Are you one of the many golfers that have experienced the dreaded “top” shot on their irons?
Topping your iron shots truly is frustrating, but understanding common causes and solutions can help you get back to hitting consistent iron shots with confidence.
To fix these annoying shots,we’ll see the various causes of topping your irons and then recommend some solutions and drills that can help you get back on track. Let’s start by getting your iron game to the next level.
What Is Topping in Golf?
Topping in golf refers to striking the top part of the ball with your club, resulting in a low trajectory and most often… minimal distance. And this usually happens with irons or wedges, since these golf clubs have smaller club faces and a smaller area of impact.
This will usually lead to a very low trajectory shot, and a distance of just a few yards (at best).
Why Is This Problem So Common Among Beginner Golfers?
Topping is a very common issue among beginner golfers because they tend to lack the proper technique, or body mechanics, in their swing. This often means that their takeaway and backswing are off, and this results in improper club position on the downswing.
But this doesn’t imply only fixing the club’s position or trajectory. Avoiding topping has to do with how clean you perform the swing, how you manage weight transfer, and even how you hold your grip.
Let’s see more details on how this operates.
Why am I topping my irons? Mistakes that cause topping balls
Poor Body Posture
One of the most common causes of topping your irons is poor body posture. If you are not properly aligned at address, it can be difficult to execute a proper golf swing. If you’re rounding your back in excess, you might also decrease the range of motion in your swing.
Additionally, if you’re flexing your knees too much or leaning over too far, it’s difficult to maintain balance throughout the swing and keep your club head square.
Overall, try to keep your back straight, legs slightly flexed, arms 80% straight with a gentle flex and a comfortable distance between your feet.
Standing too far from the ball
Standing too far from the ball can also contribute to topping your irons. If you are standing too far away, it will cause your arms and back to be too extended when you swing, making it harder to maintain the angle of attack and square the clubface. This can cause your club to be too shallow or too steep when it reaches the ball, causing a thin or fat shot.
To address the ball and ensure you can swing freely, make sure your hands are directly in line with the ball before you start your backswing. This will ensure that your arms will be in the proper position to swing on an ideal plane.
Arms not extending
This is another common mistake. Even one that many golfers don’t realize. If your arms are not extending properly during the whole motion of backswing and downswing, it will prevent you from getting the ideal angle of attack. This can cause your club to come into the ball shallow, causing a thin shot and topping your iron shot.
You want to extend your arms almost completely (remember to keep a light flex). This way you will carry higher movement and club speed.
Using Too Much Speed in Downswing
This can seem counterintuitive, but using too much speed in the downswing can translate to topping your iron shot. This is because when you swing at a faster speed, you will naturally lose a bit of control and make it harder to control the angle of attack and square the clubface at impact.
It also causes increased body movement, which can disrupt the balance needed for a consistent swing.
To avoid this, try to keep your speed consistent throughout the swing and focus on timing rather than speed. You can try to perform a ‘slow-motion’ type of swing before your shot to get the feel of where you should be in the swing.
Improper Weight Transfer
This is harder to notice, but having improper weight transfer is another common cause of topping your irons. When we talk about weight transfer, we refer to the movement of your body weight from the back foot to the front foot during the golf swing. This should be a smooth and balanced movement, rather than a jerky or sudden shift of weight.
If you push off too hard with your back foot when shifting your weight onto the front foot, then you will lose balance and have an improper swing and, therefore, angle of attack.
During the takeaway, focus on bringing the weight to your trail foot while maintaining your head centered. Now, on the downswing, once your lead arm is parallel to the ground, you should feel how your weight transitions to the front foot. This will create more momentum and balance to hit the ball and follow-through, which will naturally prevent topping the ball.
4 Steps to stop topping the golf ball
Now we’re going to see 5 ideas to start minimizing topping iron shot.
Check ball position
This will be the first and fairly easy step to stop topping your iron golf shots. We’ll follow the images as reference. Do you notice how moving ball position changes the natural circular swing trajectory?
In the case of irons, we’ll want to see the ball about in the center of our body. Following an imaginary line centered with our sternum and our belly button.
If you hit the ball too much to the right or left, you’ll have difficulties producing a clean and natural shot.
Another reason for topping iron shot is that golfers might not transfer their weight pressure to the lead side at the right moment. In general, if you put pressure to the lead side too late, you’ll likely stay out of balance and miss-hit the golf club.
To make things easier, you can remember this: At the time of hitting the ball with the iron (or any club really), you’ll want 70% of your weight placed on the lead foot already. That will add more power to the shot but more importantly, it will keep your balanced. As a result, you’ll be able to hit the club’s sweet spot more often.
Coming back to the previous pictures, this is the same idea, but with your head position.
If you move your head away from an imaginary vertical line that aligns your head, sternum and the golf ball, then you’ll be changing the swing trajectory. Hence, making it more likely to hit the top of your golf ball.
So, to fix that, you’ll want to keep your head right above the ball during all the golf swing. As you perform the backswing, stay your head centered in that vertical line. And the same applies during the downswing.
