One of the most common problems that amateur golfers struggle with is creating consistent contact. Typically, what this means, is that the clubface does not come in to direct contact with the golf ball; where the ball hits the center of the face without much resistance.
A common error is that they catch too much ground first, therefore hitting the ball too high on the face. This is known as a fat, or heavy, shot. The other miss, which I’ll focus on in this article, is when the club face only makes contact with the ball, and not the ground, and too low on the club face. This type of shot is referred to as a thin, or topped shot.
Topping the golf ball causes it to stay fairly close to the ground after being struck. Some topped shots don’t travel very far, while others will roll a long distance. It also might create an uncomfortable vibration through the shaft and grip into a player’s hands.
I’m sure, at some point, you’ve asked, “Why am I topping the golf ball?” I’ll give you all the answers here in this article. It’s fairly common and relatively easy to fix.
Why am I Topping the Golf Ball?
First, I’ll talk about why amateur golfers top the golf ball. Typically, a ball is topped because the club has not gone far enough down towards the ball.
A lot of things can cause this to happen:
- A club that’s too short
- An awkward stance
- Weight leaning the wrong direction
- A swing arc that travels up
- Fear of hitting the ground
Topping because the Club is Too Short
A club that is too short or a stance that is too far from the ball are both issues that are very similar. A player that is too far from the ball will be forced to reach and uncomfortably long distance in order to reach the ball.
This is a difficult thing to do in the middle of a swing, so the result is usually a shot that is topped. At the same time, a club that is too short will also force a player to reach for the ball.
Topping Due to an Awkward Stance
An awkward lie or ground condition can also cause a shot to be topped. Most often, when a player is hitting the ball up hill, it can result in a topped golf shot. The reason for this is because a golfer will often lean or fall down the hill after they hit.
This momentum going down the hill means that the player has a swing that has too much of an upward arc. An upward arc in the golf swing with weight leaning backwards, instead of forwards, will lead to a topped golf shot.
Topping from a Fear of Hitting the Ground
Finally, the fear of hitting the ground can also result in a topped golf shot. If you’ve been through a period of hitting a lot of fat, or heavy, golf shots, where you catch too much ground, that can lead to overcompensation. Doing this often makes people over-correct and start hitting the top of the golf ball.
How To Stop Topping The Golf Ball
No matter what your common mistake is that leads to topping the golf ball, they can all be corrected fairly easily with a couple different changes to your swing.
Your Swing is a Pendulum
The first big thing you want to do is imagine that your golf swing is a pendulum. Your golf club is the swinging arm, with the top part of the grip being the fixed point. If your fixed-point stays still throughout your golf swing, you will bottom out at the same point every time.
In a golf swing, your head is the fixed-point. So, if you keep your head still throughout the entire golf swing, your club should return exactly to the point where you started your golf swing.
To Make the Ball Go Up, You Must Hit Down!
The next thing you need to know though, is how a golf ball gets in to the air. A lot of people believe that hitting under the ball (where the club starts at address) will get the ball in the air.
Unfortunately, that is not true. In order to get the ball in the air, you need to hit down on the golf ball, hitting the ball first and then the ground, in that order. If you hit the ball only, you’ll top it and if you hit the ground and then the ball then you’ll hit it fat.
So, back to the pendulum idea.
You want the bottoming out point of your golf swing to move slightly forward and down before impact. The key to doing this is getting your weight moving forward on to your front foot during the down swing.
The quicker you can move your weight forward, the better chance you’ll have of hitting the ball and then the ground with a descending blow.
The three things you need to do to correct the issue of topping the golf ball is:
- Keep your head still throughout the backswing. If you can do that, it maintains your fixed-point longer. Golfers who top the ball often let their head sway backwards in the backswing; resist this temptation.
- Next, you need to make sure you take a divot at impact. This can be a little frightening for people who had a previous problem with hitting the ball fat. Make sure that your divot occurs after the golf ball is struck.
- Finally, in order to create that divot, you’ll need to shift your weight forward to your front side throughout the downswing. If you can make sure that you take a divot and finish on your front side, you’ll always make solid contact.
How to Stop Topping the Golf Ball with Fairway Woods
Now, all of the information above applies to irons and fairway woods or hybrids. You may have noticed, though, that hitting fairway woods solidly is significantly harder with the same tips.
