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Why you’re hitting fat shots and how to fix them

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Hitting the ball fat is one of the most costly shots in golf. It’s embarrassing, the ball goes almost nowhere, and sometimes it even hurts. A player can hit the ball thin and get away with it most of the time, but fat is a killer.

In order to correct your fat shots, you first have to know what KIND of fat shot you’re hitting.

You can hit the ball fat from having an angle of attack (AoA) that is too steep or one that is too shallow. You can hit it fat from having too inside of a swing path or one that is too outside. Fat shots can also be caused by a release that is too early, moving your swing center too far off the ball, or even a reverse weight shift. By knowing your OWN swing habits, you can get to the correction straight on.

In this story, I’ll discuss the four most common causes of fat shots and how to fix them.

From Steep AoA

Steep, fat shots are kind of obvious; they leave big holes in the ground. They are the most costly ones because the ground behind the ball does not give very much when you hit it. So if this mishit is your problem, you’ll need to shallow out your attack angle a bit.

There are a few ways to accomplish this.

First check your posture. Be sure you’re giving yourself enough room to swing your arms down through the ball.

Many people who hit the turf before the ball are pleasantly surprised when they simply raise their swing center a bit at address. You may also try standing just a little bit further from the ball.

Also, consider flattening your swing plane a little. An image here might be a bird diving into the water opposd to one gliding into it. Your swing action might feel more around instead of up and down. A bigger, more level shoulder turn in the backswing with the arms swinging more across the chest can help you shallow out your attack angle.

You might try hitting balls on a sidehill lie above your feet to get a feeling of a flatter action. See my previous article on swing plane for more. 

From Shallow AoA

Shallow fat shots are a little more difficult to detect, but they are fat shots nonetheless. I think of these as “drop kicks,” which happen when the sole of the club just “scuffs” the ground behind the golf ball. There are no deep divots here, just less than solid contact from brushing the grass first.

In this case, you’ll need a steeper attack angle. There are a few ways to accomplish this. Again, check your posture. Be sure you have sufficient hip bend at address with your arms hanging naturally under your shoulders and your rear end extended. You may also consider moving in a little closer to the golf ball to help you swing a little more vertically.

Reach for the sky in the backswing; get your arms and club to swing more upright. Your shoulders should feel a steeper turn and your pivot should stay fairly centered. In this swing your lead arm can come off the chest a little and swing up, less around than when trying to shallow out your angle. And be sure to feel a more aggresive turn through the ball as you swing. You must get to your left side into impact; hanging back on the right side is a common cause of a shallow attack angle.

From Posture

There is also the fat shot that is caused by posture loss during the downswing, and it’s usually a pretty significant crash into the terra firma!

I see this a lot with students who RAISE up going back and then try to rectify it by diving back down on their downswing. Try to remain level and turn around a more fixed center as you swing. Hitting ball on a sidehill below your feet can help this feeling.

From Casting

Finally, there is “casting,” or too early of a release that can cause fat shots. When the lead arm and club get extended too soon (from the inside) you’ll crash.

This one is almost always associated with an inside-out path and insufficient pelvic rotation into impact. It’s the “hang-back-and-cast” move.

If you are an early releaser of the club, you need to be keenly aware of getting off your back foot early in the downswing. The reason this is an inside-out related swing issue is because if you come over the top with an early release, you usually do not crash. But casting from the inside is a death move.

The Bottom Line: If you tend to hook the ball, your miss is probably a shallow fat shot shot. If you tend to slice the ball, your miss is most likely a steep fat shot.

Thinking about the corrections above will help both issues.

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Dennis Clark is a PGA Master Professional. Clark has taught the game of golf for more than 30 years to golfers all across the country, and is recognized as one of the leading teachers in the country by all the major golf publications. He is also is a seven-time PGA award winner who has earned the following distinctions: -- Teacher of the Year, Philadelphia Section PGA -- Teacher of the Year, Golfers Journal -- Top Teacher in Pennsylvania, Golf Magazine -- Top Teacher in Mid Atlantic Region, Golf Digest -- Earned PGA Advanced Specialty certification in Teaching/Coaching Golf -- Achieved Master Professional Status (held by less than 2 percent of PGA members) -- PGA Merchandiser of the Year, Tri State Section PGA -- Golf Professional of the Year, Tri State Section PGA -- Presidents Plaque Award for Promotion and Growth of the Game of Golf -- Junior Golf Leader, Tri State section PGA -- Served on Tri State PGA Board of Directors. Clark is also former Director of Golf and Instruction at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort. He now directs his own school, The Dennis Clark Golf Academy at the JW Marriott Marco Island in Naples, Fla.. He can be reached at [email protected]

12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. Gian11

    Apr 13, 2016 at 10:13 pm

    Spot on. I have this problem before and the cause is from shallow aoa.

  2. cody

    Feb 12, 2015 at 6:23 pm

    could you explain what you mean by this statement? ” If you are an early releaser of the club, you need to be keenly aware of getting off your back foot early in the downswing.”

