Proper Spine Angle to Prevent Topped Golf Shots

By John Elliott, Jr.

The last time you topped it what did you tell yourself? Did you tell yourself you lifted your head? Did your playing partner say hey Tommy you looked up and you topped it? Well that is the most common misconception in golf for topping. We don’t look up, what we do is we lose our spine angle.

The Real Cause of Topped Shots

Now you are looking at me and saying, spine angle, what’s that, I never heard the term before. Well in golf we actually have two different spine angles. If our hands were palm to palm when we set up then our spine would have no tilt to it other than a forward tilt, which I will explain in a moment.

But we are not palm to palm; my right hand when I grip the club is below my left, so the initial spine angle is your spine tilts slightly to the right because your right hand goes under your left. That puts your head slightly behind the golf ball, or over the inside of your right leg, that is a normal spine tilt, in my case being a righty, to the right.

Now we want to maintain that through the ball because where do you want your head through the ball, you want it behind the ball. The big spine angle, and the one that affects us the most relative to not hitting good shots, is the forward tilt. When I am standing up here the golf ball is two places, it is in front of me and it is below me.

Why Bending at the Knees is Not Enough

So if I bend just at the knees it only satisfies one of those dimensions, that got me down but it did not move me forward. When we bend from the hip joints, and our spine goes forward and downward, we are now setting up to hit the ball properly. So the first point is that we want to bend from the hip joints. That moves the spine towards the golf ball.

Demonstration: How to Use a Pole to Correct Your Spine Angle

Now I have a poll over here to illustrate that and I would like you to watch me as I go through this.

  • As I walk in and set up to this single ball, I take my grip and my stance, and I am going to back in to the pole, you can see it moving.
  • Now as I swing back I want my swing to go under that spine angle that I created at address.
  • As I swing down I want that swing to work under that same spine angle.
  • And as I swing through the ball I still want my spine in the same position.

Correct Hitting Position

Once I finish the swing I can come out of it and I can stand up like this to look at my shot, but we don’t want to be standing up when we hit it because when we do that is when your buddies are all going to say you were looking up again, that’s why you topped it. You don’t look up when you top it, what you do is you lose your spine angle, this one here, the one from the hips.

Spine Angle and Ball Impact

Not that one, the tilt back, that is the one that helps determine where the club is going to strike the ball relative to the back of it. The spine angle that determines whether you are going to hit the bottom or the top of the ball is the angle moving up and down from the hips. So what have I said, spine angle, learn to maintain it. When you do your contact with the golf ball will be so much more consistent and solid that you will think back and say gosh, I wasted 20 years trying to keep my head down when it wasn’t your head to begin with. Quit keeping your head down. Learn about your spine angle.

Category: Posture

About the Instructor

John Elliott, Jr.
John Elliott, Jr.
St. Andrews Golf & Country Club
3N441 Route 59
West Chicago, IL 60185
Tel: 630-231-3160

John Elliott, Jr., is listed as one of Golf Magazine's Top 100 Teachers and Golf Digest's #39 instructor in the world. He is the head professional at the Country Club of Ocala in Ocala, Florida.