How to stop topping the golf ball

26 Professionals Contributed |
One of the most frustrating shots in golf is when you top the ball - and see it dribbling down the tee in front of you. Well, take the advice from our professionals below and be frustrated no more!

3 ways to top a shot

The topped shot is usually followed by someone saying “I came out of it” or “I lifted my head”. Those things might be true but if you focus on what the club head is doing just before & after the offense, maybe you can solve the problem better.

Top #1 is the shallow top. This happens because the swing shape has too much in to out. This creates a bottom of the swing arc that happens too soon so, the club is already on its way back up when it strikes the top of the ball.

Top # 2 is the steep top. This happens because the swing shape is too much out to in. This creates the bottom of the swing arc to occur too late so, the club head hasn’t gotten low enough yet as it strikes the top of the ball.

Top #3 is a missed radius. This happens when the player hinges the wrists but doesn’t unhinge or release the wrists before impact. This is a common short game miss hit. The player takes a backswing with a little hinge then drags the handle past the ball so the club head is on plane but can’t reach the ground or the bottom of the ball. For this top, simple release the club head early in the downswing so that it is passing the hands around impact in order to get the radius back out.

For the first and second top you can do a 3 ball drill that will help get the club head to bottom out correctly. The three ball drill is done by placing 2 balls on your toe line about a club length away. Ball 1 is behind you, ball 2 is the one you’ll hit and ball 3 is on the target side. A neutral swing would be one that has the backswing and down swing is swung over ball 1 and after hitting ball 2 would swing over ball 3.

In the shallow top, you are swinging too much on the line between ball 1 & 2 and in the steep top you are swinging too much on the line between balls 2 & 3. If you’re not sure, try swinging on one line or the other…you have a 50/50 chance of getting right on the first try. If it got worse try the other line.

See the video for an example of the 3 ball drill.

Senior Director, Academy Development U.S. Kids Golf, Longleaf Golf & Family Club
"3 ways to top a shot" @CoachJim_USKGA Click to Tweet

Steep Top

The dreaded steep top, that’s a shot where a player hits the top of the ball due to the swing direction being so left and steep (for a right handed golfer). The clubs low point ends up being well in front of the ball especially with longer clubs.

A good way to fix or improve this is get the swing more to the right (for a right handed golfer). This will move the low point more back and on the ball. Use the video attached to build a training area to fix this issue.

Nick Duffy Golf
"Steep Top" Click to Tweet

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The top is not caused by lifting your head!

There are actually 3 types of tops….one is from a path of the club that is coming down too steep into the ball so the club hits the top of the ball. Just like a plane coming in on a steep landing in order to avoid the ground the pilot pulls up on the plane. The second is from a path that is coming too much from the inside or swinging out to the right. The bottom of the swing occurs behind the ball and the club is swinging up into the ball too much creating the top. And the third is just when the club hits the middle part of the ball instead of lower on the ball.

Those tops are normally caused by too tight a grip pressure and the club isn’t allowed to simply bottom out…be sure to relax your hands and grip pressure.

But none of these were caused from picking up or not keeping ones head down….there is always a reason!

Director of Instruction, Berkeley Hall Club
"The top is not caused by lifting your head!" @kristadunton Click to Tweet

3 ways to top a shot

Whenever a player hits a top there are three things that may have happened. One might simply be distance away from the ball or ball position left or right in the players stance. Use alignment sticks and make sure you’re not too far away from the ball address or that you have the ball either too far forward or too far back in your stance.

The next thing to check is your club path you can top a ball by either being too far outside in or too far inside out. Easiest way to check and see which one is your issue is to use the cardboard box your set of irons came in and place it outside your target line with the toe of your club touching the box at address.

If you are outside and you will hit the box before you hit the ball. And if you are inside out you will hit the box after you hit the ball. Either way the box drill should get you back on track in no time.

PGA Golf Professional
"3 ways to top a shot" Click to Tweet

Swing through the ball

One of the biggest issues I see with students that top the ball is that they are trying so hard to “HIT” the ball that they lose focus of the target. The club is coming down on top of the ball as they try to lift it in the air. Frustrating to watch it roll on the ground.
A couple thoughts for them are:

1. Think about swinging the club through the golf ball and at the target. This shallows the bottom of the swing and helps to catch the ball squarely.