    I know that I lose posture and my right heel comes off the ground fast, but I do not rotate well. Seems that this statement may be related. i would like more explanation here. Thanks.

  3. Dennis Clark

    Jan 23, 2015 at 5:36 pm

    Several really; try this: Put an aim stick 2 inches behind the ball. Rest the club on the aim stick and try hitting some wedges without hitting the stick. Carefully!

  4. Ponjo

    Jan 23, 2015 at 1:16 pm

    I have been getting encouraged to get off the back foot by setting the club 6 – 9 inches behind the ball. This is probably the most beneficial movement I have been taught.

  5. Jarrette Schule

    Jan 23, 2015 at 12:03 pm

    any range drill suggestions for an early releaser such as myself?

  6. W. Scott

    Jan 22, 2015 at 5:23 pm

    Great article. I need the help. Thanks! Scott

  7. derek

    Jan 21, 2015 at 4:19 pm

    “Many people who hit the turf before the ball are pleasantly surprised when they simply raise their swing center a bit at address”
    I am not sure what u mean by this? please explain.

    • Dennis Clark

      Jan 21, 2015 at 7:16 pm

      Stand up a bit; don’t bend as much at the hips. Give you more room to swing your arms.

  8. Phat

    Jan 21, 2015 at 2:37 am

    Thanks Dennis, not sure if it fits somewhere in your summary above, but there’s also Trevino’s old simple tip of checking that your first few fingers of the left hand have an adequate grip on the top end of the shaft/grip. It seems to help me, so would that be mainly to prevent casting? Fix one flaw and you sometimes create another, it would seem…!

    • Dennis Clark

      Jan 21, 2015 at 7:57 am

      yes good point…pressure on the little and ring figure of the top hand is mostly an anti-hook measure (as mentioned by Hogan and Tom Watson most recently) but also retards ulnar deviation (casting). Very true.

  9. Nolanski

    Jan 20, 2015 at 9:46 am

    Thanks Dennis. I’ve been struggling with hitting fat shots all of 2014. Unfortunately I live in MI and will only be able to hit off turf. Maybe I’ll put a broken tee or something 2-3 inches behind my ball to be able to tell if I’m hitting fat.

    • Dennis Clark

      Jan 20, 2015 at 6:23 pm

      I hope this helps. If you’re an early releaser, stay on your left side as much as possible

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Instruction

What you can learn from Steve Elkington

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When you think of great golf swings from the past and present time, Steve Elkington’s golf swing instantly comes to mind. His playing career has included a PGA championship, two Players Championships and more than 50 weeks inside the top-10 world golf rankings. This article will examine not only key moves you can take from Elk’s swing but learning to take your swing to the golf course.

As opposed to looking at a swing frame by frame at key positions, viewing a swing at normal speed can be just as beneficial. This can give students a look at the sequence of the swing as one dynamic motion. Research also suggests learning a motion as one movement as opposed to part-training (stopping the swing at certain points) will enhancing learning.

When viewed at full speed, the simplicity of Elk’s swing is made clear. There is minimal motion as he gets more out of less. This swing pattern can correlate to a conversation he once had with five-time British Open winner Peter Thomson.

When asking Thomson keys to his golf swing and it’s longevity, Thomson explained to Elk, “You have to have great hands and arms.” Thomson further elaborated on the arms and body relationship. “The older you get, you can’t move your body as well, but you can learn to swing your arms well.”

So what’s the best way to get the feel of this motion? Try practicing hitting drivers off your knees. This drill forces your upper body to coil in the proper direction and maintain your spine angle. If you have excess movement, tilt, or sway while doing this drill you will likely miss the ball. For more detail on this drill, read my Driver off the knees article.

Another key move you can take from Elk is in the set-up position. Note the structure of the trail arm. The arm is bent and tucked below his lead arm as well as his trail shoulder below the lead shoulder – he has angle in his trail wrist, a fixed impact position.

This position makes impact easier to find. From this position, Elk can use his right arm as a pushing motion though the ball.

A golf swing can look pretty, but it is of no use if you can’t perform when it matters, on the golf course. When Elk is playing his best, he never loses feel or awareness to the shaft or the clubface throughout the swing. This is critical to performing on the golf course. Using this awareness and a simple thought on the golf course will promote hitting shots on the course, rather than playing swing.

To enhance shaft and face awareness, next time you are on the range place an alignment stick 10 yards ahead of you down the target line. Practice shaping shots around the stick with different flights. Focus on the feel created by your hands through impact.

Twitter: @kkelley_golf

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Dennis Clark: Hitting from the turf

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I have seen as much as 4-5 MPH increase in clubhead speed when my students hit form a tee compared to hitting off the turf. Why?  Fear of FAT shots.

First question: Are you better hitting off a tee than on the turf?

Next question: When you play in a scramble and you have the option of dropping in the fairway or slightly in the first cut, do you choose the rough-especially when hitting over water or sand?

The answer to all these the same: Because the vast majority of golfers do not have a bottom of the swing arc safely in front of the golf ball consistently.

