Every golfer knows the feeling of hitting a shot fat.

Senior Fat Shot Lesson by PGA Teaching Pro Dean Butler

As soon as your club goes into the ground before reaching the ball, you know that the shot has no hope of reaching your intended target. It’s a frustrating feeling, to say the least, and one that you’d love to avoid when at all possible. While you are always going to hit the occasional fat shot – it’s just part of the game – you can improve your technique to limit these mistakes to a rare occurrence.

In this article, we are going to discuss a variety of topics related to fat shots. We’ll talk about what it is that causes fat shots in the first place, how you can get out of some bad habits, and even how to respond on the course when you do catch one heavy. By the end, we hope that you have the information you need to make some improvements and deal with this issue head-on.

All of the content below is based on a right-handed golfer. If you happen to play golf left-handed, please take a moment to reverse the directions as necessary.

The Causes of Fat Shots

Senior Fat Shot Lesson by PGA Teaching Pro Dean Butler

One of the things that makes golf such a hard game is the fact that your swing can go wrong in a seemingly endless number of ways. Although the swing takes just a couple of seconds from start to finish, it can easily go wrong in that time. Any experienced golfer is familiar with the frustration that comes along with correcting one mistake only to have another issue pop up right away. Even for talented and accomplished players, the experience of being a golfer is largely about fixing one error after the next.

When it comes to fat shots, there are a few different mistakes which can all lead to putting the club into the ground behind the ball. As you read through the list below, think about your swing and attempt to identify which of these errors you may be guilty of committing.

  • Poor lower body movement. This is an extremely common issue in the amateur game. If you don’t use your lower body properly during the downswing, it’s likely that you’ll hit the shot fat in the end. Here’s how it works – when you get to the top of your backswing, your shoulders should be turned away from the target while your lower body acts as a supporting platform. Then, when the downswing starts, it should be the lower body that springs into action, turning hard toward the target to build speed and deliver the club accurately. If that doesn’t happen, you are likely to get stuck on your back foot while your arms move the club down toward impact. You’ll struggle to get far enough left to make clean contact, and the shot will be hit fat. Using your lower body correctly isn’t just about generating power, as this move is also essential to make clean contact. If you consistently struggle with fat shots, and you have noticed that even your solid shots don’t fly very far, there’s a good chance that poor lower body movement is to blame.
  • Ball too far back in the stance. Ball position is one of those fundamentals in golf that is easy to take for granted. If you don’t put enough emphasis on making sure the ball is in the right spot before starting your swing, you will always struggle to find your targets. Not only can poor ball position lead to inaccurate shots, it can also complicate the task of hitting the ball solidly. Specifically, if the ball is too far back in your stance, you might run into trouble with fat shots. Playing with the ball back in your stance demands a steep downswing just to reach impact and swinging down steeply means you have to strike the ball just right to avoid a fat shot. Hitting even a fraction of an inch behind the ball can mean the difference between a successfully shot and one that comes up short of the target. By moving the ball forward, you should be able to shallow out your angle of approach a bit, and you will have more margin for error as a result.
  • Trying to help the ball off the ground. A classic golf mistake, this one is a mental mistake that is manifested in a physical manner. As the club swings down toward the ball, you may feel that you have to ‘help’ it get up off the ground. This is an extremely common feeling among amateur players, especially when swinging long irons. Unfortunately, in this case, the ‘help’ you are trying to off is only going to lead to trouble. You’ll use your right hand actively before impact to add loft to the club – something often referred to in golf as a ‘scooping’ action. This will effectively add loft, but it will also move the bottom of the swing arc back to a location behind the ball. Ultimately, you’ll hit the shot fat and come up way short of your intended target. To get away from this mistake, you have to convince yourself that there is no need to help the ball off the ground. Your clubs are designed to get the ball airborne – they have loft built into their design – so just let them do their job. As long as you make clean contact, the ball should climb up into the air without any trouble.
  • A tentative mindset. If you don’t have the right mindset before and during your swing, you might end up with a fat shot – even if your technique is solid otherwise. Many golfers have doubts in the back of their mind when making a swing, and those doubts can cause big problems as impact approaches. When you lack the necessary confidence to hit good shots, you’ll wind up slowing the club down – along with your body – when getting near the ball. This hesitation may cause you to fall short of achieving clean contact, and you might wind up hitting the shot fat instead. Of course, confidence can be hard to come by on the golf course, so this is something you need to work hard on during practice. Most golfers think of practice as where they hone their physical technique, and that’s certainly important, but you need to train your mind to work for you, as well. Use the shots you hit on the range to build the kind of confidence necessary to make aggressive swings on the course.

