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Topping The Ball? Here’s Your Fix

The drive off the tee is inspirational and there’s a real chance that the par 5 green can be reached in two — so long as there is a career-defining, rock-solid second shot with the fairway wood. Any hope about smacking the cover off the ball fades embarrassingly fast as the audience watches the awkward mid-hit topple forward from the starting point a mere 60 yards, and that was assisted by some run downhill! What the heck happened and why does it occur at the very time it’s needed most?

The fault in this scenario lies in that killer aspiration to hit the ball as hard as possible. The adrenalin kicks in and your body gets ahead of other components. The accelerated speed in the legs, hips and arms places critical pressure on the swing and results in a super-thin shot; the body has already left the building but the ball is still waiting for contact and the club follows through very skinny indeed.  

Another possible cause is body sway that is not corrected on the downswing, leaving the shot vulnerable to thin contact. The body sway might also be a “standing up” on the shot while executing the backswing — meaning additional distance from the ball on the way down. You really just want to hope that some contact is made and the ball moves forward.

Even though today’s clubs are so forgiving and generous, plenty of players move too fast and out of synch with an overall well-timed swing. Even the biggest club heads can’t help this! Here’s a four-way fix:

Weight transfer

Backfooting or transferring weight to your left then right is sure to result in a topped ball. This condition is often referred to as reverse pivot. If this is your problem, eradicate it as quickly as possible as it more a fatal disease than a condition!

Practice digging your right heel into the ground at the setup, drop your weight onto this side and make a mental tick when you feel your weight resting there. During the practice swing deliberately feel the transfer of your weight to the left and front. Exaggerate it if need be so as to feel the shift transfer from one side to the other.

Staying down

How often do we hear this piece of pop-coaching “Stay down on the ball.” It’s all very good and well but it’s often harder than it sounds. Keep your knees soft — bend them and keep them loose. Stop worrying so much about punching the ball up in the air as the club will do this if it makes good contact with the ball anyway. Focus on making great, solid contact with the ball. Soft knees will help promote a movement the club right through the ball

Right shoulder drop

Deliberately and consciously drop your right shoulder. This will help you to stay down on the ball as you glide through. It will also stabilize the turn motion and avoid pulling the club across you and striking it skinny as a result.

Ball check

Sometimes even the best players, with reliable swings, top balls off the deck — especially fairway woods. Assuming all else is in sequence and the swing is sound then double check stance, set up and ball position.

Having the ball too close to your left foot might be causing your swing to reach its bottom point well before the ball and hence, causing a near-air shot as your club clips the top of the ball on its up and through. Don’t be afraid to experiment with stance and ball placement checks at the range so as to ascertain if the topping is being caused by poor ball placement in your stance.

With the drive, make sure the ball is opposite your left heel — with other clubs this will vary as will the context. For example, using a hybrid to hit a ball embedded in the grass on a hill will require a carefully considered setup routine, including giving due thought to where the ball is in relation to your feet.

Topping the ball is embarrassing and annoying. If it’s a one-time event then move on and write it off to a poorly executed set of factors. However, if this occurs every round then it needs to be sorted. Use the four-way-fix as a checklist. Focus on maintaining a relaxed, smooth swing rather than trying to overhit the ball. Let the club do all the work, assisted by a well-executed swing.

— N. Incoll

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