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Hitting Down To Take a Divot? Read this first

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Odds are if you’ve played golf for any amount of time you’ve heard the hackneyed phrase “hit down on the ball to take a divot.”

Just hearing that phrase makes me cringe. At least once a week a new client comes to me and says, “I had some lessons a while back and the pro said I need to hit down to make a divot. But never understood what that meant.”

Usually what I see is that the ball tends to be too far back in their stance in their setup, with their hands pushed too far forward.

Their results tend to be very low-flying, thin shots and extremely deep divots. And after their rounds or practice sessions, they often complain about aching hands and wrists from their too steep angle of attack. To remedy this, and make you feel better after you play, let’s look at what it really means to take a divot and a drill to make this concept easier to understand.

CONCEPT

Every golfer swings on an arc and at some point there is a low point on that arc. For many high- to mid-handicap golfers, the low point of their arc occurs at or slightly behind the ball. In this scenario you might find yourself hitting fat shots, very high-lofted shots, and you may also have trouble understanding why most of your irons go the same distance.

Divot Behind Ball

Divot behind the ball: The blue line represents the ground, the red line shows the arc the club is traveling on, and the yellow area represents the divot that will be created.

To make matters worse, when the same golfers are told to hit down on the ball to fix the issue, they tend to change their set up and angle of attack dramatically creating a steeper swing which will help them create a divot, but in the worst way possible.

Divot steep angle

Steep angle of attack: resulting in topped shots, thin shots, or very deep divots.

When describing divots, I choose my words very carefully and I also make sure to NOT use the words “hit down on the ball.” Rather, I say:

“To properly create a divot, your swing must bottom out slightly in front of the golf ball.”

proper divot

A proper divot: Angle of attack not too steep, bottom of the swing arc slightly in front of the golf ball.

CARD DRILL

To help students understand the concept of creating a divot I created a drill using business cards. While practicing, take a few business cards and place them on the mat or turf. Set up with the club parallel to the leading edge of each business card, and make your goal to strike the card’s leading edge, propelling it forward.

Business Card Drill Set Up

The business card now represents your divot, not outrageously long in size, but also not too thick either. Not only will it get you to concentrate on the point of contact it also gives you a visual for what your divot should look like.

After hitting a few cards into the range, place a golf ball next to the edge of a card and again strike the business card. If done correctly, the card should propel forward as usual but your ball will also soar into the range.

Business Card Drill With Ball

Although there are a variety of other circumstances that cause divots to happen behind the ball (weight backwards at impact, casting, etc.), a proper understanding of what a divot should look like is a great place to start learning “how to hit down” on the golf ball.

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Scott is a Certified Personal Coach at GolfTEC Main Line in Villanova, PA and also the Head Men's Golf Coach @ Division III Rosemont College. Each day he utilizes 3-D Motion Measurements, Foresight Launch Monitors, and high speed video to help each of his students achieve their specific goals. Past experience include owning and and operating the Yur Golf Swing Teaching Academy in Philadelphia. He started my golfing career at Radnor Valley Country Club in Villanova, Penn., and spent time at the Ocean Reef Club in Key Largo, Fla. In his short 7 year instruction career he as taught over 5,000 golf lessons. He currently works with many of the top local Amateur golfers in the Philadelphia area, and many of the best Junior golfers. Teaching golf has always been my passion and with my civil engineering and philosophy background from Villanova University, I am able bring interesting perspective and effective techniques to my instruction.

35 Comments

35 Comments

  1. Truth

    Feb 23, 2015 at 9:27 pm

    its a good concept but ive found that the card drill can sometimes lead to more chunkingif practiced on a mat cuz u can think u r hitting the card good but when on a mat any fat shot will just bounce into the card still n make it go forward…but thats more from my hatred of practicing on a mat theres nothing like hitting out of grass

  2. Jack

    Jan 4, 2015 at 5:54 am

    I’m only starting out and have been reading up a lot. This made so much sense to me. I’d actually been trying to hit the ball at the lowest point. I never leave a divot, and my balls go VERY high, I have no trouble clearing trees to get back onto the fairway haha! This makes sense to me, and I can’t wait to get on the range to try it tomorrow!

  3. Donald MacCallum

    Aug 14, 2014 at 5:14 pm

    Sensible,plain speaking.What a relief!Is there an optimum distance to place the ball behind the card?

