Senior Golf Tip 9: Over-the-Top Swing Can Be Effective

Hitting a draw with an inside-to-out swing path requires strength, flexibility and lower body stability that many senior golfers can no longer muster.

On the downswing, it's much easier to rotate the shoulders with an outward movement of the arms and club, creating an outside-to-in or over-the-top swing.

That doesn't mean, however, that you're doomed to a life of big pulls and nasty slices. If you find that the powerful hips-torso-shoulders action necessary to hit a draw is beyond your capabilities, you must work with the swing you've got. Put another way, play within yourself and learn to hit a controlled fade (left-to-right curve for right-handed golfers, vice versa for lefties). By planning to fade each shot, you can focus on proper alignment and let your now-natural swing do the work.
Of course, there is on sure-fire way to find out if you are swinging over-the-top – record your swing on video. The video won't lie, so you can simply record one or two swings and watch them back to determine if you are moving the club up and over at the top of your swing. Ask a friend to record your swing while you are practicing at the driving range, and you can return the favor if they would like. Since you probably already have a video camera in your cell phone, you shouldn't need any special equipment to take this step, and it can be invaluable to the future of your game.

Can Over-the-Top Swing Be Effective?

Can Over-the-Top Swing Be Effective?

If you have learned anything about basic golf instruction over your years of playing golf, you have probably heard about all of the problems with using an over-the-top swing. It is the over-the-top swing that is typically blamed for the slice – and rightly so. There isn't much good to say about making an over-the-top swing, yet it is something that countless golfers struggle to get rid of as they work to improve their scores. So, is there a way to play good golf while still having an over-the-top move present in your game?

Maybe. Swinging the club over-the-top, meaning the club gets farther away from your body during the transition and then is pulled back closer in the downswing, will never be the ideal way to swing the golf club. You would have to look for a long time to find even one professional golfer who swings this way, because it is a swing path that lacks power and control. However, if you are just looking for ways to reduce your scores by a few strokes without taking the time and effort necessary to complete a whole swing rebuild, you can make some minor adjustments that will let you get the best possible performance from your over-the-top move.

Before you decide to go in this direction with your game, it is important to understand that you will never be able to maximize your distance when you swing over-the-top. This is simply a 'weak' way to swing the club, so you aren't going to be able to deliver the kind of speed necessary to blast long drives. If you are determined to add distance to your shots, you will need to commit yourself to rebuilding the entire shape of your swing. That is a process that takes time, but you may decide it is worth it in the end.

To play good golf while using an over-the-top swing, you have to be keenly aware of your limitations as you go around the course. There will be certain shots that you just can't hit because of the shape of your swing, so you need to know better than to try them. Good decision making is important for any golfer, but it is especially important when you are limited in some way by your technique. It takes confidence and conviction to stay within your limitations even when the course is asking you to try a different kind of shot.

Once you are committed to sticking with your over-the-top motion, don't let others sway you from that decision. Everyone has at least minor flaws in their swings – even the best players in the world. As long as you know what you are trying to do with the club, and you understand what you are capable of doing with the over-the-top action, it is possible to make progress and improve over time. You might not ever hit your maximum potential with this method, but that doesn't mean you can't enjoy some great days out on the course.

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

Evaluating Your Current Swing

Evaluating Your Current Swing

Before you decide that you are going to commit to sticking with your over-the-top golf swing for the long run, you need to make sure that you are actually making an over-the-top swing to begin with. Even if you are relatively confident that an over-the-top move is part of your motion, you should still work through the process of confirming this as fact. The last thing you want to do is tailor your game to a style of swing that you don't even possess. Once you know for certain that you are swinging over the top, you can then get down to work on altering your game so that it complements your natural swinging motion.

Below are three points that you can look for when evaluating the state of your current swing. If each of these three points is true for your game, there is a good chance you are coming over-the-top with the club.