2. Think of swinging the toe of the club to the target. This will help you to keep the arms “extended” and not lift up shortening the arc of the swing.

3. NEVER try to hit the ball ALWAYS swing the club. A hit is a chopping motion which is not a good way to get the ball air born.

Good luck and remember that there is a Golf Professional waiting to help you.

Rob Elliott Golf Academy
"Swing through the ball" Click to Tweet

Get tall and stay there

The obvious response is hit the bottom of the ball, but how? Lots of topped shots occur when there is a significant amount of lift on the backswing and players are not able to swing the down down into the bottom of the ball. Try standing taller at address and keeping the middle of your chest in that position. Instead on the club swinging up it will swing around and allow for more of a U swing vs a V swing.

Canyon Springs Golf Course
"Get tall and stay there" Click to Tweet

Be Athletic

Good golf shots begin with good posture and a good grip. Most people that top the ball have a poor concept, posture and/or grip. Most people have been told to keep their head down and arms straight…both of which have a tendency to lead to topped shots. If you want to stop striking the top of the ball, then get into an athletic setup and grip. Good golf posture resembles the same posture that you would curl weights from at the gym. Gripping the club in the fingers without too much tension will also assure that gravity works and the club can function properly.

I would also encourage someone to tee the ball up while making these changes and practice swinging through the tee. Any contact with the tee will ensure that the ball goes up in the air. This will build confidence and help lose any remaining tension. As the player gains confidence, lower the tee to the point that the golfer no longer needs the help.

PGA Golf Pro
"Be Athletic" Click to Tweet

Topping the Ball

A number of things can result in a topped shot, but a primary concern is balance. If you focus on nailing the finishing position in perfect balance, with the weight almost entirely on the target side foot at the end with the body facing the target, this should allow the club to impact the ball on a descending arc. This, and keeping your center of gravity “quiet” during the swing, should go a long way to correcting the problem.

A good drill is to swing the club with the eyes closed, brushing the grass and finishing solid. This will give a greater sense of any movement your center of gravity may have. During this drill, you have only two goals–nothing else matters. 1) brush the grass, and 2) “stick” the finish, like a gymnast dismounting from the high bar to nail a perfect “10”.

Moses Lake Golf Club
"Topping the Ball" @owenmcclaingolf Click to Tweet


There are a few corrections for dropping the ball but they are all based on the type of topped shot you’re hitting. The shortened lead arm (chicken wing) can be corrected simply by knowing that and extending the arm or reestablishing the full radius. “Late” topping where the body gets to the ball well before the arms and cub are often corrected a little more turn in the backswing and letting the arms fall early from the top. There are others but those two are most common.

The Rookery At Marco

Fix the Tops- Fix Your Radius

Topped shots result when a player’s swing radius shortens through impact. This can happen several ways, but most common is over-bending of the arms. To remedy this, two easy drills:

1) Place a tee in the ground a few inches in front of the ball being hit. Make sure the tee is level with the turf. Try to hit both the ball and tee when swinging.

2) Make some half swings where you hold a half-finish position. Assure both arms are straight and body is facing the target. You’re doing it right when you hit lower-than normal trajectory shots with a slight draw.

Don’t go for distance on these swings- quality of contact is foremost.

Florida Gulf Coast University PGA Golf Management
"Fix the Tops- Fix Your Radius" Click to Tweet

K.I.S.S. Fix

The topped shot is a very common mistake amongst many amateur golfers, especially those new to the game. I’ve seen all too many (so called) pros try to fix their students with all the wrong answers, trying to make it this hugely complicated issue to fix the problem, when the answer is really super simple stupid. The answer (and this has worked each and every time with countless students I’ve taught who top the ball) is to hit the ground solid every time you hit the ball off the ground by swinging down into the ball, hitting the ball first and then making a mean divot. When you top the ball, the club head is simply too high above the ball (not grounded) and you hit the ball on the extreme bottom of the face, like a thin shot but just more exaggerated. Sometimes if you’re standing too straight up and down (with bad posture) and not enough bend from the waist, it can be hard to get down into the ball.

So, bend more from the waist only, not the knees (if you’re doing that) to help yourself to get down into the ball and ground the club through impact each and every time you’re hitting the ball off the ground.