There are plenty of ways to hit a fat shot. In fact, there are certainly others that we have not listed here, although the four points above cover the majority of the fat shots hit by the average player. Now that you have some understanding of where these frustrating mistakes come from, let’s get down to work on finding some solutions.

Reducing Your Fat Shot Frequency

Senior Fat Shot Lesson by PGA Teaching Pro Dean Butler

Sitting around complaining about how often you hit the ball fat isn’t going to get you anywhere – the only logical thing to do is get to work on a solution. Of course, that solution is going to depend entirely on what it is that’s going wrong with your swing in the first place. Only when you determine why you are hitting the ball fat will you be able to take steps to move away from that error.

In this section, we’ll provide you with some ideas for things you can work on to get out of the habit of hitting fat shots. As you review these ideas, keep in mind your own personal swing issues and pay closest attention to the tips that address the problems you are facing.

  • Improve lower body movement by starting the downswing correctly. The transition of the swing – the moment when the backswing turns into the downswing – is incredibly important. If you start the downswing correctly, you’ll stand a great chance to strike the ball solidly. If not, it’s going to be a struggle even to get your shot airborne. To get your downswing off to a good start, and to make sure your lower body has a chance to get all the way through the shot, make sure you turn your hips as your first move from the top. Instead of throwing your hands down toward the ball from the top, which is what most amateur players do, use your hips to start the process of uncoiling your body toward the target. If you are used to starting the downswing with your hands, this move is going to feel incredibly awkward at first. There will be plenty of work on the range required before you get comfortable enough to use the move on the course. Once you do, however, you should not only find that you hit fewer fat shots, but you should also pick up distance and improve your consistency. Simply put, starting your downswing with the lower body is one of the best moves you can make in the swing.
  • Practice with precision. It’s easy to be a little too casual when practicing your golf game. This is particularly true if you tend to visit the driving range with a friend or two, as you’re likely to be chatting and having a good time while hitting some shots. There’s nothing wrong with having fun, of course, but actually improving your game is going to require some focus and attention to detail. For instance, to stay away from fat shots, you’ll want to make sure you are playing from the right ball position swing after swing. To practice the correct ball position, use an alignment aid such as a golf club that is laid down on the ground between your feet. Use this aid to help position the ball in the same spot over and over again – eventually, you’ll get comfortable with what good ball position looks like, and you will no longer need the alignment aid. Knowing the ball is in the right position can give you a tremendous confidence boost out on the course.
  • Small swings to see how loft works. One of the issues we mentioned in the previous section was a simple lack of trust regarding how the ball gets off the ground. Each of your clubs has some degree of loft built into the design, but many golfers fail to trust that loft to do its job. As a result, you might find that you are trying to scoop the ball off the ground, and fat shots are a likely outcome of that approach. If you are having trouble developing the trust you need to swing down through impact, try hitting some small shots on the range to see how it works for yourself. Basically, you are going to make half swings with your sole focus placed on hitting down through impact. Keep your left wrist firm through the ball and don’t allow any kind of scooping motion to get involved. Try this with a mid-iron like a six-iron or seven-iron and see what happens. The ball isn’t going to fly way up in the air, of course, since you are using a small swing, but it will get off the ground with ease (as long as you make solid contact). Once you see how the ball jumps up off the ground as the result of a clean strike, you may be more willing to trust that outcome on the course. Also, it’s important to remember that a bigger swing is going to produce more backspin, and that backspin will lead to even more lift on the ball. So, in the end, you have the combination of loft and backspin working in your favor, making it easy to get the ball off the turf, as long as you strike it cleanly.
  • Golf is an aggressive game. The reputation of the game of golf does not match up properly with the way you need to be thinking when making a swing. While you are not swinging, golf is very much a friendly, courteous game. Compared to other sports, golf is gentle, reserved, and casual. And that’s a great thing – it’s what so many people love about playing golf. With that said, you need to switch up your mindset when it comes time to make a swing. Stepping away from the easy-going reputation of the game, the golf swing needs to be aggressive. If you fail to move the club through the ball in an aggressive, confident manner, you’ll never manage to reach your potential on the links. The best swings tend to result from big shoulder turns and aggressive lower body rotation through impact. If you are constantly trying to make cautious, careful swings, it’s unlikely that you’ll be happy with the results. Whether you hit fat shots or make other kinds of mistakes, playing to make careful swings rarely pays off.

