How to Stop Topping the Ball

A top might just be the most common beginner miss in golf. Seeing the ball scuttling along the ground is a common sight on golf courses everywhere. It does tend to get less common with better golfers. As we improve, we get our fair share of thin shots but the stone-cold top isn’t a regular miss for someone in single figures for example. If you are still in that time in your game, this is how to stop topping the ball.

  • Keep your head down is terrible advice
  • It isn’t because your clubs are too short
  • Your swing probably needs to improve

Don’t Just Keep Your Head Down

I have heard a lot of (probably) well-meaning golfers say this to their playing partner after a top. “You lifted your head there, just keep it down and you’ll be fine.” This needs to stop because it is just rubbish in almost every case. It is extremely unnatural to keep your head down after the ball has gone. If you look at slow motion swings from professional golfers, they don’t do it either. And once you have hot the ball, it is gone: whether your head stays down afterwards or not is completely irrelevant!

I can understand the logic for this advice. Topping the ball means hitting it right on the top. If we are doing this, it seems logical that we are heading up and out of the swing too early. Thinking that this movement is because the head is moving up and away seems to make sense. In the era before launch monitors and slow motion cameras, it is even excusable to hear this sort of nonsense from coaches. Today, it has been shown time and again that it isn’t true at all.

If you do try to keep your head down, you won’t miraculously cure any topped shots. There is a good chance that you will mess up anything good in your swing though, because it creates a very artificial motion into and through the ball.

So if we can rule out this old chestnut, just what is causing the problem? It must be equipment, right?

Are Your Clubs Too Short?

The next thing on our list of myths about why we thin or top the ball, is the short club theory. Once again, this one seems to make a bit of sense. We hit the ball on the top because the club is too short. Seems logical, doesn’t it? Well, yes and no. If you top the ball, you might do it with a 36-inch nine iron or a 38-inch five iron. Three inches difference in the club length hasn’t helped. In fact, even good players sometimes hit a top with the longest club in their bag that they use off the fairway, the three wood.

Personally, I have found time and again that club length makes absolutely no difference to thin (or even fat) shots. I am very tall, and often play with standard length clubs. These clubs are, to most people, far too short for me. Surely, I should be hitting tops all the time if club length is the main culprit. And yet, this isn’t the case at all. I might hit a topped shot but I might just as easily hit a fat.

To be fair, I do stand a greater chance of mishitting with a set like this than something I might play with more often. I am fairly convinced that this has nothing to do with the length of the club at all. Simply, it is the fact that I am not used to them. It is actually more likely to be an issue with a very difference shaft weight of head type that makes my contact less consistent. I

Good Contact Comes from a Good Swing

In fact, the reason for the majority (not all, but most) of topped shots is generally poor swing mechanics. To show this best, let’s look at what a very good golfer does as he hits the ball. He or she will (with an iron) have a descending angle of attack and hit the ball first with the shaft leaning forward. These three elements are what makes for those amazing slo-mo images of divots the size of beaver pelts peeling away from the ground in front of the ball.

Now let’s compare that to the average hacker. This golfer will have, at best, a neutral angle of attack and might even be hitting up into the ball with his irons. His low point of the swing will vary from behind the ball to not actually hitting the ground at all. He will also, in all probability, flip the club head into contact and the shaft might be anywhere from vertical with a bit of luck to actually facing quite a long way forward.

The cure to topping the ball then, really is to improve swing mechanics. A golfer who manages to hit the ball and then bottom out his swing a couple of inches afterwards is not going to hi many fats. His angle of attack will automatically be more downwards and it becomes hard to flip when you generally get a ball/turf strike.

This might seem counter-intuitive and even scary at first if you tend to top it. I am telling you to hit down into the ball when you are already hitting it on top. However, it is the right way forward because going down any other alley will actually make the problem worse, increasing flip for example.

Stop Topping the Ball by improving Your Swing

I know that most golfers are looking for a quick fix for the topped shot which is why we often cling to “keep your head down.” Unfortunately, eliminating from your game is going to mean doing so work on your swing fundamentals. In the good news, this doesn’t need to be a complete overhaul is generally just part of improving as a golfer. There are lots of ways to work on this and I have written about them here and here for example.

One thing is for sure: if you take the time to work on this descending blow and ball first impact, the top shot won’t be something you are going to see a lot on the course.

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