How to Stop Topping the Golf Ball
Golf can lead to some embarrassing moments on the course.
Perhaps one of the most embarrassing and frustrating shots of all time is a topped shot. This type of shot barely goes anywhere and you’re left with a very similar shot on the next one. Plus, you’re likely frustrated from the previous swing, which makes the next one even more difficult.
A topped shot tends to happen more with fairway woods and drivers than irons, but can occur with any club in the bag. While it’s more common with higher handicap golfers, it can happen to the pros too. At the 2022 Open Championship at St. Andrews, Justin Thomas topped a 5-wood on the 18th hole and barely made it over the creek.
The key is understanding the physics of what causes this frustrating shot and diagnosing the main issue. Keep reading to figure out the main culprits behind the shot and learn how to stop topping the golf ball.
How to Stop Topping the Golf Ball
Before going into the step-by-step process to hit the ball more consistently, it’s important to understand the topped shot.
A topped shot occurs when you hit the ball above the equator.
If you split the ball in half, your club makes contact with the top half, not the bottom half. Hence, the term, “Topped shot.”
Instead of hitting down on the shot, you changed your angle of attack in the swing. The club makes contact with the top part of the ball, not the bottom as it should. It’s important to differentiate between a topped shot vs. thin shot (aka a “skull”) as this occurs from hitting up on the ball.
A topped shot can happen for a variety of reasons including:
- Bad posture
- Swinging too hard
- Wrong ball position
- Poor shoulder alignment
- Golf clubs that are too long or short
- Bad weight distribution in the downswing
So, how do you not top the golf ball?
Follow these tips to put this shot in your rearview and set yourself up for better ball striking.
Get into Proper Posture
The first reason so many golfers top the ball is that they set up incorrectly at address position. Too many golfers bend through the back and have their pelvis too far forward.
To create a strong athletic position at address, make sure to:
- Have your knees flexed
- Let your arms hang freely
- Have a straight back (or slightly rounded)
- Don’t stand too close or too far away from the ball
Related: The Basics of the Golf Swing
Too many golfers can’t hit the bottom part of the ball due to knees that have too much flex (or no flex) and aren’t the correct distance from the ball. Not only do you need the right posture at setup, you need to maintain it throughout the swing.
If you start to come out of our posture or lose balance in the downswing, it’s easy to get out of position. This can adjust your angle of attack and lead to hitting the top half, instead of the bottom half of the golf ball.
Have the Right Ball Position
Aside from proper posture, another main culprit behind topped shots with irons is the wrong ball position. Golfers often think they need to lift the ball in the air when in reality, hitting down will create a high, penetrating ball flight. Attempting to lift the ball up leads to players having the ball too far forward in the stance.
Instead, you want your irons to have a ball position in the middle-front part of your stance. The only time you want the ball off your left foot is with the driver, since the ball is teed up (more on that later).
Here is the correct ball position to make sure you bottom out at the correct part of your swing with different clubs:
- Wedges and short irons: Middle of your stance.
- Mid-irons: Just ahead of the middle of your stance.
- Long irons and hybrids: Middle front of your stance since the clubs are longer and don’t have as much loft.
Stop Trying to Lift the Ball Up
Golf is all about opposites.
For example, if you have mud on the right side of your ball, the debris will make it go left in the air. Similarly, if you want to make the ball go up and launch high, you need to hit down on the golf ball. Yet, as I mentioned in the previous section, too many golfers try to help the ball in the air.
But once you understand the basic dynamics of golf, it should make it easier to hit the ball better. Remember, golf clubs have loft and that will get the ball airborne. You don’t need to help the golf ball up!
Stay Centered (Stop Swaying)
Swaying is another big factor when it comes to topping the golf ball. Golfers with less consistent swings tend to sway instead of turn their lower body on the backswing.
According to Golf Magazine, “A proper golf swing features a solid turn to the top, followed by a shift of your weight onto the front side as you transition into the downswing toward impact. But with a poor golf swing, players will sway — not turn — to the top and then slide back toward the target during the downswing, which can cause a host of problems.”
Swaying makes it nearly impossible to time your hips to sway back to the right spot at impact. Whether they’re too far back to too far forward, it leads to a topped or thin shot.
Instead, you want to rotate around your lower body around your lead leg. This will make it easier to get a full shoulder turn, plenty of hip turn, and bottom out at the golf ball.
Shift Your Weight Forward
Your follow through can tell you a ton about your golf swing.
If you’re topping shots, you might be leaving most of your weight on your back foot on the downswing. When this happens, it leads to changing your angle to the ground and hitting the top part of the ball. While this can result in topped shots, it can also create a lot of thin shots too.
