How to stop topping the ball in golf? (Causes & Fixes)

How to stop topping the ball in golf?: There is nothing worse than hitting a topped shot and seeing the ball travel only a fraction of the distance you intended. Not only is it embarrassing, but it can also be costly. Whether you’re using an iron or any other club, it usually puts you in a bad position.

The difference with a topped shot is that it tends to end up closer to the target and is therefore a bit easier to recover from. Let’s be honest, many amateur golfers struggle to consistently make solid impacts. Most golfers make two main errors at impact: topping or hitting fat shots.

When players talk about a topped shot, it’s usually with an iron or wedge, but it can also happen with woods, although it’s less common. In this article, we will address the issue of topping, why it happens, and teach you how to stop hitting the ground before the ball.

❓ What is a “gratte” in golf?

First of all, what does it mean to “gratte” a shot, often known as a “chunk”? When you “gratte” a shot, it means that you hit the ground before the golf ball, taking a big divot well behind the ball. If you ask an average player how to get the ball airborne, they will say you need to get under the ball and hit it upward. But in reality, that’s not true.

The proper way to strike a golf ball and make it fly (with a wedge or an iron) is to hit down on it, striking the ball first and then the ground. This creates backspin and allows the dimples on the golf ball to create lift, much like the wings of an airplane.

What I mean is that hitting the ground first and the ball second hurts your golf shot. One of the reasons this happens is that most players think they need to hit under the ball to make it go up. In other words, you have to hit down on the ball to make it go up. The loft of the golf club does all the work for you. Yet many golfers try to help the ball get up by lifting it.

When a shot is hit fat, the clubhead slows down at impact because it encountered resistance before striking the ball.

To hit the ball as far as possible, it makes sense for the clubhead to move as fast as possible at the moment of impact. This happens when the impact occurs first on the ball and then on the ground.

Ideally, you want the divot to be in front of the golf ball, not behind it.

See Also: How to put backspin on a golf ball?

🔍 Causes of “grattes” in golf

As I just mentioned, a major reason is that people think they have to hit under the ball. However, the main reason a “gratte” occurs is that the player has unnecessarily moved their “swing center.”

You can consider your swing center as one of two elements: your head or your sternum. We tend to use the reference to the head more often because it doesn’t twist throughout the swing like the sternum.

Regardless, the head should stay relatively stable during the backswing and downswing. This allows the clubhead to follow a relatively predictable path and, consequently, solve the problem. The up-and-down movement of the head alters the angle of the spine you created at address.

▪️ The pendulum motion

Think of your entire swing motion as a pendulum. Remember those old exercises you may have done on the practice range that helped you create a perfect pendulum motion. A pendulum has a fixed point at the top, sometimes referred to as the frictionless pivot. It’s the point that remains still while the rest of the pendulum swings back and forth.

Your head is the fixed point of the entire motion. If this fixed point stays fixed or immobile, then the weight at the bottom of the pendulum (the clubhead) will always return to the same position at the bottom of the swing.

So, to make solid contact with the ball and avoid hitting the turf too early, you need to keep your center (your head) relatively steady, like a pendulum. Note that we said relatively steady; it doesn’t need to stay perfectly still.

Paula Creamer and Lee Westwood are good examples of players who move their heads slightly during the swing. But again, most amateurs don’t have everything working in their favor, so head movements are often signs of poor contact that can lead to a “gratte,” for example.

▪️ Address position

Your address position should be quite similar to your impact position. We say “quite similar” because it is acceptable, and even encouraged, to have a slight forward movement to hit the ball first. However, if your rate of “grattes” remains high, you need to focus more on the stability of your head.

The tendency for many players is either to sway the head backward in the backswing, let it drop, lift it, or a combination of two or three of these movements.

Each additional movement will make it even more difficult for the club to return to a good position at impact. The fewer moving parts, the better. That’s why flexibility and a solid exercise routine can also help improve your game.

A major reason you feel the need to move your head is that you want to see the result of your shot faster than expected. Yet, you are more likely to see your ball go in the desired direction if you keep your head steady at impact. Typically, your playing partners are also present to watch the result of your ball.

▪️ Less is more in terms of movement.

Most of the time, when you try to hit the ball harder, it travels a shorter distance because you sacrifice the quality of contact for speed. Instead, focus first on hitting the center of the clubface and then on generating speed. It’s better to take a club up, have good contact without forcing it, rather than missing a shot where you put all your strength into it

▪️ How to stop hitting behind the ball

Now that you know why the dreaded scratches happen, we need to talk about how to avoid them. The easiest solution is to keep your head still throughout the backswing and downswing. Only after impact can you let your head move. But that’s always easier said than done.

When practicing swings, focus your attention on the movement of your head. You may tend to tense your neck muscles, but be sure to stay relaxed.

Relaxed muscles have better control than tight muscles. So relax your neck and shoulder muscles. Do a few practice swings and focus on moving your head. Notice when you feel like tensing your neck and shoulder muscles. This is a good indication of head movement, as you use these muscles more when they are in motion.

