Hitting a golf shot thin is never a good feeling.

Senior Thin Shot Lesson by PGA Teaching Pro Dean Butler

You had every intention to hit the ball on the sweet spot when you started your swing, of course, but somewhere along the way you got off track. In the end, you struck the ball low on the face and the shot struggled to get up off the ground as a result. Every once in a while, a thin shot will work out in your favor, but that is usually due as much to luck as anything else. If you want to improve your consistency and lower your scores, you’ll need to do what you can to take thin shots out of your game.

In this article, we are going to discuss why thin shots are a problem, what causes these mistakes, and how you can make changes to reduce their frequency. We should point out, however, that you’ll never entirely remove thin golf shots from your game. Everyone hits them from time to time, including top professionals. The goal is to reduce the frequency of these mistakes as much as possible, so they don’t negatively impact your scores very often.

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

The Problems with Thin Shots

To get things started, we want to take some time to identify the specific problems with hitting the ball thin. It might go without saying that you want to hit your shots as solidly as possible, but why are thin shots likely to leave you in trouble? Once we work through this section, you should have all the motivation you need to work on solving this problem.

Senior Thin Shot Lesson by PGA Teaching Pro Dean Butler

  • The wrong distance. In almost every case, a thin shot is not going to travel the right distance to leave your ball in a good spot. When you are close to the green and hitting a wedge, a thin shot usually leads to the ball shooting over the green, coming to rest well beyond the intended target. From farther back, you will probably come up short, as the ball will scurry along the turf until it finds some rough, a bunker, or just runs out of steam. Either way, you won’t be happy with the outcome of the majority of your thin shots, and they will probably cost you on the scorecard. Distance control is an extremely important skill in golf and hitting the ball the right distance starts with making solid contact.
  • Running into hazards. Often, you need to get your golf shots up off the ground in order to avoid some kind of hazard that is lurking between your ball and the target. For instance, you might need to carry a bunker, a water hazard, or just a patch of deep rough. Sometimes, the ‘hazard’ will be nothing more than a steep slope which stops your ball from getting where it needs to go. Usually, the best way to avoid trouble on the golf course is to fly your ball over the trouble spots and land it on or near the green. When you strike the ball thin, you will run the risk of failing to clear the hazards, and you may wind up in big trouble as a result. If you struggle with thin shots currently, you already know the feeling of dread that comes along with trying to play a shot over water, for example. To get your ball over hazards on the course as often as possible, try to reduce the frequency of your thin shots.
  • Leads to fat shots. One of the issues you’ll find when you struggle with thin shots is that you might overcompensate and start to hit some fat shots, as well. This is never a good place to find yourself, as you go back and forth between the two extremes of hitting the ball fat and thin. At that point, you are left with very few solid shots, as it seems every swing either hits the ball thin or digs into the turf too soon. It’s only natural to overcompensate during a round after a few thin shots, as it is no fun to keep making the same mistake over and over again. Rather than bouncing back and forth between these two mistakes, you would be wise to spend some practice time getting to the bottom of your thin shot problem once and for all. By making actual mechanical improvements (and mental improvements, as well), you can progress away from thin shots without straying too far in the other direction.
  • Ongoing doubts. Perhaps the worst part of hitting persistent thin shots is the doubt that will linger in the back of your mind prior to every swing. Is this the swing that is going to hit the ball thin? Where will the ball go if I hit it a bit thin this time? There are a million questions you can ask yourself, and none of them are good. To free up your mind to play your best golf, it’s essential that you improve the underlying technique of your swing. When your swing is vulnerable to hitting frequent thin shots, you’ll always fear such a mistake in the back of your mind. Good golf doesn’t come from a place of fear, so getting rid of such thoughts should be one of your top priorities.

There are a lot of issues with hitting thin shots. Simply put, there is no way to reach your potential on the course if you continue to hit the ball thin on a regular basis. Fortunately, the path out of this pattern is simple enough – you need to make smart changes, and you need to practice those changes enough to make them stick. Your progress might not be as quick as you would like, but you should get there as long as you are patient enough to see it through to the end.

What Causes Thin Shots?

