First, let me get a common myth out of the way that teaching professionals hear amateurs tell each other far too often. “You didn’t keep your head down long enough, that’s why you are topping and thinning your shots.” This is far from the truth, if you watch some of the best players in the world including Henrik Stenson and Annika Sorenstam their eyes are already looking at their target before they even get to impact. When players keep their head down too long, it restricts them from being able to turn properly through the ball, thus causing the majority of them to pull their arms into their sides and top or thin the ball. Now, that we got that myth out of the way, let’s talk about proper grip.
Grip plays an important role in how well the ball is struck, as it either sets you up for success or failure. One grip I see often that causes players to top, thin, and slice the ball is shown below. The player tends to have their dominant palm under the grip, allowing the palm of the hand to face the sky. This grip tends to make players rely on their hands and arm movement far too much, making players flip their hands through impact or pull their arms into their sides through impact making them lack body rotation, thus causing the dreaded topped and thinned approach shots. The way to correct this is by making sure your dominant thumb is more on top of the grip and pointing straight down the grip or on the target side of the grip. This will help you have better extension and more body rotation through impact.
I talked about grip to help set your swing up for success. Now let’s talk about the mechanics and drills to help improve your swing and get rid of the dreaded worm burners and topped shots. In the illustration, you will notice in the “wrong” picture my shoulders and hips are still square to the ball at impact and my head has not rotated, thus my hands have made a flipping motion and the low point of the clubhead is too high above the ball causing me to top or thin the shot. Now, in the right image you will notice my hips, shoulders and eyes are already facing towards my target at impact allowing me to be able to rotate easier through impact, thus making my low point at the ball and in turn helping me have more solid contact and keep the clubface square longer through impact because I am now using my body to swing, rather than just my arms and hands.
Keys to Success Here
Place an alignment stick on the ground in the middle of your stance starting with a pitching wedge or lower lofted club, checking that your grip is correct. Once you have done this, make some small swings going from hip high on the backswing to hip high on the follow through and clip the grass in front of the alignment stick.
If you find yourself having trouble clipping the grass in front of the alignment stick, check to make sure at impact your shoulders, hips and eyes are facing towards your target or perpendicular to your target, rather than parallel to your target.
Here are a couple questions to ask yourself in the finish position of the hip high swings. Is the majority of your weight on your lead leg? If your weight is on your trail foot this will cause a topped or thinned shot. Are you fully turned towards the target, belt buckle/hips, shoulders, and eyes? If you are not, this can cause your arms to pull into your sides and top/thin the shot, block yourself out making you hit big blocks/ slices or even flip your hands and pull the shot.
Swing Mechanics Continued
In the photograph you will notice my trail shoulder is under my chin as if I am kissing my shoulder and pointing towards the ground and in the incorrect picture my trail shoulder is level with the ground, meaning I am swinging with my arms and hands too much, thus causing my shoulders to stay to high during the swing making me swat at the golf ball, rather than pivot with my shoulders and the rest of my body properly.
Key: Your shoulders should work in a pivoting fashion where your lead shoulder goes under your chin on your backswing like you’re going to give it a kiss lowering towards the ground and on the downswing your trail shoulder does the same, lowering towards the ground coming under your chin like you’re going to kiss it.
Place a club across your chest and rotate back and through focusing on your downswing motion of having your trail shoulder rotate in a downward motion to impact. Your shoulders, chest and hips will rotate together. A good feeling with this drill to help get the correct sequence is feeling like you are kissing your trail shoulder on your downswing as you are rotating.
What to watch for, if your trail shoulder is rotating level to the ground and not down towards the ground as if you are kissing your shoulder and bringing your shoulder under your chin, it will be almost impossible to get back underneath the ball. The only way you could really get back underneath the ball if your shoulders are level to the ground is by throwing your arms and hands down to the ball, thus causing inconsistency in contact.
For another good feeling to help this sequence, place a towel under your armpits and hit small chip shots making sure not to lose the towel. If you use your hands and arms too much, you will lose the towel.
Kirsten Pike is the lead Teaching Professional at Las Colinas Country Club. To improve your scores follow her on Instagram at kirstenpike_golfinstruction and visit kpikegolf.wixsite.com