  4. Adam

    May 27, 2014 at 3:00 pm

    Is the goal to hit the front “leading” edge of the card? I.E the end closest to the target?

    • Scott Yurgalevicz

      Jul 22, 2014 at 6:42 pm

      The goal as seen in the last image is to place the ball down behind the card, and without having to think about hitting the ball, attempt to hit the business card on the edge closest to you. This is merely a visual. Whether you hit the cards leading edge or not isn’t a big deal, locking down a different concept or feel is much more important.

  5. David Judd

    Apr 22, 2014 at 12:45 am

    Thank you Scott,

    I have been trying to find an answer for hitting off concrete supported rubber mats. This should do it. I especially appreciate your use of the positive model which helps pretty much everyone, instead of cure advice, which is very limited in contrast to seeing a positive image.

    David

  6. Joe Mello

    Apr 19, 2014 at 9:24 am

    Love the business card tip. But what is causing the low point being lower than the ball? Is it the lead arm straightening out from the setup? Is it the body compressing on the downswing? Is there something else?
    Thanks.

    • Scott Yurgalevicz

      Jul 22, 2014 at 6:39 pm

      Joe Mello,

      There are a variety of things that help the low point be more in front of the golf ball. Could be weight needs to be more forward, might need more palmer flexing thru impact, straight arms, etc. Lots of variables go into this. The body does compress in the initail portion of the downswing but extends fully at and after impact. If you are having issues make sure to see your local golf professional!

      • ken

        Aug 6, 2014 at 6:03 pm

        So the idea is to set up normally and take a normal path through( not to) the ball and learn to have the club bottom out past the back of the ball?

  7. nikkyd

    Apr 17, 2014 at 4:34 pm

    I just tell people to take off their left shoe (for righties) that usually does the trick

  8. Rahul J Razdan

    Mar 10, 2014 at 7:04 am

    Scott,

    Thank you so much. I am consistently told i hit behind the ball, and though i get loft (ping g20s) i still get off target shots or fat or thin. I tried your drill and holy perfect divets Yurman!

  9. michael dwyer

    Jan 1, 2014 at 10:49 am

    hi, im a clubmaker in somerset south west England. I have seen every golf swing possible and most mid/high handicappers top the ball with the weight on the back foot, I tell them to aim at a point 4 inches in front of the ball with a flat left wrist. once this concept is understood then they hit crisp shots with a nice shallow divot. the business card idea is superb as it gives the golfer immediate feedback as to where the club bottoms out.your golf tips are brilliant and they work. I pinch them for my customers!!..mike (master clubmaker)

  10. Joe Golfer

    May 9, 2013 at 1:08 am

    Good article. Another point to consider is the type of turf one is playing on. I’ve walked fairways of tournament courses as a spectator, and I am amazed at how soft and cushiony it feels. Even a mildly descending blow will bring up a pretty big divot.
    Now consider that many of us in the Midwest play public courses where the fairways may be bluegrass, and the ground is hard. It makes a world of difference as to whether one will take a significant divot or not.

    • Scott Yurgalevicz

      May 9, 2013 at 9:54 am

      Great comment joe, there are so many conditions to account for on a real course and firmness of the ground is very important. Up here (Philadelphia) we get some very dry conditions during the summer and the fairways roll hard and fast which is a huge change from their current conditions (wet and soft today) so its something to keep in mind from round to round.

  11. David Tao

    May 8, 2013 at 9:23 pm

    Hi Scott, yesterday I did some “business card drill” as you mentioned in the article. I found it was impossible to keep the business card on the carpet after impact. the card was just jump out of carpet every time I hit range balls. any idea? thanks

    • Scott Yurgalevicz

      May 9, 2013 at 9:51 am

      Hi David, as long as you were striking the leading edge of the business card you were doing the drill correct. The card wont stay put if you hit it properly (it should go flying!). If the card didn’t move off the mat and simply slid or shifted a few inches you most likely didn’t clip the leading edge of the card.

  12. brett

    May 6, 2013 at 12:12 pm

    I find that keeping my eyes on a spot an inch in front of the ball helps me tremendously with my iron play. It facilitates ball then turf contact with the swing shallowing out where my eyes are looking.
    If you find that you need to focus on the ball then as one of the posts above suggest, looking at the ‘front’ of the ball is a great idea.
    Trust your hand and eye coordination.