That’s definitely true. There are a lot of very good golfers who struggle to hit fairway woods for two key reasons.
- First, the lower the loft of a golf club, the more difficult it is to hit off the ground.
- Next, and perhaps the reason why the first is true, is that fairway woods require a much shallower angle of approach. Meaning, the club head, while still traveling down towards the ball, is not going down along an angle as steep as an iron.
In this section, I’ll talk about how to stop topping the golf ball with fairway woods. In order to make sure you give yourself the best possible chance of not topping your fairway woods, there are a couple things you can do.
Ball Position to Prevent Topping
First, make sure your ball position is correct at address. The tendency of a fairway wood is to put it all the way off your front foot because it appears easier to get in the air. Instead, put the ball about 1-2 ball lengths behind the inside of your front foot.
This will allow your club to catch ball first and then ground easier. So, basically, move it back in your stance a little more than most people do.
Steady Head = Fewer Topped Shots
Next, this will sound a little repetitive because it’s the same as I said above, but it becomes exponentially more important with longer clubs. Keep your head still throughout the backswing. Every little movement is going to make it more difficult to return the club to the desired position.
Choose the Right Lie or Pay the Price
Third, make sure you have a good lie. Fairway woods are not meant, or designed, to be hit out of the rough or another tough lie.
Take the longest iron you can hit out of a difficult lie and keep the fairway wood in the bag. I understand that’s not a sexy answer, but it’s true.
Low and Slow Takeaway
Finally, keep your club head low to the ground, especially when it comes to the backswing. Don’t get too quick with your wrists and hands with lifting the club head in the air. Since the angle of attack is a lot shallower than an iron, you want to simulate that attack angle with your takeaway.
So, think “low and slow” in the backswing and you’ll be able to return the club in that same way more often.
If you do these things, you’ll discover exactly how to stop topping the golf ball with fairway woods.
Drills to Stop Topping the Golf Ball
Now that I’ve addressed all the issues with topping the golf ball, in this section, I’ll give you some drills to stop topping golf ball. Practice these to make sure you don’t top the ball anymore.
Drill to Stop Topping #1: The Still Head Drill
- First, have a friend stand in a safe spot, just outside the golf ball you are addressing.
- Then, have them rest the grip-side of their club on the top of your head.
- Take a swing and have them keep the club in the same spot the entire time.
- Your head should keep touching the grip of your friends club the entire time, until you hit the golf ball.
If you’re able to do that, then you are successfully keeping you “fixed-point” still throughout the backswing.
You can also do this drill on your own by resting a rule book or yardage book on the top of your head. It’s not as easy to see if you’ve done it correctly, but if you can keep the book on your head through the entire swing, then that’ll give you a pretty good idea that your head is staying still.
Drill to Stop Topping #2: The Tee Drill
- Take two tees.
- Push one all the way in the ground about ½ inch outside the golf ball.
- Push the other tee all the way in the ground about ½ inch in front of the golf ball.
- Then, hit a golf ball.
- Your divot ought to take out the tee that is in front of the golf ball.
- Your divot also ought to start at, or slightly after, the tee that was outside of the golf ball.
This drill is great for making sure that your path and angle of attack are correct. If the divot does not take out, or break, the front tee, it means you are not getting enough of your weight moving forward.
You aren’t moving your “fixed-point” forward enough in the downswing. If there is no divot at all, then you know that you need to be swinging down at the ball into the ground more.
Drill to Stop Topping #3: Stand on Club Drill
Finally, in order to help you feel your weight moving forward better,
- lay a club down on the ground, parallel to your back foot.
- Then, step on the shaft of the club with the outside half of your back foot.
- Hit some shots with half of your foot on that club.
This will get you to feel a little bit of your weight moving forward because you should be leaning that way to begin the swing.
You’ll also want to make sure you can “tap” your back foot toe after you finish the shot. If your weight is on your front side, then you should be able to balance, while tapping the back toe on the ground.
There’s all you need to know to stop topping the golf ball. If you can keep your head still in the backswing, hit down on the ball and then the ground, and move your weight forward through the downswing, then you’ll be able to fix the issue of topping the golf ball.