Why 'keeping your head down' is a myth
It's happened to each of us at some point during a round. Chunk or top the ball and your playing partner offers the advice nobody wants to hear:
"You looked up." "You need to keep your head down." "When you look up, all you'll see is a bad shot."
But PGA Professional Charlie King is here to dispel that myth, once and for all. Topping the ball has nothing to do with keeping your head down and everything to do with trying to flip the ball toward the target with your weight on your back foot.
The instructor of golf at Reynolds Kingdom of Golf at Reynolds Lake Oconee has heard the whole "keep your head down" spiel since he first started teaching, and with the help of slow-motion video, can finally prove that your head coming up during the shot is only a by-product of what's happening at the bottom of the arc of the swing.
"When I first started teaching. I thought people looked up on a topped shot or hit behind it," King said. "But I kept seeing in the video: hanging back on the back foot and the wrist flip.
"You can't see it at regular speed, it's all happening too fast. And as a teacher, I've seen it all over the country. So why would everybody be doing that? And it hit me -- it's instinctive."
What's happening, King explained, in that incredibly short period of time between the downswing and contact with the ball is your body's attempt to manipulate the swing in order to get the ball airborne.
"The ball's sitting on the ground and as an amateur golfer, I'm trying to get the ball to go up," King said. "So I'm swinging up to get the ball to go up. So just think about what that would look like, if you swung up, you'd fall back on your back foot and flick your wrists."
Because the swing plane is a tilted-over arc, King said that means you either hit behind the ball or on top of it. And that's what creates a chunk or top.
MORE INSTRUCTION: Is your swing on the correct path?
"When we swing, it makes an arc," King said. "So if you're swinging up, the bottom would be behind the ball. So if you hit the ground, that's a fat shot. But if you miss the ground, the club's on the way up when it gets to the ball, so you top it.
"So if someone tells me -- or a friend tells a friend -- 'keep your head down,' I didn't fix the problem. I'm keeping my head down while my weight's still hanging back and my wrist's still flipping. So that's the problem. When people top it, they don't know why."
Most amateurs then take things to the extreme. In an effort to stop topping the ball, they get even more of a "scoop" swing -- or worse, they begin chopping down on it.
"It's not like a person says, 'Hey, I'm going to scoop it to hit the ball,' " King said. "It happens without you even knowing it. It happens instinctively, and then someone will mention the whole idea about hitting down on it. But then you start chopping at it. Yes, you need to hit slightly down while arcing up."
So while the advice is genuine, it's basically useless. Of course, none of us are trying to top the ball on purpose. It's a matter of good swing mechanics -- not trying to focus on where your head is on your downswing -- that will help the most, King said.
Something as simple as trying to sweep the grass with the bottom of your club will create the correct weigth shift, smooth out the bottom of the arc and aid in muscle memory.
"You can fix it with a pretty simple drill," King said. "I put two tees or two balls across from each other and I practice clipping the grass. When you clip the grass correctly, your weight shifts a little and your hands go up, down and back up. And you start clipping the grass."
Here's a video of King showing exactly he's describing.
And the next time your buddy tops one? Keep your head by not telling him about his.