  13. JL

    May 4, 2013 at 7:08 pm

    Love this tip. I used to have to remember to hit the ground after the ball, but actually imagining the swing bottoming out in an arc after the ball is even more natural if that makes sense.

  14. OtherTomJones

    May 4, 2013 at 9:55 am

    I am a 16.2 handicap and have made this transition from “scooping” the ball, or being a “picker” to taking proper, but admittedly rather shallow divots.

    What helped me was adjusting the ball position progressively in my stance. For wedges and higher irons, the ball is more toward my back heel. For mid irons like my 7 iron, the ball is perfectly centered in my stance. For 5 irons and my 3/4hybrids, as well as fairways, the ball is more toward my front heel. My driver is lined up on my front heel to front big toe depending on the type of shot I want to hit.

    Regardless, simply changing where my eye position is on the ball has helped transition to trapping the ball with a slight divot, rather than picking the ball with no divot. Instead of looking behind the ball, I look in front of the ball. Im right handed, so rather than looking at the right side of the ball I look at the left. This has improved performance of my clubs, among other things like staying on plane, releasing with the forearms and hands, dropping the club into the slot, and swinging/hitting with my core.

  15. Pingback: Golf Theory Review

  16. Matt M

    May 2, 2013 at 7:37 pm

    Scott – in my experience topped or thin shots happen when the low point is behind the ball in fact I’ve never seen a topped shot when the low point is in front of the ball. When a player is taking deep divots and their low point is in front of the ball the problem is very easy to fix but most poor players have a low point behind the ball and requires a completely different fix

    • Scott Yurgalevicz

      May 4, 2013 at 2:04 pm

      Hi Matt,

      I completely understand what your saying, but the topped shot with a low point in front of the ball is actually pretty common. [take your regular stance, put the ball way back in your stance near your back foot and lean the shaft too far forward; basically the set up people tend to go to when they hear “hit down on the ball”] I do realize a topped shot can occur for a variety of different reasons and also with the low point behind the ball as well. Thanks for the input. Cheers

      • Jeff M

        May 12, 2013 at 4:54 pm

        Topping the ball comes from two causes #1 a steep out-to-in, slicing-and-pulling swing pattern. That, in fact, is why the fault is so common with high and mid handicap golfers, and rare with good golfers. #2 happens because in the back swing at the point where we cock our wrist and the radius of the swing arc obviously decreases, and then in hitting the ball, the wrists do not uncock to re-establish the radius of the swing at impact (re-establishing the left arm and club in a straight-line unit) the ball is likely to be topped, or at least thin. Basically what causes tops and thins is too little use of the arms, hands, and club head in the down swing. If you hit the ground before the ball and then top it in theory you have actually hit it fat!

        • Jeff M

          May 12, 2013 at 4:56 pm

          And by the way I love the drill with the business card! Will be using that for sure when I’m teaching!

  17. Gabe Shyu

    May 2, 2013 at 7:30 pm

    Love it. Excellent article. There are so many other worthless pointers range pros will throw out to their poor students that do nothing but ruin otherwise decent swings. This is a great swing thought that will definitely promote ball compression.

    Thank you.

    • Scott Yurgalevicz

      May 4, 2013 at 2:00 pm

      Thanks Gabe! My goal as an instructor is to never give “tips”. I always think if you understand the concept first, then use a drill to reinforce the concept, you get much more out of the instruction.\

      Thanks for the read!

  18. Brian Terry

    May 2, 2013 at 6:58 pm

    If you take a look at some of Bobby Jones videos he made way back in the day, you would see him place his irons just in front of the ball when he setup and then place it behind the ball before starting the swing. He is actually setting his stance so the bottom of his arc is just in front of the ball. You never see this done any more, but many current golfers would benefit from this practice.

    BT

    • Jason Wescott

      May 3, 2013 at 12:18 pm

      Love this idea, and can’t wait to try it out. Thanks!

    • Shane Booth

      May 5, 2013 at 6:29 am

      I like this idea as well – I’m going to give it a try; I really suffer from the ‘all irons the same distance’ problem a lot of the time

    • Derek

      Jun 30, 2014 at 2:05 pm

      I actually do this however didn’t know Boby Jones did it! People always ask me why I do this and I really didn’t have an answer for them but in my mind it just helps me visualize my aiming point better if I can see where the club face is after “would-be” impact. I am a taker of deep divots and I think trying the business card idea could help me too. I find that I trap the ball too much and the result for me is always a very low trajectory.