Senior Thin Shot Lesson by PGA Teaching Pro Dean Butler

At this point, it should be clear that you need to reduce thin shots to the greatest extent possible – but why are you hitting the ball thin in the first place? This can be a mystery to many players. And, without understanding why you are hitting the ball thin, it will be virtually impossible to correct the error. Getting your game back on track is going to require a clear understanding of the mistakes you are making that are leading to these disappointing strikes.

As is almost always the case in golf, there are a variety of errors which could lead you to hit the ball thin. So, in this section, we are going to highlight some of the common problems that result in thin shots. As you read, think carefully about your swing and try to determine which of these problems may be present in your game (it could be more than one).

  • A reverse pivot. In golf-speak, a reverse pivot is a swing in which the player’s weight moves in the opposite direction as it should. In other words, the player moves toward the target in the backswing and away from the target in the downswing. If you are currently using a reverse pivot, you may notice that your weight winds up on your right foot at the end of the swing more often than not. There are a number of problems that can stem from using a reverse pivot, and one of them is that you may strike the ball thin from time to time. As your weight moves back away from the target during the downswing, the bottom of your swing arc will move back, as well. When that happens, you may wind up bottoming out the swing before you reach the ball, meaning the club will be heading back up by the time you make contact. That is likely to lead to a thin shot, especially when trying to hit a short iron or wedge. Getting rid of your reverse pivot will benefit your game in a number of ways, well beyond just reducing your thin shots. It’s going to take some time to fix the way you move your weight during the swing, however, so be patient when working on corrections in this area.
  • An attempt to help the ball off the ground. Many amateur golfers struggle with the notion that they need to ‘help’ the ball up off the ground at impact. Rather than letting the loft of the club do the work, these players try to use their hands to add loft at impact and scoop the ball into the air. This is a problem for a number of reasons. For one thing, even if you make clean contact, you are going to lose swing speed as a result of this scooping action. And, as you might have guessed, you are going to open yourself up to the risk of hitting the shot thin. That scooping motion is going to bring the leading edge of your club up closer to the middle of the ball, making thin contact more likely than if you had simply trusted the swing and moved the club down through impact. Do your best to convince yourself that you don’t actually have to help the ball off the ground – simply by swinging down and through impact, the ball will have the right combination of launch angle and spin to carry nicely toward your target.
  • Rushed tempo. Hurrying through your golf swing is a mistake that can lead to hitting the ball thin. The problem here is that your body won’t have a chance to get into the right position in time for impact. When you rush the swinging action, your body tends to lag behind – meaning your weight will be too far back when the club reaches the ball. Just like with the reverse pivot, that means the bottom of your swing arc will be too far back, and you will run the risk of making thin contact. It’s common to rush your tempo when you get nervous on the course, so this may be an issue you need to confront if you find that most of your thin shots happen in pressure situations. Learning how to control the pace of your swing, even under pressure, will help you make it through your rounds more consistently.
  • Concern over a poor lie. Finally, one other potential cause of a thin shot is something you can’t do much about – a poor lie. If you draw a bad lie – specifically, a thin lie with hard-packed ground beneath the ball – you might wind up hitting the shot thin in response to that lie. When you find yourself playing from a tough spot, consider as many different types of shots as possible to stay away from hitting the ball thin. For instance, you might be able to play a punch shot with a controlled swing to make it easier to make clean contact. Or, you could simply pitch the ball out to a better lie and play forward from there.

There are a number of things that can go wrong in a swing which can lead to thin contact. Hitting just a single thin shot shouldn’t be much cause for concern, and it shouldn’t cause you to make dramatic changes to your swing technique. However, as the thin shots become more and more prevalent, you’ll want to figure out why they are happening and what you might be able to do to get back on track.

Making Smart Adjustments

Senior Thin Shot Lesson by PGA Teaching Pro Dean Butler

Once you figure out what it is that is leading to your thin shots, you obviously don’t want to keep making those same mistakes moving forward. No matter what it is that’s leading to this issue, you’ll want to get down to work right away on making the proper adjustment. Nothing fixes itself in this game, so taking action and working on a solution is the only viable option.

