most from your practice sessions, try mimicking the conditions you are going to see the golf course during your next round. Rather than hitting shot after shot, as fast as you can, take your time and pick out specific targets and ball flights. For example, you could pick out the 150 yard marker as your target and work on hitting a low draw that lands as close to the marker as possible. Making your practice as specific as you can will help you on the course because you will be able to think back to those experiences when you face a particular shot. The next time your ball winds up about 150 yards from the hole, you will be able to remember that great shot you hit on the range and your confidence will receive an added boost.
Getting your hands in front of the ball at impact has a lot to do with the confidence level you have in your game. A confident golfer will swing freely down through impact, allowing the hands to race past the ball right before contact is made. A golfer who is lacking confidence, on the other hand, will swing down tentatively and the club head will likely make its way past the hands. Make yourself into a confident golfer and you should have little trouble putting your hands into a great impact position.
Short Game Considerations
Should your hands be in front of the ball at impact in your short game like they are with your full swings? Well, that depends. For some short game shots, it is important to get your hands past the ball. For others, you want to keep them even with the ball, if not slightly behind. Below is a breakdown of some of the most common short game shots, along with a guideline for the positioning of your hands at impact.
- Basic chip shot. When chipping the ball from a good lie near the green, you want to be sure to get your hands slightly in front of the ball when contact is made. You want to hit down on your chip shots in order to impart spin on the ball, and that will only happen when your hands are in front. To lower your trajectory and hit more of a pitch-and-run style shot, considering moving your hands well in front of the ball at address so they can return to a similar position at impact.
- Flop shot. A flop shot is a pitch from around the green that is intentionally hit way up into the air so that the ball can stop quickly after it lands (hopefully on the green). To perform a proper flop shot, you need to have your hands slightly behind the ball at impact in order to achieve maximum loft. Open the club face at address and make a long, smooth swing as if you were hitting from a bunker. As you come down into the ball, release the club head early so that it can slide under the ball and send it straight up into the sky. This is a challenging shot to hit, but you can learn to master it if you keep your hands behind the ball at impact.
- Bunker shot. The same technique that was outlined above for a flop shot applies to hitting a greenside bunker shot. Unless you have a bad lie in the sand, you want to keep your hands behind (or at least even with) the ball at impact. Make a big swing and dig the club head down into the sand to loft the ball gently up onto the putting surface.
- Putting. When it comes to putting, the choice is really up to you. It is possible to putt well with your hands in a variety of positions, so you will have to experiment until you find a spot that is just right for you. The goal is to get the ball rolling on the grass – instead of skidding – as quickly as possible. For some players, that will happen when they keep their hands in front of the ball at impact. For others, keeping their hands right above the ball, or even back an inch or two, offers better results. To find out for yourself, simply head to the practice putting green and try various hand positions until you are able to roll the ball beautifully along the grass time and time again.
Overcomplicating the golf swing can lead to terrible results. Instead of getting caught up in swing theory, try to keep your game and your technique as simple as possible. Thinking about getting your hands in front of the ball at impact is a great fundamental to focus on because it is so simple and yet so powerful. Work on mastering this move on the driving range and it will have become a natural part of your game by the time you take it with you out onto the course.