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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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Davies: The Trail Elbow In The Downswing

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In this video, I discuss the role of the trail elbow in the downswing. I also share some great drills to help golfers deliver the trail elbow correctly, which will help improve distance and contact.

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The 3 different levels of golf practice

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“I would have practiced as hard, but I would have made my practice more meaningful. I would have worked more on my short game and putting. I would’ve done a lot more drills to make the practice more meaningful, and I would’ve added pressure to the practice as much as possible.” — Lee Westwood

Now here’s the rub. Practice is not monolithic! I approach practice as having three different, distinctive and separate curriculum and criteria.

  • Level 1: Basic
  • Level 2: Advanced
  • Level 3: Extreme

Basic Practice (Level 1) by definition is “repeated exercise in or performance of an activity or skill so as to acquire or maintain proficiency in it.” Basically, it’s doing the same thing over and over again to get better at it. My favorite skill that requires practice is the 76-yard “flighted wedge.” I do it, and I recommend it be done at every range practice session. Additionally, I identify and then practice as many different “skills” that are required to hit different golf shots. I have found that a non-pressurized environment is the best way to practice in a basic model.

It goes without saying that golf is not played in a pressure-free environment, so basic practice doesn’t help us play golf. The prime objective of Level 2 Practice (Advanced Training) is to take what you do in Basic Practice to the golf course.

First, create on-course situations that require you to hit the shots you have practiced. There should be rewards for demonstrations of competence, and there should be consequences for demonstrations of incompetence

“When you practice, try to find a situation to fit the shot you’re trying to practice.” — Ben Hogan

For example, a major problem is the unevenness of the lies you will encounter during play as opposed to the lies you used for your drills. From marginal to extreme, lies are difficult to replicate on the practice tee. So, play a round of golf and move the ball into the most undesirable lie that is very close to where you are.

Another example would be duplicating the creativity that is sometimes required during actual play. The prime example of that would be the sensation of “being in-between clubs.” I would suggest that you play an occasional round of golf using only half of your clubs. Take two wedges instead of four. Take only the “odd” or “even” numbered irons. Look at not taking the driver, or not taking all of your fairway clubs. I have not taken my putter, which forced me putt with my sand wedge!

A third example would be to play a round of golf and deliberately miss every green in regulation. Should your ball accidentally finish on the green in regulation just move it off into the rough, a bunker or whatever else could use the extra attention. You can create games where your opponent moves your ball off the green into something that would be advantageous to him.

Level 2 Practice is conducted on the practice ground as well as on the course. What I do and recommend is to take each of the shots, skills and drills used in Level 1 and add some accountability to the range experience. I have my students and clients use a “Practice Book” to schedule activities and to keep track of improvement.

Author Note: I will send you a sample practice book page that many of my players actually use. Request it at edmyersgolf@gmail.com.

Please be advised that Level 2 Practice can feature games, wagering or other forms of friendly competitions because they should only activate the lesser emotions of irritation, annoyance, anticipation, anxiousness, joy, pleasure and disappointment. Dealing with these feelings in practice will help you recognize and deal with the minor stresses experienced by most recreational golfers.

Stress is the major cause of “CHOKING.”

Stress, by definition “is a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.” Stress can ruin our ability to perform when we experience the major emotions such as fear, anger, shame, humiliation, euphoria, ridicule, betrayal, doubt and/or disbelief.

Level 3 Practice (Extreme Preparation) is on-course training sessions best suited for very serious competitive golfers. The more a player is able to compete in a simulated or controlled environment that accurately replicates the actual “pressures” that produce the kind of stresses that can effect performance, the better the player will perform when stressed in actual tournaments or events. Please be advised that Extreme Practice DOES NOT feature games, gambling or “friendly” competitions. They don’t control the conditions of play sufficiently to replicate the type of pressure that would induce “stress.”

“Simulation, which  is a technique (not a technology) to replace and amplify real experiences with guided ones, often “immersive” in nature, that evoke or replicate substantial aspects of the real world in a fully interactive fashion.” For many years now, the medical profession has used simulations to train doctors, the military has used simulations to prepare troops for the realities of the battlefield and aviation has used simulators to train pilots. Simulating has the added benefits of being cost and time effective while producing verifiable results.

If it’s possible for airlines to replicate every possible scenario that a pilot could experience in the cockpit by using simulations, then why isn’t it possible to replicate situations, and subsequent emotional responses, that a competitive golfer could experience on the golf course? Let me give you an example of what I mean.

“I got nervous all the time, as nervous as the next guy. It’s just that I caught myself before it became destructive.” Jack Nicklaus

Recent events at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play gives us some evidence of the destructiveness of uncontrolled emotions. Justin Thomas said that he couldn’t get the thought out of his mind of becoming the No. 1-ranked player in the world should he defeat Bubba Watson in the semi-finals, which he failed to do.

“I haven’t had such a hard time not thinking about something so much,” Thomas said. “And that really sucked. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, to be perfectly honest.”

Then there was Ian Poulter being told that with his win over Louis Oosthuizen he had earned a spot in this years’ Masters tournament only to be told 10 minutes before his next match that he had not actually secured the coveted invitation. With elation, joy and satisfaction jerked away and replaced with disappointment, and possibly anger, the Englishman went out and got whipped by Kevin Kisner 8 & 6!

