No matter the skill level, every golfer in the world hits bad shots. There is a miss that even PGA Tour players are familiar with, and that’s the top.
Almost missing the golf ball and having it hit the ground only a few feet in front of you. While playing with your buddies, there isn’t a more embarrassing shot.
Jack Nicklaus once wrote about his frustration with topping the ball, and he said that it stems from trying “to kill it.” This is just one explanation as to why golfers top the ball, but for many players, this isn’t the reason. A top from trying to hit the ball too hard is usually seen from a high-level golfer.
A high-handicap golfer, on the other hand, faces more fundamental swing errors than clubhead speed. Things are taking place during your swing that are causing you to top the golf ball, and that’s what we are trying to fix today.
Why are you topping the ball?
There are numerous reasons that you could be topping the golf ball, and today we are going to go over 5 of them and how you can fix them.
Then I’ll show you some drills (some of which you can do right now in your home) to get the right feel for avoiding the faults that can cause the dreaded topped shot.
Swing arc bottoming out way too early
Many high-handicap golfers believe they need to help the golf ball get in the air. They will try and “scoop” the ball in order to do this, which results in a massive loss of distance and inconsistent ball flight. But bottoming out too early during your golf swing can also lead to topping the ball. If your clubhead bottoms out early, that means it will be ascending while it gets closer to the ball. If you make contact, it’s going to be with the bottom of the club, resulting in tops.
To fix this miss, we need to move the bottom of your swing’s arc. It all starts in your head. High-handicappers need to stop thinking they need to help the ball get in the air. The loft of your club will do all the work for you, so don’t be afraid to hit down on the ball. Hitting down on the ball starts with getting onto your lead side more efficiently. No more hanging back on your trail leg/foot.
To start the downswing, transition your weight onto your lead side. This move will make it a lot easier to hit the ball first, then ground on a more consistent basis. One more thing to keep in mind, focus on your lead arm. Keeping your lead arm straight throughout the swing will make it easier to not “scoop” the golf ball.
Drill to fix bottoming-out
I have used this drill many times while working on my own game. It’s very simple and doesn’t require you to buy anything you don’t have already. I call it the “Moat Drill”.
All you need for this drill is your golf towel. Place your towel down on the ground a few inches behind the ball, creating the “moat”.
This drill will give you an obvious result on whether or not you’re bottoming out too early during your swing. If you hit the towel before you hit the ball, you’re bottoming early. This drill will force you to transfer your weight to your lead side and hit the ball first, then the ground. Every time you go to the range/hit into your net at home, do this drill.
Bottom of your swing is too far forward
This swing fault is almost the opposite of bottoming too early, but can cause the same problem.
If you’re transferring your weight too much to your lead side, the bottom of your swing arc will be too much in front of the ball. This will also cause you to hit the ball with the bottom of your club, resulting in tops.
Having your weight on your lead side is crucial to striking the ball well, but you can do it too much. We need to get your body more centered and not covering the ball too much.
Drill to back up your swing arc
This drill is just like the Moat drill, but you’re going to put a towel a few inches before the ball and another towel 6-8 inches after the ball. If you’re transferring your weight too much, you’ll hit the ball first, but then hit the front towel.
This drill will force you to stay more centered over the ball, and only hit the ground an inch or two after the ball.
Standing too far away from the ball
High-handicap golfers often struggle with their set up. Ball too far forward, too far back, and weight distributed incorrectly are just a few examples of issues they can have. But a set-up flaw that I see in many of my students is standing too far away from the ball.
They have their upper body too tilted over, which causes their arms to reach out in front of them and get away from their body. During the swing, if you’re too far away from the ball, it is very easy to “stand up” and come out of your posture. This will move the bottom of your swing arc from the ground to an inch or two above the ground, which will result in topping the ball.
Drill to better your set-up
This “drill” isn’t going to look the same for every golfer, but it’s going to help all high-handicappers better their set-up. Most of the time, like I said before, a golfer is standing too far away from the ball because they are too bent over.
For this “drill”, stand straight up with your weight distributed evenly on both feet. Slightly bend your knees, and bend over while keeping your weight even.
What’s important here is that you keep balanced on your feet. You can’t strike the golf ball consistently if you are on your toes or heels. You want to be bent over to a point where hanging your arms straight down feels as comfortable as possible.
This change is going to feel odd at first, but after doing it over and over, it’s going to feel much more comfortable than your original set-up.
Now take a grip on your club, and get used to this posture. Again, it’s going to feel odd but this will drastically improve your ball striking.
Coming out of your posture
Coming out of your posture isn’t always caused by being too bent over. You could have textbook posture, but on your downswing you can lose it while trying to hit the ball.
Instead of rotating correctly, many players lose the rotation in their lead hip and block their hands from coming into the ball. To strike the ball consistently, you need to improve hip rotation and clearance.
Drill to improve rotation
Many players feel uncomfortable with trusting rotation to hit the golf ball correctly. They will come out of their posture and throw their hands at the ball. To change this, I have my players do the “wall” drill. This can be done while hitting balls, or just in the house to get used to the feeling.
Range version: When you set up to the ball, stick an alignment stick in the ground behind you so it rests on your lead butt cheek.
While hitting balls, during your downswing, focus on keeping pressure on the stick throughout the swing. If you come out of posture, you will not be able to feel the stick anymore. This will keep you down on the golf ball and will result in better rotation.
Home version: Take your posture up against the wall so your butt is on the wall. Hold a club across your chest
and rotate like your swing. This will get you used to the feeling of “staying seated” and improve your rotation.
Other problem that isn’t a swing fault
If you do all these drills and you find yourself still topping the golf ball, the problem may not be your swing. The problem could be the clubs you’re using, they may be too short for you.
Getting your clubs fit to your swing can be expensive, but it’s extremely important. Building a swing based on your clubs will restrict you from becoming a great golfer, the clubs must be constructed around your game. If getting a full fitting is too expensive, most golf pros will solely fit you for the correct shaft length.
Topping the golf ball is the most frustrating miss in golf. Your swing can feel great, but the result isn’t. These drills will help you dramatically in improving your ball striking and staying in good posture.
Many good drills can be done with things you already have in your golf bag, and these are some great examples. Take these drills to the range, or perform them in your house when you can’t get to the course.