  • Hitting pulls. Consistently pulling the ball to the left of your target is a common sign of an over-the-top swing. It is hard to pull the ball straight left without coming over-the-top, so you can count on this sign as being pretty reliable. However, it is important that you understand the difference between hitting a draw or a hook and hitting a pull. A draw or a hook is a ball that starts somewhere near your target line, only to turn quickly to the left when it is in the air. On the other hand, a pull is a ball that starts left and then flies relatively straight the rest of the way. When it comes to an over-the-top swing, we are talking about hitting a straight pull and not a draw or a hook. In fact, if you are hitting a draw or a hook on a regular basis, you can be confident that you aren't coming over-the-top at all.
  • Fighting a slice. Another sign of an over-the-top move is the dreaded slice. As mentioned earlier, countless players do their best to get rid of the over-the-top move in order to correct the slice – however, you might be able to play relatively good golf even with a slice, as long as you can keep that slice under control. Obviously a ball that moves dramatically from left to right is going to be hard to play with, but a ball that could be described as a 'big fade' may still work to get you around the course. For now, the only thing that is important is whether or not you create a slice from time to time. If you periodically hit a slice, along with some pulls, you are probably coming over-the-top of the golf ball.
  • Divot pointing left. One of the best ways to discover that you are coming over-the-top is by looking at the direction of your divots. After you hit an iron shot, stand back and take a close look at your divot. Where is it pointing? It is pointed directly at the target, or is it headed off to the left? If your divot is pointing left – and you were aimed up properly to begin with – you can feel sure that you are swinging over-the-top. Divots are a great way to learn about your golf swing, so be sure to check yours each time to pull a little bit of turf out of the ground.

Pull or Slice - One or the Other

Pull or Slice - One or the Other

It is almost impossible to play good golf if you are using two different ball flights at the same time. If you are standing over the ball and you are unsure if you are going to get a pull or a slice from a given swing, you will not be able to reach your goals. How would you aim in a situation like that? At best, you would simply be left to guess as whether you need to aim to the right or left of the target. Guessing is never a good way to play golf, so players who are constantly surprised by their ball flights will always struggle to play well.

With that in mind, it is important that you learn to create either one of these ball flights or the other over and over again. You can play well with almost any ball flight as long as it is consistent, so it doesn't particularly matter which one you go with. If all other things were equal, you would probably slightly prefer a pull to a slice, only because you should get more distance from the pull. However, if the slice come natural to you and it isn't too severe, your best bet may be to learn how to harness it and plan the rest of your game around that left to right trajectory.

If you decide to go with the pull as your primary ball flight, you will need to make sure your hands get released on the way down into impact. Holding off on the release is an easy way to make a slice, which is not what you want to do if you have aimed to the right expecting a pull. On the practice range, work on aggressively releasing the club late in the downswing to produce your pull (assuming you are swinging over the top). Of course, the longer you can hold off that release, the more power you will be able to generate - unless you never release the club at all, which will produce the slice mentioned above. There is a large degree of timing involved in the golf swing, and most of it has to do with the release mechanism in your swing. One of the reasons why it is so important to practice your swing on a regular basis is that you can refine your timing with each practice swing that you make. Practice doesn't make perfect in golf, but it certainly can make you better.

Should you opt for the slice path in your game, the release isn't something you are going to need to worry much about. As long as the club is going over the top, swinging down with your arms and a limited hand action should develop a left to right shot shape more often than not. However, in this case, it is going to be important that you turn your entire body aggressively toward the target in order to develop some amount of power. Moving the club over-the-top is a weak way to swing, so you need to find every possible source of speed that you can uncover. Use your legs and torso to turn hard to the left and hopefully you can produce a decent amount of speed to move the ball down the fairway.

Picking between a pull and a slice is certainly picking between flawed options. Neither of these choices is ideal, but both of them can get you around the course - as long as you know which one to expect on every swing you make. You should be able to pick smart target lines that allow you to get into fairways and onto greens on a semi-regular basis. Since you will be limited in the kinds of shots that you hit, you are always going to have trouble with specific types of holes, but that just comes with the territory. For example, if you are hitting a slice, holes that turn hard from right to left are going to be very difficult for you to manage. However, most golf holes are at least relatively straight, so some creativity and smart planning will enable to you position your ball decently even when playing with a flawed game.