      • Mat

        Aug 22, 2015 at 11:06 pm

        Same here. I did it a while, then I memorized that setup position. Now it’s more automatic. I’m more of a Moe Norman now; I put the club back one or two feet to start the swing, ensuring I don’t chicken-wing.

  19. Trevor

    May 2, 2013 at 3:03 pm

    Very good article, I have fights weekly with my playing partner about this, he thinks aggressive downward blows is the way to go yet he wonders why he has ballooning shots.

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Instruction

Stop Practicing, Start Training. Part 2: Putting

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This article is co-written with Zach Parker. Zach is the former director of golf at the Gary Gilchrist and Bishop’s Gate golf academies. Zach is a golf coach, an expert in skill acquisition, and he has years of experience setting up effective training scenarios for golfers of varying abilities. 

In Part 1 of this article, we discussed in detail how and why we should shift our focus from practicing to training. Specifically, making training more “game like” by incorporating the following three principles

  • Spacing – adding time between training or learning tasks. Not hitting ball after ball with no break!
  • Variability – mixing up the tasks, combining driving with chipping for example
  • Challenge Point – making sure that you are firstly trying to achieve or complete a task, and secondly that the task is set an appropriate difficulty for you

For more detailed insight to this topic, check out the podcast that Zach recently recorded with Game Like Training Golf

This is with the aim of avoiding the following frustrations that occur when training is performed poorly

  • Grinding on the putting green but not improving
  • Being unable to transfer performance from putting green to course
  • Finding practice boring
  • Plateaus in performance

Practice can be frustrating

In Part 1 we covered long game, and in Part 2 it’s time to address putting. Training this crucial part of the game is often overlooked and almost always performed poorly with very little intent. On course, we never hit putts from the same distance (unless you’re in the habit of missing two footers!), yet when practicing its common to repeatedly hit putts from the same place. Our length of stroke, reaction to speed and slope and time between putts are constantly changing on course, so it would make sense to replicate that in our training right?

In the practice circuit below we have incorporated spacing by leaving large gaps between putts, variability by mixing up the tasks and challenge point by introducing hurdle tasks that must be completed before moving on to the next station.

Station 1

Learning task: Three rehearsals with a specific focus, in this case, using the GravityFit TPro to bring awareness to posture and arm-body connection.

Completion task: Must make putt from 6 feet, downhill,  left to right-to-left break.

Station 2

Learning task: Three rehearsals with specific TPro focus; in this case posture for eye-line and using bands for arm-body connection.

Completion task: Must two-putt from 30-40 feet, uphill. Add drawback to five feet for more difficulty.

Station 3

Learning task: Three rehearsals with specific TPro focus again.

Completion task: Must two-putt from 20-30  ft, right to left break. Add drawback to five feet for more difficulty.

You can either have a go at this circuit or create your own. There are no set rules, just make sure to include a mixture of tasks (variability) that are appropriate to your level of ability (challenge Point) with plenty of time between repetitions (spacing).

For more information on the featured GravityFit equipment, check out the website here

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Instruction

WATCH: What to do when you’re short sided

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Top-100 instructor Tom Stickney shows you how to avoid compounding a mistake when you’ve missed the ball on the wrong side of the green.

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Instruction

Why flaring your left foot out at address could be a big mistake

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In his book “Ben Hogan’s Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf,” published in 1957, Ben Hogan recommended that golfers position their right foot at a 90-degree angle to the target line, and then position their left-foot a quarter of a turn outward at a 15-degree angle (Note: He was writing for right-handed golfers). The purpose of the left-foot foot position was to assist in the “clearing of the left hip,” which Hogan believed started his downswing.

Through this Hogan instruction book and the others he wrote through the years, there four categories that defined his advice;

  1. He accurately described what was occurring in his swing.
  2. He described a phantom move that never occurred.
  3. He described something that occurred but to a lesser degree than indicated.
  4. He inaccurately described what was happening in his swing.

As evidenced by today’s modern video, Hogan did not open up his left hip immediately as he described. This piece of advice would fall into the fourth category listed above — he inaccurately described what was happening in his swing. In reality, the first move in his downswing was a 10-12 inch shift of his left hip forward toward the target before his left hip ever turned open.