"K.I.S.S. Fix" Click to Tweet

'Pre shot nerves' or the desire to help the ball in the air.

There are many causes of the ‘topped shot’ but many are caused by ‘Pre shot nerves’ or the desire to help the ball in the air. Both can be corrected by the golfer with some proper set up and mental corrections.

Many golfers are taught and over stress about ‘keeping their head down’, most of those bury their chin to low and their head is in the way of a proper shoulder turn, thus causing more issues. I have found very few golfers who’s head actually comes up in the swing, but I have found many golfers who bury their chin to low and their chest comes up which is a result of the chin down and that drives their whole body upward. Chin up is a much better thought then ‘head down’.

I use a lot of visionary drills to teach golfers what really gets the ball up in the air i.e. – hitting down and through ball, backspin vs top spin and many of these students quickly learn that their issues are more of a misinterpreted idea of what actually gets the ball into the air.

Mattawang Golf Club
"'Pre shot nerves' or the desire to help the ball in the air." Click to Tweet

Taking The Top Off of Topping

Topping, or hitting the top of your ball with the bottom of your club, is much more common for newer golfers meaning we generally grow out of it. However- the slightly less ugly shot are just thin shots which we can always do and they are basically topping but just a little better. These shots are generally caused by swing too far outside to inside. For a right handed golfer- your shoulders are pointing too far to the left at impact and your swing is going too far to the left which causes you to hit the ground too far after the ball. You can also top it if you have early extension, or if your hips move in toward the ball on the down swing causing you to stand up and loose your posture. Your topping may also be caused by just swing too hard with just your arms and you unhinge way to soon causing you to swing way too early in your swing.

Drills: Hit balls with your feet together so you can’t move around too much and you learn to find the bottom of your swing.

Find some “Sand”, draw a line in the sand slightly forward of the middle of your stance and perpendicular to your feet. Take a 9 iron and start making full swings taking all the sand from the line forward. You have to hit sand but you can’t hit behind the line. Best golf drill there is in my opinion.

Big Sticks Golf
"Taking The Top Off of Topping" @bigsticksgolf Click to Tweet

Stop the Topping

Topping is usually caused from a player bending their arms. The arms represent the radius of the swing, if the radius gets short, the player will not hit the ground. As the handicaps go up, players usually don’t move into their lead side nearly fast/earlier enough in the downswing. Because of the lack of forward movement, if a player straightened their arms, they would hit it fat so to combat the fat shot, they will bend their arms and top the ball.

Gene Mulak - Silver Spring Country Club
"Stop the Topping" Click to Tweet

Use the ground

The downswing starts from the ground. Fire your right foot and right knee get your right knee past the ball and get all your weight to the outside of your left ankle. It will help you hit down thru the ball.

Proper transition

Topped shots are caused by the shortening of the arms on the way thru, which is caused by improper weight shift.
Start with more weight on your back leg at address, and finish with more weight on your target leg. This will allow your arms to extend and no more topped shots !!!

"Proper transition" Click to Tweet

Improved lower body

The most common cause of topping that I see is caused by the lower body rocking laterally off the ball.
Once the player has moved away from the ball it is hard to return the club to the proper impact position.
Try stabilizing the lower body on the back-swing by improving posture and making an effort to keep the feet and knees quiet during the back-swing. This will allow a proper shift and turn through the ball and reduce topping after some practice.

PGA Golf Professional
"Improved lower body" @tmanvagas Click to Tweet

Topped Shots

The most common reason that I see for topped shots is most beginners and higher handicap players are trying to lift the ball up in the air with an ascending swing.

When the ball sits on the ground it requires a descending swing, when the ball sits 2 or 3 inches up in the air for a Driver it requires an ascending swing.

I work on impact a lot with my students and I stress understanding that the low point of the swing needs to be on the target side of the ball. We want ball then turf contact. I have them make a lot of practice swings during the lesson seeing and feeling the club bottom out on the target side of the ball and then ask them to work on this at home with a mat or even an old piece of carpet.

The PGA Tour average angle of attack with an 8 iron is 4.5 degrees down. The LPGA Tour average angle of attack with an 8 iron is 3.1 degrees down. When I get beginners and higher handicap players on my Launch Monitor their angle of attack can be anywhere from 2 degrees to even 6 degrees up. They tend to have the classic hang back and lift golf swing.