Unfortunately, there are simply too many possible mistakes that you could be making for us to tell you exactly how you can fix your swing. However, we can help you understand how to make adjustments to your technique and to your way of thinking in a smart and efficient manner.

  • Small bites. Trying to make massive changes all at once is one of the main reasons most golfers never manage to get better at this difficult game. Simply put, it’s too hard to make radical changes in one fell swoop and expect good results. Rather, you should take baby steps toward your ultimate goal. For instance, if you are currently using a reverse pivot in your swing, trying to immediately switch to proper weight distribution is going to be extremely difficult. For now, settle for improving on your reverse pivot, making it a little less dramatic in upcoming practice sessions. From there, you can continue to progress until you are eventually no longer making that error.
  • Forgive yourself. Amateur golfers tend to think they need to be perfect in order to shoot good scores. Accomplished players and pros know that isn’t the case at all. No one is perfect in this game, not even the best players in the world. You’re going to hit bad shots, and you are going to struggle during practice sessions when trying to make changes. Those struggles are not the problem – the problem comes in when you develop a negative attitude about your performance. It might be hard to find positivity while you are struggling on the range or on the course, but optimism is the only path forward when facing the kind of challenge that golf presents. We can’t say it enough – this game is hard.
  • Be consistent in your efforts. Working on improving your game for a few days in a row is great, but it’s going to do much good if you then don’t practice for the next couple of weeks. Consistency is important when trying to make changes. Even if you don’t have the time available in your schedule to practice every day, try to get into a routine of regular practice and stick to it, even if it is only once or twice a week. It might take a while to see the fruits of your efforts, but they’ll pay off if you stick with it.

You are going to have to work hard for your improvements, there is no doubt about that. You can do it, however, as long as you think positively and stick with it even through the rough patches. When progress does come, your reward will be solidly struck shots that fly high through the air before dropping down near your targets.

Getting Out of Your Own Way

Senior Thin Shot Lesson by PGA Teaching Pro Dean Butler

There is something about heading out onto the golf course that feels dramatically different from what you do on the practice range. Even if you are hitting great shots on the range, you may find those results difficult to replicate during your rounds. Golfers have a tendency to ‘get in their own way’ on the course, meaning they think too much and wind up struggling to hit good shots. To stop hitting the ball thin so frequently, you’ll need to not only make progress on the range, you’ll also need to take that progress to the course successfully.

The first step in the journey from the range to the course is confidence. If you are heading out to the course thinking about all the ways in which you may struggle, the battle is lost before you even start. You need to draw on your work on the range to give you confidence that you can produce the necessary shots on the course to score well. It’s not easy to just come up with confidence out of thin air, which is why it’s so important to pay attention to the work you are doing on the range and let it grow your belief. Seeing the ball fly beautifully down the range means you are capable of hitting those good shots – they don’t just happen by accident. Take pride in the accomplishments you achieve on the range and call on those positive memories to make playing well on the course more likely.

Another key to getting out of your own way involves fully trusting your plan for each shot you play throughout a round of golf. For each shot, you’ll need to make a plan that includes pieces of information such as the club you are going to use, the target you are going to select, and more. Once that plan is made, you need to trust it completely. There is no room for second guessing your decisions, as those doubts will manifest in the form of poor swings. Instead of doubting your plan, commit to it completely and focus on executing to the best of your ability. Even if the plan wasn’t perfect, you’ll probably come away with a decent result simply thanks to your commitment. Playing golf under pressure is so difficult in large part because it’s hard to convince yourself to commit to the plan you have put in place. Work on developing this skill in practice so you can execute it more effectively on the course. If you improve your level of commitment to each swing, you may find that your thin shots gradually start to fade away.

We hope the content in this article will help you deal with any thin shot issues you may be having at the moment. As mentioned earlier, it’s not realistic to think that you will never again hit a thin shot – that’s just not how it works. Golf is a hard game and you are sure to hit some bad shots off and on. The key is to limit your mistakes, and that means addressing problems like thin shots to the best of your ability when they come up. Thanks for taking the time to review this article, and here’s to many solid shots in your rounds to come. Good luck!