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Hitting Down To Take a Divot? Read this first

by   |   May 2, 2013
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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.

About

Scott is currently a Golf Coach for GolfTEC 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.


32 Comments

  1. Donald MacCallum

    August 14, 2014 at 5:14 pm

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

  2. 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

      July 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.

  3. David Judd

    April 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

  4. Joe Mello

    April 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

      July 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

        August 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?

        • Asdfghjkl

          August 17, 2014 at 11:51 pm

          Exactly!

  5. nikkyd

    April 17, 2014 at 4:34 pm

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

  6. Rahul J Razdan

    March 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!

    • Scott Yurgalevicz

      July 22, 2014 at 6:37 pm

      Not a Problem! Thanks for the awesome feedback!

  7. michael dwyer

    January 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)

    • Scott Yurgalevicz

      July 22, 2014 at 6:36 pm

      Mike, I love that this drill was able to help you out. Its just an interesting twist on a simple concept. Cheers!

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

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  14. 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!

  15. 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!

  16. 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

      June 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.

  17. 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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