Flagler Golf Academy
"Topped Shots" Click to Tweet

Impolite to tap someone on the head!

It’s not topping the ball…It’s tapping it on the head…You need to spank its bottom!!!

"Impolite to tap someone on the head!" Click to Tweet

Take a divot

Physically impossible to top a golf shot if you take a divot.
Take a divot to cure the tops!

Whispering Pines Golf Club
"Take a divot" Click to Tweet

Coming out of posture or lifting up

Usually coming out of posture or lifting up will cause the club to rise as it approaches the ball. The other cause is lack of extension of the arms that don’t allow the club to get down to the ball. Lastly, the lack of club awareness to intentionally hit the ground while striking the ball might not be there.

"Coming out of posture or lifting up" @pgaBT Click to Tweet

Upper Story and Lower Story

Topped Golf Shots are a cause of club face leading edge at lowest groove line of club impacts the north pole of the golf pole. Actually the golf ball has so much top spin from this club ball collision that it makes ball go down into the ground. The next time you top a golf shot, see if you see a ball mark inches in front of the ball. That crater is evidence that you drove the ball into the turf first. First cause is the waist up torso of the golfer and spine go toward the sky at ball impact. Second Cause is the Lower Story the hips, legs and feet are spinning faster then the torso. This causes club face to be stuck behind the golfers hips-torso at impact. Ascending impact of golf ball.

"Upper Story and Lower Story" Click to Tweet

Ball Postion and Chix Wing

The 1st thing I see when teaching with video, most golfers play the ball to far up in their stance especially Irons. They have a tough time trying to find the Bottom of there Arc. The other cause I see is that Golfers Chicken Wing (or there lead Elbow Bows away from body). To find the Bottom of your Arc start with hitting balls with Feet close together then separate them little by little. Second answer would be swing a WEGDE in your lead hand and make some swings with No golf ball. Should notice that your Arm folds.

Fox Hollow Golf Club
"Ball Postion and Chix Wing" Click to Tweet

Brush the Grass!!

A golfer can come out of proper posture before impact for a variety of reasons. Good arm extension, knee flex, and spine posture through impact helps us stay ‘level’ and gives the player a chance to strike the ball and ‘brush the grass’ or take a divot afterwards. Lifting the shoulders, chicken-winging the elbows, pushing the pelvis forward or early release of clubhead can cause a topped shot.

Arsenal Island Golf Course
"Brush the Grass!!" Click to Tweet

Topping the golf ball? Get closer to it then

All the time when some one tops the golf ball they say; “Ooops, I lifted my head”! Balderdash I say. Instead, you just need to get closer to the ball. When your body is positioned too far from the golf ball, your arms have to make up the difference by you pushing them away from your body and towards the ball. But when you add the swing, the arms are simply going to move back to their original position and thus you are catching the wrong part of the ball. So the next time that you ‘roll’ one down the fairway, take your Mulligan and step and inch closer and see the magic happen.

"Topping the golf ball? Get closer to it then" Click to Tweet

Swing smooth, stay down, and hit it solid!

Here are a couple of simple keys that will help the inexperienced golfer make consistently solid contact, minimize, and eventually eliminate topped shots.

Generally, there are two reasons for hitting the top of a golf ball.
One is going at it too hard and quick, over accelerating the hands and arms, which either leaves the weight on back foot, resulting in looking up and swinging the club in an upward direction; or forcing the body and head ahead of the ball instead of down and through.

Focus on finding your center of balance, and learn to keep your head still and steady.
The bottom line for every solid strike is to swing smooth, stay down and have your
weight on the forward foot at impact.

Here are the four keys to focus on during your practice swing in your pre-shot routine that will help eliminate topped shots and improve contact.

1. Exaggerate staying down (head steady, and focused on the ball!)
2. Stay centered, maintaining your weight on your front foot through impact.
3 Make sure you brush the grass, and make some sort of contact with the ground to find the level of the ball
4. Have a routine that includes a smooth and balanced practice swing that promotes these keys, as well as rhythm and confidence.


Olde School Golf School
"Swing smooth, stay down, and hit it solid!" Click to Tweet

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