Techniques to Stop Topping the Golf Ball

By Nick Heidelberger

golfer topped shot into water hazard

There’s not much difference between a topped golf shot and a one-stroke penalty. Any gain from the few yards your ball dribbles forward after a top is offset by the frustration and embarrassment that accompanies the dreaded miss.

Fortunately, tops are usually caused by a single flaw, and we’ve got Hank Haney to help you learn how to stop topping the golf ball for good.

What is a Top?

As its name suggests, a top happens when you strike the northern hemisphere — the top — of the golf ball, creating topspin. Instead of launching beautifully in the air, topped shots are driven straight into the ground where they offer a merciful bounce or two forward before coming to rest just a few yards closer to the hole. In the best-case scenario, your top will result in the ugly but way more effective “worm burner” that hovers inches above the ground while it scoots 100-or-so yards forward.

Neither option is part of the formula for lower scores, so how can you eliminate topped shots from your game?

How to Stop Topping the Golf Ball

As Hank Haney demonstrates, it's easy to stop topping the golf ball for good. Haney, who was most famously Tiger Woods’ instructor during much of Tiger’s prime, also instructed more than 200 other PGA TOUR professionals. While it’s unlikely Haney needed to teach Tiger how to stop topping the golf ball, it’s safe to say he knows what he’s talking about.

What Causes a Top?

The sound of a top is unmistakable. It begins with the clang of a shot that's missed the sweet spot, followed by the fluttering of grass sucking any momentum from the ball, coinciding with a frustrated golfer screaming “I lifted my head again!” However, as Haney explains, it’s not the lifting of the head that causes a top.

“Unfortunately, that has little to do with it,” Haney said. “What does cause you to top the golf ball is when you raise out of your posture. It’s not that my head was coming up, it’s that my whole body came up.”

Makes sense, right? If your body comes up even a little but, it’s going to bring the golf club with it. The diameter of a golf ball is only 1.68 inches, so even coming up just a little bit can be the difference between a clean strike, and a top.

Practice This to Stop Topping the Ball

To stop topping the ball, pay attention to the bend in your hips throughout your swing. Head to the driving range with a bucket of balls and start by making practice swings while concentrating on maintaining a consistent forward-bend at the waist from start to finish. Once you’ve gotten that feel down, start hitting shots with the same focus on maintaining your spine angle back and through the swing, with that bend at the waist staying consistent through impact.

Alternative Causes of a Top

This is the most common cause and fix of a top, and if you’re struggling with this miss, chances are good that ingraining this feel will cure your tops. However, there are two other causes of a top that Haney points out.

If your problem is not solved by correcting your posture through the swing, it could stem from swinging too steep.
“Usually that type of a top will be a grounder off to the left,” Haney said of the too-steep top.

If you’re making that mistake, focus on keeping your back to the target on the backswing, and begin the downswing with your hands and arms to promote a shallower delivery into the ball.

Lastly, a top could be caused by swinging too much from the inside, which results in catching the ball on the upswing. If this is your miss, Haney suggests less turn in the backswing and more turn in the through-swing, which will promote a better path to the ball and ball-first contact.

  • Image: vm/iStock via Getty Images

About the Author

Nick Heidelberger is the Editor of GolfLink. He has a degree in journalism from the University of Idaho and has been an avid golfer for more than 10 years. In the years prior to joining GolfLink, he worked for the New England Section of the PGA of America.