Extending your Arms
Like we said previously, it’s very common to find golfers with shrunken arms, and their elbows gain distance from each other. It’s no surprise their shots are usually hooks or slices…
To solve this, you can repeat an exercise using a mid iron. The most important is consciously applying an inward pressure with your elbows so your arms are fully straight and they maintain that position during all your swing, especially at impact.
3 Drills to improve irons performance
Now is the time to see some quick exercises that will get you fully understanding the subtle details in posture and body motions to hit the ball consistently with your irons.
Don’t overlook these drills because they look over simplistic. That’s the point. They have to be simple and straight to the point.
Squeezing a cushion between your elbows
As funny as it sounds, this little drill was one of the most effective in my case.
It basically consists of hitting the ball with a short or mid iron and visualizing that you’re holding a cushion between your elbows. The idea is to keep that cushion in place at all times. So for those of you that tend to open your elbows when hitting the ball, this will force you to realize how far your elbows are, in which case the cushion would fall to the turf. Sorry.
Instead, you want to make sure your arms are straight while they’re relaxed. They’re not stiff nor too rigid.
So start by preparing your stance, and straighten up your arms, so your elbows come closer. Once in that position, start to slowly load your backswing. Then, as you do the downswing, keep focusing on your arms and elbows. They should be straight.
Now, as you approach the ball, you want to keep that shape intact. Straight arms and relaxed. Imagine you’re still holding that cushion between your elbows. The next is easy. You simply hit the ball naturally with a correct position now, and follow through.
Brushing the turf ahead of the ball
This next drill is performed with no ball. And it will be perfect to grasp the popular concept of ‘ball first, then turf’.
If you haven’t heard it before, that means that iron shots usually make contact with the ball first and right after hitting the ball, the iron clubface digs into the turf and follows through. That when you see the mud and dirt popping up.
Doing it backwards will make you hit behind the golf ball consistently.
So, in this drill all we need is to place a towel or just anything that creates a 10 or 12 inch line. In that line you will imagine there’s a ball. Remember, we’re working without balls now.
After you have the visual reference of the line, you’ll want to make the backswing only until about your hips height. Next, transitioning into the downswing and impact phase, you’ll want to make contact with the turf IN FRONT of the reference line.
That’s it. Not in the line, but 3-5 inches in front of the line. The whole idea here is to create the habit that we’re hitting the ball first and THEN the turf. Not the other way around. If you were to hit the ground first, you’d miss hitting pretty often.
I like to repeat this exercise around 8-10 times. And then introduce a ball.
At that moment you can remove the line and simply leave the ball. With the ball laying on the turf, simply try to do the same type of backswing until the height of your hips and visualize that you’re hitting the ball first and then turf.
As I said before. These drills might seem too simple or funny but that’s where the magic is. The key here is to find the feeling of what it feels like to hit the ball first and then turf, with a straight posture and following the right moves.
I hope these two drills help you get the feeling of what it’s like to hit your irons correctly. Try to repeat them 15 or 20 times, especially in the beginning, as you get used to them. Be persistent, and you’ll see improvement!
Where should your weight be on iron shots?
As mentioned on a previous section, body weight transfers from the trail side first, to the lead side. With this, we achieve balance, precision and power throughout the whole swing motion.
For iron shots this is no different.
You’ll want to start aligning with the golf ball with a proper stance and then as you load the backswing, 70% of your weight will be located at the trail side (the side furthest from the target).
As you reach the top of your swing, you’ll transition your body weight to the other foot.
It’s important that this weight transfer happens before hitting the ball, otherwise you won’t have enough power or balance to hit a clean shot. This is especially important when hitting irons or wedges.
How do you hit irons pure?
To hit irons pure, you’ll have to put all the pieces of the puzzle together.
You’ll need great head alignment, good swing mechanics, a great posture, good weight transfer and the proper mindset to visualize the target mentally.
And for this, only practice is the answer.
The more time spent on the range, or playing holes, the better you’ll be able to understand and internalize all these concepts. Be consistent and make sure you’re practicing with intention. I suggest you isolate specific drills to work one at a time and then move forward.
How far should an average golfer hit a 5 iron?
There is no specific question to this as every golfer depending on their physical condition and age can perform different shots. But the average golfer hitting a 5 iron has a range of 148 to 178 yards.
The yardage will heavily vary on swing speed and how close they can hit the sweet spot on the clubface.
Topping your irons is a common problem amongst golfers due to swinging too steep, having poor alignment, or not keeping balance during the swing. To improve, you need to have good head alignment, a great posture, good weight transfer and the proper mindset to visualize the target.
With regular practice and isolated drills you can achieve consistent results with your irons. But you need to be willing to go through that process to achieve consistency playing with irons. The rewards are so worth it. As having a solid iron game will make things so much easier approaching the green, and hence lowering your handicap.
Remember that consistency is key when improving your golf game. Keep it up!
Very happy golfing.