Consider a PGA Tour event, Korn Ferry, Champions Tour, LPGA Tour, whatever…You might see missed fairways, missed greens, hooks, blocks, etc. but we rarely, if ever, see a FAT shot. They simply do not hit the ground before the golf ball. Of course, there are exceptions, into the grain on short pitches, for example, but they are just that-rare exceptions. On the other hand, go to any golf course and watch average golfers for a while. Fat shots are not uncommon. In fact, they, or the fear of them, dominate most golf games.

The number one mistake I have seen on the lesson tee for over 35 years is unquestionably a player’s inability to control the bottom of the golf swing. I have seen everything from hitting 4 inches behind the ball to never reaching the bottom at all It has been my experience that that hitting fat shots is the number one flaw in most golf swings.

Let’s start with this fact: elite level players consistently reach a swing bottom (low point) some 3-4 inches in front of the golf ball-time after time after time. This happens for a variety of reasons, but the one I’d like to look at today is the position of the golf club at impact with the golf ball.

The club is leaning forward, toward the target, the hands are ahead of the club head, never straight up over it, never behind it-always, always leaning forward is the only way to consistently bottom out in front of the golf ball.   

A player cannot hit a ball consistently from the turf until he/she learns this and how to accomplish it. For every golfer I teach who gets into this position, I might teach 50 who do not. In fact, if players did not learn how to “save” a shot by bailing out on the downswing (chicken wing, pull up, raise the handle, or come over the top, (yes over the top is a fat shot avoidance technique) they would hit the ground behind the golf ball almost every time!  Hitting better shots from the fairways, particularly from tight lies, can be learned, but I’m going to be honest: The change required will NOT be easy. And to make matters worse, you can never play significantly better until you overcome the fear of hitting it fat.. Until you learn a pattern where the bottom of the swing is consistently in front of the ball, the turf game will always be an iffy proposition for you.

This starts with a perception. When first confronted with hitting a golf ball, it seems only natural that an “up” swing is the way to get the ball in the air-help it, if you will. The act of a descending blow is not, in any way, natural to the new player. In fact, it is totally counterintuitive. So the first instincts are to throw the club head at the ball and swing up to get the ball in the air; in other words, it makes perfect sense. And once that “method” is ingrained, it is very difficult to change. But change if you must, if your goal is to be a better ball striker.

The position to strive for is one where the left wrist (for a right-hander) is flat, the right is slightly dorsiflexed, and the handle of the golf club is ahead of the grip end. Do your level best to pay attention to the look and feel of what you’re doing as opposed to the flight of the golf ball. FEEL that trail wrist bent slightly back, the lead wrist flat and the hands ahead. It will seem strange at first, but it’s the very small first step in learning to hit down on your tight lies. If some degree of that is not ultimately accomplished, you will likely always be executing “fit in” moves to make up for it. It is worth the time and effort to create this habit.

My suggestion is to get on a Trackman if possible to see where you’re low point actually is, or perhaps you may just want to start paying close attention to your divots-particularly the deepest part of them. I’m sure you will get into a pattern of bottoming out consistently in front of the ball when you begin to learn to get the hands ahead and the club head behind. And best of all, when this becomes your swing, you will lose the fear of hitting the turf first and be free to go down after the ball as aggressively as you like.

Ok, so how is this accomplished? While many players are looking for a magic bullet or a training aid which might help one miraculously get into a good impact position, I dare say there is not one. It is a trial and error proposition, a learn-from-the-mistakes kind of thing achieved only through repetition with a thorough understanding of what needs to be done. The hardest thing to do is IGNORE the outcome when learning a new motor skill, but you must do it. A couple of things you might try:

  • Start with 30-50 yard pitch shots, paying close attention to the hands leading at impact. Again ignore the outcome, look only at the divot.
  • Hit a TON of fairway bunker shots. Draw a line in the sand 3-4″ in front of the ball and try to hit it.
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What you can learn from the rearview camera angle

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We often analyze the golf swing from the face-on view or down-the-line camera angle. However, we can also learn how the body moves in the swing from the rearview or backside view.

When seeing the swing from the rearview, we can easily see how the glutes work. The trail glute actually moves back and around in the backswing. This means the glute moves towards the target or towards the lead heel. Note the trail glute start point and endpoint at the top of the backswing.

To some, this may seem like it would cause a reverse weight shift. However, this glute movement can enable the upper body to get loaded behind the ball. This is where understanding the difference between pressure, and weight is critical (see: “Pressure and Weight”).

This also enhances the shape of the body in the backswing. From the rear angle, I prefer to have players with a tuck to their body in their trail side, a sign of no left-side bend.

This puts the body and trail arm into a “throwing position”, a dynamic backswing position. Note how the trailing arm has folded with the elbow pointing down. This is a sign the trailing arm moved in an efficient sequence to the top of the backswing.

Next time you throw your swing on video, take a look at the rearview camera angle. From this new angle, you may find a swing fault or matchup needed in your golf swing to produce your desired ball flight.

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