Aiming Your Shots

Aiming Your Shots

The real challenge in using a flawed ball flight comes down to aiming your shots probably. If you are trying to hit the ball mostly straight with only a minor turn to the right or left, aiming your shots is a relatively easy task. You simply move your line a few yards right or left of the eventual target and make a good swing. It isn't that simple if you are going to use a pull or a slice. In this case, you are going to need to make dramatic adjustments to your line, and you will have to think carefully about things like club selection, course obstacles (trees), and more.

One of the key things you need to learn about adjusting your aim is that you have to trust both your aim and your swing when you are on the course. This might sound like a simple step, but it is one that is missed by countless amateur golfers. Here is a scenario that plays out in the games of millions of players, and it costs them shots on a regular basis. For a moment, imagine a player who is used to hitting a pull. They know that they are likely to pull the ball on most of their shots, so they aim out to the right prior to making a swing. However, since they know they have aimed out to the right, they subconsciously pull the ball even harder back to the left in an effort to get to the target.

Of course, they didn't need to do that - the ball was going to be pulled anyway, as a result of an over-the-top swing. However, since they were worried about missing right (in the direction that they aimed), the temptation to pull hard across the ball at impact was just too great. In the end, the ball sails way left and misses the target to the left, even though the player aimed to the right at address.

This same process can play out with the slice. As you aim to the left to accommodate for the slice, you look up and notice how far left you would miss if you happened to hit a straight shot. As you swing the club, you make a move that will enhance your slice even further, and the ball misses your target to the right in the end. Also, by aiming left, you have probably opened your stance slightly, which will only serve to enhance the curve of your slice. Countless golfers have been frustrated by this cycle which seems to never end - aim left, hit a slice, aim farther left, hit a bigger slice.

In order to get out of this cycle of missing your target, you need to trust the swing that you have committed to making. If you are going to play a pull or a slice by using an over-the-top motion, you need to understand that you don't have to change that swing just because you are aiming away from the target. That aim is in response to your ball flight issues, so it isn't necessary to enhance your pull or slice any further. As you stand over the ball at address, it is crucial that you dedicate yourself to executing a smooth swing with the expectation that your natural ball flight will bring the ball back toward the target successfully.

Handling Shorter Shots

Handling Shorter Shots

When swinging from a relatively long distance, an over-the-top move is equally capable of creating a pull and a slice. However, if you are hitting short shots like full wedges and even pitch shots, the slice is out of the equation. You won't be generating enough speed or sidespin from within 100 yards to slice the ball, so you are really only thinking about a pull at this point. Most players who move the club over-the-top do hit a pull with their short clubs, meaning you will need to learn how to use this ball flight in order to get close to the target.

Obviously, the first step to hitting pulled short shots that finish near the hole is to aim out to the right. In addition, you will also need to understand that the ball is likely to travel farther than it would if you managed to hit it on a straight path from your club face to the target. Since the club face will be closed at impact, you will be losing loft and the ball will come out low. For example, if you are hitting a pitching wedge that usually has 48* of loft, that loft is likely to be down to 45* or 46* when you strike the ball, meaning your shot will travel farther in the air, and it may take a bigger bounce as well. It will take some practice to learn your yardages accurately, so pay close attention to how far the ball is flying for a few rounds until you are able to consistently pick the right club for each shot that you face.

Another element that comes along with pulling the ball on short shots is the risk that you run in terms of missing the green in some bad places. You aren't going to be able to accurately predict how much you will pull the ball each time, so it is important that you aim wisely in order to keep your ball in play. If there is a bunker or pond guarding the left side of the green, you will want to aim out to the right even further so you can steer clear of trouble. On the other hand, if the trouble is to the right, you can go ahead and play your usual shot, because your ball should safely miss the hazards as long as you hit your pull as expected.

Make no mistake - your game would certainly benefit from removing the over-the-top motion from your golf swing. However, if you don't have the time to invest in the process that is required to change the shape of your swing, you can get by using an over-the-top swing. Once you determine exactly what kind of ball flight you are going to use, your job will be to execute the swing over and over again in the same manner. Even a less-than-perfect ball flight can work as long as it is predictable, so sticking with the over-the-top move doesn't mean you are doomed to a lifetime of poor golf. Learn how to play your shots, stick with them under pressure, and make smart choices in order to see your scores move in the right direction.