The first rule of golf is that golf is a game of opposites -– remember this for later.
One of the most frustrating shots in golf is a topped shot — normally the ball doesn’t travel very far and it is a wasted shot making the hole even harder to complete in par.
The flip side of a topped shot is the effect it has on your psyche, the more you top the ball, the more inclined you are to try and get underneath the ball. This is a natural reaction that exaggerates the fault and makes the results worse.
So how do you stop topping? The first step is to understand the dynamics of a well-struck shot opposed to a topped one, what I will explain concerns an iron shot in particular.
The swing arc
If you can imagine on the downswing, or use a club while reading this, the club comes down toward the ground then goes up again toward the finish making an arc. What most people do not understand, and the information that will help you cure a top, is that the bottom of the swing or arc should be ahead of the ball with very few exceptions. In other words, to hit the ball correctly, your swing must have a descending blow.
The correct sequence for impact is ball then turf contact, which is why all good iron shots produce a divot after the ball. If you watch top golfers, they always either take a divot or brush the grass after impact. The club hits the ball, enters the turf, bottoms out then soon afterwards starts to ascend through to the finish.
The first rule
At the top of this article, I asked you to remember the first rule of golf. So let’s explain it; in golf, to get the ball in the air, you must swing down into the ground. This opposes every natural instinct we have in sports, in most sports you have to get underneath and behind the ball to get it in the air. The posture this produces is a tilting back position which is great for a lob shot in tennis but not for a golf shot. If you want to kick a football in the air you lean back and hit underneath — think about other sports you play.
How does this affect me?
If you understand the dynamics of impact and how it relates to your swing you can change and improve your technique. This knowledge will not eradicate all top shots but at least you know why it happens and what you need to do to make sure you hit the next one in the air.
There are a few ways you can get the feeling for a correct impact position. First, start with a wedge or a club you are comfortable with, swing back normally, then on your downswing concentrate on taking a divot after the ball; you can put a club down at 90 degrees to your target line but pointing at your ball -– this gives you a reference after your shot for where the ball was and where your club bottomed out in relation to the ball. Second, without a ball, a great drill is to put a tee into the ground at 45 degrees pointing away from the target, practice your downswing slowly and stop at impact. The idea is for the center of the club face to make contact with the top of the tee, this gives you a real exaggerated feeling for where your body and hands should be to get a descending blow.