SPINNING OUT

Those amateur golfers who strictly adopted his philosophy, opening the left hip immediately, ended up“spinning out” and never getting to their left foot. The spin-out was made even worse by the 15-degree angle of the left foot Hogan offered. That said, based on Hogan’s stature in the golf world, his advice regarding the positioning of the feet was treated as if it were gospel and adopted by both players and teachers. Since that time his hip action has been debated, but the positioning of the left foot has remained unquestioned — until today.

THE FLARED FOOT POSITION

The flared position of his left foot may or may not have been of assistance in helping Hogan achieve the desired outcome in his swing. That really is not the point, but rather that over a half-century there has never been a voice that argued against the flared foot position he advocated.

The rest of the golf world accepted his advice without question. In my opinion, the left foot position advocated by Hogan has harmed countless golfers who slowly saw their swings fall apart and wondered why. His well-meaning advice was a poisoned pill, and once swallowed by golfers it served to eventually erode what was left of their left side.

DEAD WRONG

The subject of this piece is not to debate Hogan’s hip action but the piece that accompanied it, the 15-degree flare of the left foot. I’m of the opinion that it is not only wrong. Because of its toxic nature, it is DEAD WRONG.  The reason has to do with the tailbone, which determines the motion of the hips in the swing. The more the left foot opens up at address, the more the tailbone angles backward. That encourages the hips to “spin out” in the downswing, which means they have turned before the player’s weight has been allowed to move forward to their left foot and left knee.

As a consequence of the hips spinning out, players move their weight backward (toward the right foot), encouraging a swing that works out-to-in across the body. You can see this swing played out on the first tee of any public golf course on a Saturday morning.

FOOT FLARE ISSUES

The problem with the 15-degree foot flare is that it promotes, if not guarantees, the following swing issues:

In the backswing, the flared left foot:

  1. Discourages a full left- hip turn;
  2. Encourages the improper motion of the left-knee outward rather than back
  3. Reduces the degree that the torso can turn because of the restrictions placed on the left hip.

In the downswing, the flared left foot: 

  1. Promotes a “spinning out” of the left hip.
  2. Does not allow for a solid post at impact.

STRAIGHT AHEAD

In working with my students, I’ve come to the conclusion that the most advantageous position for the left foot at address is straight ahead at a 90-degree angle to the target line. The reason is not only because it encourages a positive moment of the player’s weight forward in the downswing, but it also improves the player’s chances of making a sound backswing.

THE POWER OF THE LEFT HEEL

There is an inherent advantage to placing the left-foot at a 90-degree to the target-line. It is the strongest physical position against which to hit the ball, as it provides a powerful post at impact that serves to increase both power and consistency.

JACK NICKLAUS

A number of years ago, Jack Nicklaus appeared on the cover of Golf Digest. The byline suggested that in studying Jack’s footwork, they had discovered something that up to that point was unknown. The “secret” they were describing was that after lifting his left heel in the backswing, he replanted it in the downswing with his heel closer to the target line than his toe. The intimation was that this might be a secret source of power in his swing.  This was hardly a “secret,” and something that Nicklaus was probably unaware of until it was pointed out to him, but it’s a demonstration of the fact that his natural instinct was to turn his foot inward, rather than outward, on the downswing.

THE DISCUS THROWER

The discus thrower whirls around in a circle as he prepares to throw. On the final pass, he plants his left toe slightly inward, relative to his heel, because this is the most powerful position from which to cast the discus. This position allows the thrower to draw energy from the ground while at the same time providing a strong post position from which additional torque can be applied. The point is that as the discus thrower makes the final spin in preparation for the throw, he does not turn the lead foot outward. Why? Because if it were turned outward, the potential draw of energy from the ground would be compromised.

The same is true when it comes to swinging a golf club for power, and you can test the two positions for yourself. After turning the left foot into a position that is 90 degrees to the target line, you will immediately note the ease with which you can now turn away from the target in addition to the strength of your left side post at the point of impact. Conversely, when you turn your left foot out, you will feel how it restricts your backswing and does not allow for a strong post position on the downswing.

REPAIRING YOUR SWING

Do you have trouble cutting across the ball? You might look to the position of your left foot and the action of the left hip. The first step would be to place your left foot at a 90-degree angle to the target line. The second step would be to turn you left hip around in a half circle as if tracing the inside of a barrel. The third step would be to feel that you left your left hip remains in the same position as you scissor your weight towards your left toe, and then your right heel, allowing the club to travel on the same path. The combination of these changes will encourage the club to swing in-to-out, improving the path of your swing.

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