Is there anything worse in golf than topping a shot?
Whether it happens with a driver, fairway wood or an iron, there isn’t much more of an embarrassing shot, wouldn’t you agree? The only thing relatable to this golf shot is the “S” word, which might be even worse, so I won’t type the full 5-letter word as I don’t want to put the curse on any golfer.
As you probably know, one of the most common problems that amateur golfers struggle with is making consistent contact. Typically, this means that the clubface does not come into direct contact with the golf ball as something has happened on the backswing, downswing or transition.
A common error is that golfers tend to catch too much turf 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 a 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 can roll a long distance if you catch it thin as the angle creates topspin.
Hitting this shot might also create an uncomfortable vibration through the shaft and grip into a player’s hands. If you’ve ever hit a “stinger” shot on the bottom grooves when it’s cold out, I’m sure you know exactly what I’m talking about.
I’m sure, at some point in your golfing adventures, you’ve posed the question, “Why am I topping the golf ball?” I’ll give you all the answers here in this article.
It’s fairly common miss and luckily, relatively easy to fix. If you’re tired of hitting one of the most embarrassing shots in the game, keep reading to learn how to stop topping the ball.
Why am I Topping the Golf Ball?
When it comes to topping the ball, it can feel like a real head scratcher, especially if happens in the middle of the round. But if you know the “why” behind the shot, it will make it much easier to learn how to diagnose and fix your mistake.
Typically, a ball is topped because the club has not gone far enough down towards the ball or you catch the ball on the way up, instead of at the bottom point.
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
- Incorrect posture throughout the swing
- Reverse pivot
- Fear of hitting the ground
- A Chicken Wing Follow Through
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 an uncomfortably long distance in order to reach the ball.
This is a difficult position to maintain throughout the swing. Also, at the same time, a club that is too short will also force a player to reach for the ball.
Remember, a good golf swing starts with the right equipment. The game is hard enough as it is, so make sure that all of your clubs are helping, not hurting your chances of shooting lower scores.
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 that 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. In this case, you want to adjust your shoulders to slope instead of keeping shoulders level.
The reverse pivot is another leading cause of the dreaded topped shot. With this move, you never get your weight to the back foot and instead, pivot off your lead foot. This leads to your weight never shifting back, which means it’s can’t get the proper weight transfer on the downswing.
And if you do this move, you will leave the majority of your weight on your backside and hit up on the golf ball. This leads to the dreaded miss.
To get back on track and fix your poor weight transfer, make sure that you have a solid base at address position. You want to make sure your feet are wide and your knees are in a flexed position. This will help get most of your weight back and allow the proper arc into the ball.
Also, don’t forget to check your weight distribution at setup with irons and fairway woods. Usually, people who do a reverse move have too much weight on the lead foot, making it hard to twist back. Instead, you want 50-50 for the majority of lies.
If you suffer from thin or fat shots, chances are your posture and spine angle change throughout the swing. But to make consistent contact, you need to maintain correct posture throughout your entire swing.
This is a pretty easy fix once you video your swing and watch your spine angle. To make it easy, download a free app and draw a line down your spine to see how it changes during your swing.
Ideally, you want to:
- Keep your knees flexed (not bent), in an athletic position
- Bend at the waist
- Maintain a straight back
- Allow your arms to hang loose
Posture is crucial in getting the right arc for all shots! If you’re setup correctly, your swing arc can bottom out too early with irons and fairway woods.
The drills in the follow section will help you keep your posture consistent so that you can make much better contact. Remember, so much of the game happens before your swing, focus on the fundamentals before assessing anything else.
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.
Think of Your Swing as 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.
Understanding your swing arc will help you a ton. To learn more about bottoming out your swing arc, check out our full post here.
Hit Down To Go Up
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. You must hit down for it to go up!
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, then the ball 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 downswing.
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. Remember, your lower body leads the downswing.
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. This will help impact, get the right arc, and flush the golf ball.