▪️ Do not force your habits

Another common reason players hit behind is that they are trying to hit too far. Another easy tip to follow is to take one more club in order to have a better tempo.

Instead of trying to hit the ball really hard, try picking up an extra club with each shot and swinging easier. This will help create a more relaxed feeling and your muscles won’t feel as tense. Since you already know you have one or even two more clubs, you will subconsciously relax and have a better rhythm than if you felt like you had to force it.

👨‍🏫 Exercises to stop scratching

Telling yourself to keep your head still and relax won’t always solve the problem.

Although this is not the latest news, perfecting your backswing and downswing requires diligent practice. It’s not something you can read once and implement instantly (unfortunately).

But if you’re determined to improve so you can achieve lower scores, we’ve got you covered. Here are some helpful drills you can try at the driving range to give you the impression of keeping your head still so you can avoid strumming.

See Also: Why Is Golf So Hard? Tips for Overcoming Obstacles

Exercise video

This drill is all about understanding what your head is doing during your full swing.

  • Have a friend take a video (preferably in slow motion if possible) of you hitting a golf ball.
  • Next, draw a circle around your head at the address.
  • As you watch the video, focus on your head. Remember that she must stay inside the circle until you have touched the ball. If you can do this, you will limit the number of bad contacts.
  • Be sure to notice your biggest trends. As we said earlier, some people tilt their head back, some tilt down, and still others get back up.
  • Whatever your streak, try to hit doing the exact opposite of what feels “normal” to you. For example, if you tend to swing backwards on your way down, try hitting a shot by moving your head forward. Since you are used to moving your head in one direction, this will be difficult to do and you will probably have a fairly stable head.

▪️ Exercise to keep your head steady

  • Ask a friend to stand in front of you, facing you.
  • Ask him to take his club and lay the side of the grip on top of your head. Tell him not to move throughout the swing, so that the club only rests on your head if it is perfectly still. This will allow you to “feel” your head position throughout the swing.
  • If you touch the grip more at any point, you know you’ve moved.
  • If you feel your head lift off the grip, you know you’ve moved too.
  • Again, if you can maintain the same connection between your head and the grip of the club on your shoulder, you will notice your shots becoming crisper and the scrapes disappearing from your game.

This drill is used by top PGA Tour players, including Tiger Woods himself. This helps him hit better iron shots. We’ve seen caddies and trainers use this drill for almost two decades.

See Also: What happens if you break your golf ball while hitting it?

▪️ “Book-Head” Exercise to Stop Strums

Here is another instructional drill that you can do yourself that will get you tremendous results in hitting better shots. The coolest thing is that all you need is a little book to help you solve your latest problems.

  • Take a small book and balance it on top of your head.
  • Try doing a few swings with the book on your head. It will be hard to do, even if you keep your head still, but you will get better.
  • It’s obvious the book will fall off after impact, but focus on keeping it on your head for as long as possible. If your head moves, the book will fall, which is a sign that you are moving too much in the backswing.

You can even do this in your living room with an imaginary club or in your bedroom looking at a mirror. Do lots of practice swings and feel the stability of your head throughout the golf swing. Do this 50 to 100 times each day, in order to program your mind for this new feeling through repetition.

Finally, my favorite exercise for correcting a greasy hit is to use a tee while on the driving range.

See Also: Top Golf Techniques for Beginners: Master the Fundamentals

▪️ Tee exercise to stop scratches

  • Take a tee and sink it completely into the turf, so that you can only see the top of it, but it doesn’t stick out of the ground.
  • Then place your ball about 2cm behind the tee (which is barely visible).
  • Take a swing and focus your eyes on the top of the tee rather than the golf ball.
  • Your objective is to “out” the tee with your divot.

This drill will help you learn how to make the impact with the ball first, then with the turf, thus eliminating scratches. Since you can’t put a tee in the turf during your round of golf, just focus on a blade of grass in front of the ball you’re trying to hit.

This will force you to hit the ground where the impact will be better and where you won’t be hitting behind the golf ball. Try these few drills as they are the best drills available to help your golf game.

✋ To put an end to scratches…

Use these final tips to stop hitting behind the ball once and for all. While it’s unlikely you’ll ever hit golf scratches again (I mean, you’re human), you now know what causes them and how to avoid common mistakes in the future.

So what is the most important lesson?

Focus on keeping your head in a similar position throughout the swing and pivoting smoothly. This is the key element to ensuring that your club has a solid impact on the golf ball. You want your body to move around your spine while keeping your head in a similar position.

Remember, anything that happens with your head will almost directly influence whether you hit the ball fat, thin, or perfect. I’m sure if you put these exercises into practice you will see a dramatic reduction in the number of bad shots. Not to mention, you’re likely to get better spin, better launch angle, and better distance because you’re hitting the ball in the best possible way.

See Also: Why Is the Golf Swing So Difficult? Tips and Tricks for Bettering Your Game


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