I concede that Justin Thomas’ and Ian Poulter’s situations were so unique that simulation-based practice and preparation techniques may not have been available to them, but now they both must know that their performance was effected negatively by mental stresses. And with that knowledge they may want to get tougher mentally. Level 3 Practice does that!

Not all that long ago, I was approached by a PGA Tour veteran for some on-course, one-on-one training. He was experiencing severe “choking” in pressurized short-game situations. So I took him out on the course and we replicated the exact shots he had problems with in the past. He demonstrated that he could perform each and every shot in a stress-free environment. We went into a “low-stress” training environment and his performance began to suffer. Then, at his urging to get “real,” we went into a “high-stress” practice mode and he melted down. Without going into details, he became so angry that not only couldn’t he hit golf shots, he tried to run me down with the golf cart as he retreated to the safety of his car.

Now, that’s not the end of the story. A few hours later, after some soul searching, he apologized for his lack of self-control and acknowledged that he had recognized the early signs of stress growing internally as we worked. We went back out onto the course and got back to work.

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Winning Ways: Here’s what it takes to become a winner in Junior Girls golf

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Every competitive golfer strives to win, and I want to help them achieve their goals. Recently, I wrote a story highlighting the statistics behind winning in junior boys golf, and how they can do it more often. Now, we set out to examine the data on winning in junior girls golf, and provide ways they can improve. The data is based on an analysis of tournament results from all events during the 2017 year from the Junior Tour of Northern California. We then asked stats guru, Peter Sanders, Founder of ShotByShot.com, to provide the stats related to the winning scoring numbers that we found. Finally, we discuss ways that juniors can practice building skills and work towards becoming tournament winners.

The Winning Scores

In 2017 the Junior Tour of Northern California held 26 tournaments with 850+ members. According to our data collection based on information available on the website, the average girl’s tournament course measured 6145 yards. The average winning score for girls was 146 (36 holes), or 73 per round. Ten of the 22 tournaments where won with scores of 144 or better and the low 36 holes total was a whopping 133! In the data collection we also collected the average 10th place scores girls. The average 10th place score for girls was 159 or 79.5.

The Winning Stats

We provided the numbers to statistics expert Peter Sanders. Peter’s company has been providing Strokes Gained analysis for golfers for the last 29 years. Peter is the founder of ShotByShot.com, a website that provides golfers at all levels with Strokes Gained analysis, pinpoints specific strengths and weaknesses and highlights improvement priorities. Since the launch of ShotByShot.com in 2005, Peter has collected over 317,000 rounds. Accordingly, Peter has agreed to share the numbers, below, for a typical female player who averages 73. There are two important points to consider when reviewing these statistics:

  1. In order to have a complete picture of the puzzle that is golf, one must consider the ERRORS, or lack thereof, that play such an important role in scoring at every level. Even the 650+ PGA Tour stats ignore these important miscues. Shot By Shot has included them in their analysis from the beginning and they are highlighted in the infographics below.
  2. The data provided represents only tournament rounds. As such it will primarily represent the high school and college programs that use ShotbyShot.com

Infographics Created by Alexis Bennett

The Winning Preparation

Junior girls are encouraged to use these stats as a benchmark against their own performance to determine where they might need to improve against the “typical 73 player.” After identifying gaps in their game, they can then create practice plans to help improve. For example, a junior might notice they have more 3-putts than the model. To improve, they could work put more time into practice, as well as playing games on the golf course like draw-back and 2-putt.

  • Drawback is a game where after your first putt, you draw the second putt one putter length away from the hole. This often changes a shorter putt (> 2 feet) to a putt of between 3.5 – 5 feet. This putts significantly more pressure on your putting.
  • You may also play Two-Putt, a game where when you reach the green, you (or your playing competitor) tosses the ball away from the hole. You must 2-putt from that spot to move to the next hole (even if it takes a couple attempts!).

Others reading this article might find that they don’t hit enough greens. Improving this area will require more consistent strikes, which may require further technical development and block practice, as well as working on the golf course. To start, I would recommend that every junior implement the yardage rule. The yardage rule works like this; figure out the distance to the very back of the green. For example, this number may be 157. Then figure out what club ALWAYS flies 157, which might be 6-iron. Then choose 7-iron for the shot. This way your best shot will not fly the green, your average shot will likely be in the middle of the green and your less-than-perfect shot will hopefully end up on the front of the green.

During practice rounds, play competitive games with yourself to sharpen your ability to hit greens. For example, if you normally hit 7 greens per round, in practice your goal might be 9. You would track your results over a month and then see your progress.

Beyond building individual skills, like hitting greens or working on putting, junior golfers need times to play competitive rounds on their home golf courses. Ideally, these rounds are played against other people with similar skills and done under tournament like conditions with consequences (loser buys winner a coke or cleans their golf clubs). Playing hundreds of rounds at your home golf course under these conditions gives you a unique opportunity to sharpen your game, learn your tendencies and build skills such as endurance and mental toughness. Most importantly, it teaches you to win and shoot under par!

Please also keep in mind building these skills may take months (or even years). In my own personal experience, when I set out to improve my birdies per round, it took nearly 4 months and 75+ rounds and significant practice to begin to see a change. Depending on your schedule and access to resources like a golf course and instructor, some changes might take a year or more. Regardless, don’t ever worry; building a solid foundation in golf will always lead to rewards!

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