- 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.
Steady Head = Fewer Topped Shots
A steady position is key to hitting quality golf shots. It might feel like a difficult thing for some players but it’s arguably the best way to swing everything back together. A steady head means that you don’t lift your head, dip your head or sway.
Instead, you want to keep your head as still as possible throughout the backswing and downswing.
Every little movement is going to make it more difficult to return the club to the desired position. Also, if you sway your head back to the right (if you’re right-handed), this also makes it more difficult to get back to square.
Of course, the head will move slightly through the swing but the less you move it, the easier it will be to square the club at impact. Keep your head steady for the best results!
Adjust Your Hands
The final move to adjust at setup is your hands. So many golfers have their hands back at address instead of a slight forward press.
But remember, to hit down on the ball you need to have the right swing arc. To take the club away, have a slight forward press in your hands, with any club.
This is one of the easiest ways to stop topping the ball as it gets your hands and wrists in a great position. It will allow you to effortlessly hit down on the ball instead of trying to help it up in the air.
How to Stop Topping the Ball with Fairway Woods
Now, all of the information above applies to irons and fairway woods or hybrids as well. You may have noticed, though, that hitting fairway woods solidly is significantly harder with the same tips.
There are a lot of very good golfers who struggle to hit fairway woods so if you struggle with this topped shot, know that you aren’t alone.
So why is it harder to hit the fairway woods off the deck?
- First, the lower the loft of a golf club, the more difficult it is to hit off the ground. For example, a 3-wood is usually between 13-16 degrees loft while a 5-wood is 18-20 degrees. This is why most amateurs prefer to hit higher lofted woods than lower ones, especially from a tight lie.
- Next, and perhaps the reason why the first is true, is that fairway woods require a much shallower angle of approach. Meaning, the clubhead, while still traveling down towards the golf ball, is not going down along an angle as steep as you would with a normal iron swing.
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. If you can take away anything from this post it’s this; ball position is key to hitting fairway woods from the turf!
The tendency for most golfers with a fairway wood is to put it all the way off your front foot because it appears easier to get in the air. But this will make you hit it on the way up and thus, thin or top it.
Instead, put the ideal ball position will be 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.
Test ball position at the range and see how much of a difference it makes when it’s off your left foot, below the logo of your shirt, and in the middle of your stance. After a few balls, you’ll quickly find the right position based on the results.
Remember, you want to hit down on the ball and still make a slight divot even with a wood. If you need a visual example, there probably isn’t anything better than Henrik Stenson’s 3-wood in slow-motion.
Choose the Right Lie or Pay the Price
To make clean contact with a fairway wood off the deck, make sure you have a good lie. Fairway woods in general are not meant, or designed, to be hit out of the rough or another tough lie.
That being said, if you’re a scratch golfer or consistently shoot in the 70s, you might get away with a hairy lie. But in general, you want to hit a higher loft wood when you’re in the rough. Or, take the longest iron or hybrid 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.
But if you insist on hitting a 3-wood from the rough, make these two adjustments:
- Make sure to open the face slightly at address as the hosel will likely shut as the rough rotates it.
- Grip the club slightly harder (not a death grip) to keep the clubface square.
Also, make sure no trouble is short of your target in case you get it heavy from the rough!
Focus on Tempo
Another top reason that golfers fail miserably with fairway woods is they swing way too hard!
Usually, because they know that they have enough club to get to the green and potentially, set themselves up for an eagle putt if it’s a par-5 or a birdie putt on a long par-4. But in order to hit quality fairway woods off the turf like Henrik Stenson, tempo is key!
Don’t try to kill it! If you do, usually most golfers grip it way too tight, add extra tension and creates a negative chain reaction, It leads to a poor weight shift, totally throw of the timing of shoulders and arms and more.
To stop topping the ball from the deck, work on mastering your tempo and take plenty of club! Quit trying to kill it.
