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Why am I topping the ball?

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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.

Impact sequence

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.

What can I do in practice?
Hitting into tee drill

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.

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Alastair is an Advanced PGA professional and Club Professional at Easingwold Golf Club near York, England. Alastair coaches a varied client base including new golfers, juniors, golf professionals and low-handicap amateurs.

8 Comments

8 Comments

  1. David Gouldstone

    Mar 7, 2013 at 9:41 am

    This is a great article and very clear, I will put it into practice

  2. Steve Hedderick

    Feb 24, 2013 at 10:20 am

    Clear and concise – just the way Alastair teaches.

  3. Brian Eccles

    Feb 24, 2013 at 10:07 am

    Great instruction clearly explained as usual

  4. SamBagley

    Feb 21, 2013 at 4:06 pm

    Couldn’t have been put more clearer. I try to imagine squeezing the ball into the turf with that decending blow.
    Great tuition from Alistair

  5. Carole

    Feb 21, 2013 at 1:48 pm

    Great article Alistair, will put into practice

  6. sylvia

    Feb 21, 2013 at 12:14 pm

    Very informative article, great tutor.

  7. Suds

    Feb 21, 2013 at 11:14 am

    Brilliant Alistair is an ace guy, Excellent review will put into practice .

  8. paul croake

    Feb 21, 2013 at 6:13 am

    excellent article

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Instruction

A Drill To Build Better Club Face Awareness

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When it comes to playing good golf, where you strike the ball on the club face is vital.

One of the key skills in golf is being aware of where the club face is as you swing the club around your body in order to be able to strike the ball in the center of the club face. In this video, I share one of my favorite drills for you to practice to improve your club face awareness. It will help you to hit the center of the club face more often.

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Instruction

How the Trail Arm Should Work In Backswing

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Stop getting stuck! In this video, I demonstrate a great drill to help you move your trail arm correctly in the backswing.

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Instruction

Self-discovery: Why golf lessons aren’t helping you improve

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Of all the things I teach or have taught in golf, I think this is the most important: It’s not what we cover in a lesson, it’s what you discover. 

Some years ago, I had a student in golf school for a few days. She was topping every single shot. Zero were airborne. I explained that she was opening her body and moving forward before her arms and club were coming down. “Late” we call it. I had her feel like her arms were coming down first and her body was staying behind, a common correction for late tops. Bingo! Every ball went up into the air. She was ecstatic.

Some time later, she called and said she was topping every shot. She scheduled a lesson. She topped every shot. I asked her why she was topping the ball. “I think I’m picking up my head,” she said to my look of utter disbelief!

I had another student who was shanking the ball. At least 3 out of 5 came off the hosel with his wedges. I explained that his golf club was pointed seriously left at the top of his backswing. It was positioned well OUTSIDE his hands, which caused it to come down too wide and swing OUTSIDE his hands into impact. This is a really common cause of shanking. We were able to get the club more down the line at the top and come down a bit narrower and more inside the ball. No shanks… not a one!  He called me sometime later. The shanks had returned. You get the rest. When I asked what was causing him to shank, he told me “I get too quick.”

If you are hitting the golf ball better during a golf lesson, you have proven to yourself that you CAN do it. But what comes after the lesson is out of a teacher’s hands. It’s as simple as that. I cannot control what you do after you leave my lesson tee. Now, if you are NOT hitting the ball better during a lesson or don’t understand why you’re not hitting it better, I will take the blame. And…you do not have to compensate me for my time. That is the extent to which I’ll go to display my commitment and accept my responsibility. What we as teachers ask is the same level of commitment from the learners.

Improving at golf is a two-way street. My way is making the correct diagnosis and offering you a personalized correction, possibly several of them. Pick the ONE that works for you. What is your way on the street? Well, here are a few thoughts on that:

  • If you are taking a lesson at 10 a.m. with a tee time at 11 a.m. and you’re playing a $20 Nassau with your buddies, you pretty much wasted your time and money.
  • If the only time you hit balls is to warm up for your round, you have to be realistic about your results.
  • If you are expecting 250-yard drives with an 85 mph club head speed, well… let’s get real.
  • If you “fake it” during a lesson, you’re not going to realize any lasting improvement. When the teacher asks if you understand or can feel what’s being explained and you say yes when in fact you DO NOT understand, you’re giving misleading feedback and hurting only yourself. Speak up!

Here’s a piece of advise I have NEVER seen fail. If you don’t get it during the lesson, there is no chance you’ll get it later. It’s not enough to just hit it better; you have to fully understand WHY you hit it better. Or if you miss, WHY you missed.

I have a rule I follow when conducting a golf lesson. After I explain the diagnosis and offer the correction, I’ll usually get some better results. So I continue to offer that advice swing after swing. But at some point in the lesson, I say NOTHING. Typically, before long the old ball flight returns and I wait– THREE SWINGS. If the student was a slicer and slices THREE IN A ROW, then it’s time for me to step in again. I have to allow for self discovery at some point. You have to wean yourself off my guidance and internalize the corrections. You have to FEEL IT.

When you can say, “If the ball did this then I know I did that” you are likely getting it. There is always an individual cause and effect you need to understand in order to go off by yourself and continue self improvement. If you hit a better shot but do not know why, please tell your teacher. What did I do? That way you’re playing to learn, not simply learning to play.

A golf lesson is a guidance, not an hour of how to do this or that. The teacher is trying to get you to discover what YOU need to feel to get more desirable outcomes. If all you’re getting out of it is “how,” you are not likely to stay “fixed.” Remember this: It’s not what we cover in the lesson; it’s what you discover!

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