You can get away from hitting so many fat shots but remember that nothing comes easy in golf. If you want to make progress, you’ll need to work for it – that’s just how golf goes. Take the time to think about your current swing technique, as well as any mental game issues that you may be facing and decide how to proceed. It’s best to make changes one at a time in golf, so use one of the ideas above to get started and go from there.

The Right Response

Senior Fat Shot Lesson by PGA Teaching Pro Dean Butler

No matter how many improvements you make to your technique or your mindset, you are still going to hit the ball fat on occasion. It’s hard to make perfect contact all the time, and even the pros will catch one heavy now and then. Knowing how to respond when you do hit a fat shot is going to go a long way toward keeping your round on track.

First, don’t be too hard on yourself. As we just said, this happens even to the pros – so why get down on yourself for making such a common mistake? It’s part of the game, so you need to let it go as quickly as possible. It’s a good idea to analyze why it happened, of course, but don’t spend too long dwelling on the mistake.

Perhaps the best thing you can do to get over a fat shot is immerse yourself in the process of hitting the next shot. Most likely, that fat shot has come up short of the target, and you now need to get up and down to save your par. If that’s the case, get right to work on figuring out how to play the chip or pitch shot in such a way that you’ll have a makeable putt. If you do manage to save par, it will be a lot easier to forget about that fat shot, knowing that it didn’t end up costing you anything on the scorecard.

One other point we’d like to make is that you shouldn’t go making big changes to your swing technique during the middle of a round. Even if you think there is something in your technique that needs to be adjusted in order to get away from fat shots, don’t work on that until you have a chance to visit the range and properly practice. It’s okay to make a minor adjustment like choking down on the club or moving your ball position a bit but save the big stuff for later.

Fat Shots in the Short Game

Senior Fat Shot Lesson by PGA Teaching Pro Dean Butler

Hitting a fat shot on a full swing is always a frustrating feeling but hitting the ball fat when chipping might be even worse. You are only a few yards from the green, and yet the ball may not even reach the putting surface after you catch it heavy. Unfortunately, fat chip shots are quite common in the amateur game, and you can add several strokes to your score in each round if this mistake becomes a pattern.

If you find yourself hitting chip shots fat, there are a couple of issues you may need to address.

  • Check your stance. At address for a standard chip shot, you should be leaning slightly toward the target, with around 60% of your weight on your left foot. This lean to the left is going to promote a downward hit through the ball, and that’s the key to avoiding fat contact. Once you set yourself in this position, don’t sway during the swing – hold your weight steady and just rock the club back and through to send the ball on its way.
  • Keep your hands moving. One of the most common mistakes amateurs make when chipping is to stop their hands as impact approaches. As you get close to the ball, you might get a little nervous about the outcome of the shot – and you may lose speed in the process. You need to keep the club moving to achieve a solid strike, so find the confidence you need to move your hands steadily through impact and into the finish.
  • Respect the lie. If you draw a bad lie for your chip or pitch shot, don’t try to play a high lob shot that is unlikely to come off just right. Instead, use less loft and play a safer shot – even if that means leaving your ball a little farther away from the hole. You can force yourself into hitting a fat shot just by making a poor choice from a shot selection perspective, so be smart and only attempt shots that the lie will permit.

Fat shots are always going to be a part of golf but getting as far away from them as you can is going to help your scores. We hope the advice offered in this article will help you fine tune both your physical technique and your mental approach. Shots struck cleanly are usually going to fly close to the right distance, and that’s a good start toward making pars and birdies.