Low and Slow Takeaway
Finally, keep your club head low to the ground, especially on the way back. You don’t want to 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. As you can imagine, it’s not nearly as easy to do alone.
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. Like most of the drills on this list, don’t swing with 100% effort. Anytime you’re training new habits, go slow at first to get the correct feeling.
Try to keep the same level throughout the whole swing. You can also do this move at home while looking at the mirror to fix the problem of a head dip.
Drill to Stop Topping #2: The Tee Drill
- With this drill you will take two tees and 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 with 70% effort.
- Your divot should take out the tee that is in front of the golf ball.
- Your divot also should start at, or slightly after, the tee that was outside of the golf ball. Remember, you want to hit the ball, then the turf not the other way around.
This drill is great for making sure that your club 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 drill will get you to feel a little bit of your weight moving forward because you should be leaning that way to begin the swing. In order for this drill to work, don’t try to hit at 100% effort or especially long clubs. Instead, shoot for 50-70% of your full swing with a mid to short iron.
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.
Drill to Stop Topping #4: Visualization
Sometimes the yips, shanks, and tops are all mental. As you know, golf is a hugely mental sport that might not have anything to do with your right shoulder, impact position, or getting the right arc. Sometimes, it’s all between the ears.
To help improve this shot (or any shot), do a quick visualization before you hit the shot. Standing behind the ball, imagine the shot going just as you want. Think about making clean crisp contact and watching the ball soar at your target.
If you aren’t visual and more kinesthetic, imagine the feeling when the ball takes flight. Feel how great it will feel when you make contact with the center of the club. Not only can this work to stop topping fairway woods, but any shot that you lack confidence from.
As Jack Nicklaus said, “I never hit a shot, not even in practice, without having a ver sharp, in-focus picutre of it in my head.” The more you do this drill, the easier it will become. The best part is that you can practice this at your house, office or before your shot. Train your mind for succcess using the power of visualization.
How do I stop topping the golf ball video?
While all these golf tips are helpful, sometimes it’s best to learn by watching and doing.
Here are some of the most watched videos to explain the process and avoid the common mistakes mentioned above:
How do I stop trying to kill the golf ball?
As I mentioned above, trying to kill any shot hurts your golf game. Whether you’re topping golf ball with irons or or woods, aggression and trying to hit it extra hard hurt your game.
Instead, make sure you take plenty of club, especially with a wood, to keep a smooth tempo and to stop topping the ball! Not only will this help your impact position, but I bet you’ll feel less pressure to swing hard.
Remember, swinging harder doesn’t necessarily mean better. Consistency > distance!
What are other fixes?
If this feels too overwhelming to address on your own, hire a swing coach that you trust to help you improve. don’t forget, the best players ever like Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, and Phil Mickelson all get help, so you should too.
Like Jack Nicklaus said, “Don’t be too proud to take lessons, I’m not.”
As you can tell, there are quite a few reasons why most golfers end up with this dreaded miss. Whether it’s the wrong address position, incorrect weight shift, or something else, all can lead to this common but infuriating miss. Luckily, if you analyze your swing and test out these drills above, you can help your game tremendously and start making better contact with every club in the bag.
Remember, throughout the swing, you want to keep your head in the relatively same position as you did at adress position. Then, you want to make sure the club is the right position between your feet.
Move the ball back because if it’s too far in the front of your stance, you will catch the ball on way up from your swing and nearly miss the ball. This is especially true with a 3-wood or 5-wood. Move it back in your stance!
Finally, don’t forget to take it “low and slow” on the way back. Not to mention, from the top of your backswing, you want try to keep your tempo so you accelerate most at impact. If you get too quick when you start your downswing, it’s easy to mess up your entire swing sequence.
While it sounds like a lot to evaluate, it’s likely you’re already doing most of these correctly; it’s usually just one reason. But once you fix it, you can stop topping the ball and start hitting better shots.
Do you have another drill or tip that you’ve used to forever get rid of the cold top? Please let us know in the comments!