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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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A Guide (Secret) to Better Putting

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Putting is a part of the game where we can all do small things to get better. You don’t have to practice 40 hours a week or have a stroke that gets a perfect score on a SAM PuttLab. The universal answer is to simplify the approach as much as possible.

While being a world class putter is an art form, being competent at putting is probably the least physically daunting task in golf — aside from maybe driving the cart. Putting generally provides the most stress and frustration, however, as our results are almost never aligned with our exceptions, which drives us to create unnecessary roadblocks to success.

That being the case, let’s narrow this down to as few variables as possible and get ourselves holing more putts. First off, you need to have proper expectations. If you look at the PGA Tour averages for made putts, you will find that the rates of success overall are far lower than what we see on on TV on Sunday afternoon. That’s because we are seeing the best players in the world, who in a moment in time, are holing putts at a clip the average plus-handicap club champion couldn’t dream of during a near death experience on his way to walking into the light.

If you have ever seen golf balls rolled on a stimpmeter ramp (the device used to measure green speed), you have probably seen something shocking. Golf balls rolling perfectly — the perfect speed, on a perfect green, on a perfectly straight putt — sometimes miss on both sides of the hole on consecutive efforts.

This is a very important point. The farther you get from the hole, the less control you have over making the putt. That’s why actually making putts outside a few feet should not be your priority. Hitting the best putt possible is your only priority. Then be resigned that the putt will either go in or it won’t. This might seem defeatist, but it’s not; its just a perception change. If you judge yourself on whether the ball goes in or not, you are setting yourself up for failure. If you judge yourself on whether or not you hit a good putt, you will be more successful… and you’re going to make more putts.

This sounds like something you’d hear at a Tony Robbins positive thinking seminar, but it has proven successful for every one of my clients who has embraced it. So what’s the secret to hitting the best putt possible each time?

Simplify the process.

  1.  Read the green to the best of your ability.
  2.  Pick a line and do your best to set up to it.
  3.  Do your best to hit the putt solid and at the right speed.

Reading the green is something that gets better with experience and practice. Some will be better than others, so this is an intangible thing that countless books are written about. My advice is simple; DON’T OVER THINK IT. Look at the terrain and get a general sense of where low point is in relation to the hole.

The reason why perfect green reading and perfect alignment are overrated is because there is no one line to the hole. The hole is over 4-inches wide and putts break differently with changes in speed and solidness of contact. I saw a video at the Scotty Cameron Putting Studio many years ago of dozens of PGA Tour players. There was a worm’s-eye camera on a 4-5 foot putt that was basically straight on the artificial grass. Few were aimed at the middle of the hole and many weren’t even aimed at the hole at all… but I didn’t see one miss.

So have a look at the terrain and be decent at lining up in the general direction that will give a chance for a well struck putt to go in or finish close enough for a tap in. Simple. After rambling on for several paragraphs, we get to the heart of how you can improve your putting. Narrow it down to doing your best to hit a solid putt at the right speed.

The “Right Speed”

I ask people after they addressed a putt how much attention they pay to line and speed. Any answer but 100 percent speed is wrong. You’ve already read the putt and lined up. Why is line any longer a variable? Plus, have you ever missed the line on a 20-foot putt by 5 feet? Maybe once in your life on a crazy green, but you sure as heck have left it 5-feet short and long on several occasions.

Imagine I handed you a basketball and said shoot it in the basket. Or what if I told you to toss a crumpled piece of paper into the trash? Having the requisite coordination is an acquired skill, but you wouldn’t grind over innocuous details when it came to the feel of making the object go the right distance. You’d react to the object in your hand and the target for the right speed/distance.

Putting is no different, save one variable. There’s the sense and feel of how the the green interacts with the ball, and that’s a direct result of how solidly you hit the putt. If you use X amount of force and it goes 18 feet one effort and 23 feet the next, how are you ever going to acquire speed control? That is the mark of almost every poor lag putter. They don’t hit putts consistently solid, so they never acquire the skill of distance control.

Since speed is a learned reaction to the terrain/target and consistency is a direct result of how consistently solid you strike the ball, that is what we’re left with.

Learn to Hit Putts More Solid

The road to better putting is as simple as hitting your putts more solid. Put most/all of your effort into what it takes to hit more putts solid. Now for each individual, it’s less about doing what’s right. Instead, it’s about avoiding movements and alignments that make it difficult to hit the ball solid. It would take an encyclopedia to cover all of the issues that fall into this category, so I will list the most common that will cover more than 90 percent of golfers.

The most common one I see — and it is nearly universal in people who are plagued by poor lag putting — is excess hip rotation. Sometimes there’s even an actual weight shift. Think of it this way; take a backstroke and stop. Rotate your hips 20 degrees without moving anything else. The putter and the arc is now pointed left of your intended line. You have to shove it with your arms and hands not to pull it. Good luck hitting it solid while doing all of that.

I had a golf school in Baltimore and told this story. Ten of the 15 people there assured me they didn’t do that. After 8 people had putted, we were 8-for-8. No. 9 said, “There is no ******* way I am going to move my hips after watching this.”

The entire group laughed after his putt told him he was wrong. The last 6 did everything they could to avoid the fault. We went 15 for 15. Many people are unaware that this issue is so dire. If you add the people that are unaware they have this issue, we are near 100 percent of golfers. I have gotten emails from 8-10 of them telling me how much their putting improved after all they did was focus on minimizing hip rotation and just hitting the ball solid.

This issue is not just the bane of average golfers; I’ve had several mini-tour players with putting issues improve with this. We are all aware Fred Couples would have won many more majors if not for a career-long battle with his putter. Watch the next time he misses a 6-foot putt to the left. As you will see, it’s not just a problem for a high-handicappers.

The best way to judge and practice avoiding this, it putting with an alignment stick in you belt loops.  If your hips rotate too much, the stick will definitely let you know.

Other issues include the well know chest/sternum coming up too soon in an effort to see the ball go in the hole, as well as:

  • Not aligning the putter shaft properly with the lead arm
  • Grip pressure issues (too much and too little)
  • Too much tension in neck and shoulders
  • Poor rhythm
  • Long back stroke

I could go on and on and on. The main point; find out why you aren’t hitting putts solid and do whatever it takes to do so, even if it’s something crazy like a super wide-open stance (with my tongue firmly implanted in my cheek). See the Jack Nicklaus picture at the top of the story.

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WATCH: How to Improve Your Golf Club Release

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Many golfers release the club way too early. The low point of the swing moves back and they hit the ground behind the ball or pick the ball clean off the top of the surface. They then dream of “lag” and the “late hit” trying to achieve this by thinking of holding on the the wrist angle too long.

In this video, I share a drill that it will improve the way you release the club.

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Alistair Davies: My 3 Best Swing Tips

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In this video, I share with you my three best swing tips. Watch the video to get on the path to lower scores straight away.

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