Start by making sure your weight is 50/50 at address or even 60/40 if you’re hitting from the deck. This will make it easier to hit the bottom part of the golf ball. If your weight is too far back, it’s easy to stay there in your downswing.
Remember, your weight needs to shift forward to start the downswing.
While it’s not a lateral sway movement, you need to push off the ground with the majority of your weight on your lead leg. On the downswing, push into your left foot and turn your hips toward the target. Your trail foot should start to turn up as your body rotates toward the target.
This will get the club in a shallow position and bottom out at the right time. If you struggle with weight transfer, you might want to invest in a pressure board. These training aids make it easy to feel the correct weight shift in your swing and you can hit balls while using them on the driving range.
Avoid the Reverse Pivot
Another issue that leads to leaving your weight back is known as a reverse pivot. This type of pivot is opposite of a normal pivot as you don’t get your weight to the trail leg on the backswing. This causes a chain reaction to hitting up on the shot as most of your weight is back at impact.
Check out this great YouTube video from Chris Ryan Golf to end your reverse pivot.
Stop the Chicken Wing
To hit quality golf shots you need to extend your right arm through impact. It should feel like you are trying to chase the golf ball toward the target. This creates that “compression” feeling at impact.
Unfortunately, most amateurs have a chicken wing that shortens your arm length. When this happens and the left elbow gets bent (for right-handed golfers), you change your swing arc. Which makes it impossible to hit down and through the shot.
Below is another great YouTube video from Chris Ryan to stop the chicken wing for good.
Raise Your Head Sooner
One of the first pieces of advice most of us learn in golf is to “keep your head down.” While it sounds good in theory, it’s actually one of the worst pieces of advice in the golf world.
Because when you keep your head down too long, it’s impossible to turn through the shot. It leads to keeping your weight back and not rotating your body enough.
The golf swing happens so quickly that you don’t actually see the ball hitting the clubface at impact (even if you keep your head down too long). You have to trust the club is in the right spot and raise your head sooner to rotate through the shot.
If you don’t believe me, think about Annika Sorrenstam and David Duval. They are two of the most accomplished golfers and both of them raised their heads quickly. This will help you rotate toward the target and chase the golf ball.
Top Questions About Topped Golf Shots
If you have other questions about how to avoid topping the golf ball, keep reading our top questions and answers below.
Why do I keep topping my drives?
Topping drives are the worst as it makes the rest of the hole extremely difficult. But it happens to all of us at some point in our golf career and hopefully this article will help you avoid that shot.
If you’re topping shots with your driver, it’s because you’re hitting the top half of the ball. Remember, the dynamics of hitting a driver vs. an iron or wood off the turf are different. With irons, you want to hit down and through the shot.
Obviously this isn’t how to hit a driver but there’s a key difference between the two shots – the ball is teed up with the driver. Since it’s on a tee, you still want to hit the bottom of the ball.
This will make sure the ball launches high (known as launch angle) to maximize your distance off the tee. Click here to learn more about hitting your driver longer.
Why do I keep topping my golf ball with my irons?
It could be from a variety of issues but one of the most common is the wrong ball position. If the ball is too far in the front of your stance, it can lead to hitting above the equator. Make sure to test out different ball positions on the driving range to see how it impacts your ball striking.
Why am I topping putts?
Did you know that you can top putts too? Just like with the full swing, it’s from a few small issues that can even affect your short game.
If you’re topping putts, you are changing your swing path and hitting the top part of the ball. To avoid this, make sure to:
- Keep your head still. The head should have very minimal movement in your putting stroke and one of the few things all great players have in common. If you move your head up and down, it will change your putting arc so keep it as still as possible. This is even more important with short putts.
- Check your ball position. Similar to a full shot, if the ball position is too far forward, it can lead to hitting up on the putt. Move it back to the middle-front of your stance and see how it impacts the roll.
- Keep your head down. While keeping your head down can limit your athletic ability in the full swing, it’s needed with putting. Try to listen to the putt in the hole on short putts to keep your putting arc the same throughout your stroke.
Topped shots happen from a swing arc that leads to hitting the top half of the ball. Focus on hitting the bottom part of the ball for better contact, more distance, and less frustration on the links.
Now that you know why this happens, it’s time to analyze your game and figure out what to work on. Whether it’s a setup issue, weight distribution, or something else, you can fix it easier than you think. Stay patient and put in the reps in practice to make this shot a thing of the past.
Is a topped shot or a shank more embarrassing?
Let us know in the comments below.