Fat Golf Shots: How to Avoid the Chunk
Don’t you hate hitting fat golf shots?
There isn’t much worse when you chunk a shot and see the ball only travel a fraction of the distance that you intended. Not only is it embarassing, it’s costly.
Whether you’re hitting irons chunky or any club for that matter, it puts you up out of position. But with a thin shot, you can usually still salvage it as it tends to end up closer to the target.
Let’s face it, a lot of amateur golfers struggle with making consistent quality impact. There are two main impact errors that most golfers make; hitting the ball fat or thin.
When players talk about hitting the ball chunky, it’s typically about hitting an iron or wedge fat, but can also happen with woods as well, though less often. In this article, I’m going to address hitting the ball fat, why it happens, and teach you how to stop hitting the ground before the ball.
What is a Fat Golf Shot?
First of all, what does it mean to hit a ball fat or often it’s known as chunked or heavy?
If I were to use that phrase with someone who isn’t a golfer, they’d probably think I was referring to a player’s weight or size, but that’s incorrect. Hitting a shot chunky means that you hit the ground before the golf ball and strike the turf well behind the ball.
Now, if asked how to get the ball in the air, the average player will say that you need to get under the ball and hit up at it. When in reality, that’s not true .
The proper way to hit a golf ball and have it get into the air (with a wedge or iron) is to strike down on it, hitting the ball first and then the ground. This creates backspin and allows the dimples in the golf ball to create lift, sort of like an airplane’s wings.
My point is, hitting the ground first and then the ball actually hinders your golf shot.
One reason why these happen is that most players believe they need to hit under and up at the ball for it to take off. Simply put, you need to hit down on the ball for it go up. The loft of the golf club does all of the “heavy” lifting” for you. Yet, so many golfers try to “help” the ball up by lifting it.
When a shot is hit fat, the clubhead is actually slowing down at impact because it has encountered resistance, in the form of the ground, before connecting with the golf ball.
To hit the ball as far as possible, it only makes sense that we want the clubhead to be traveling as fast as possible at the moment of impact. This happens when you make an impact with the ball first and then the ground.
Ideally, you want the divot ahead of the golf ball, not in front of it. This is demonstrated in the image below. The white chalk line is where the ball was placed. The first divot below is from hitting from behind the ball while the second divot is impact with ball first. Consequently, this is also a great drill for you to work on while on the range.
What Causes Fat Golf Shots
As I just mentioned, a major reason is that people believe they need to hit under the ball. The main reason that a fat shot occurs, though, is that a player has unnecessarily moved their “swing center.”
You can think of your center as one of two things, either your head or your sternum. I tend to use the head reference more often because it doesn’t twist throughout the swing as the sternum does.
Anyway, the head should stay relatively stable throughout the backswing and downswing. This allows the clubhead to follow a, fairly, predictable path and, therefore, curing the issue. The head moving up and down changes the spine angle that you created at setup.
The Pendulum Motion
Think of your entire motion as a pendulum. Think back to those old drills that you would see at a driving range that help you create the perfect pendulum motion.
A pendulum has a fixed point at the top, sometimes referred to as the frictionless pivot. This is the point that stays motionless while the rest of the pendulum swings back and forth.
Your head is the fixed point in the entire movement. If that fixed-point stays fixed, or motionless, then the weight at the bottom of the pendulum (the clubhead) will always return to the same place at the bottom of the swing (known as “bottoming out.”)
So, to bottom out at the correct spot, and not enter the grass too early, you must keep your center (your head) relatively fixed like in a pendulum. Notice I said relatively, it doesn’t need to stay perfectly still.
A few good examples who move their head low on the way back is Paula Creamer and Lee Westwood. But again, most amateurs don’t have everything else working in their favor, so a ton of head movement is a sign of hitting behind the golf ball.
Your address position should look fairly similar to your impact position. Now, I say “fairly similar” because it’s ok…if not encouraged…to have a slight forward movement so that you make impact with the ball first. But if you’re trying to quit hitting chunky shots, you want to focus on keeping your head stable.
The tendency, for many players, is to either sway the head backward in the backswing, let it drop down, lift it up, or a combination of two or three of those things.
Every extra movement will make it more difficult for you to return the club to a good position at impact. The less moving parts, the better. This is why flexibility and a solid gym routine can also help improve your game.
A major reason that you feel the need to move your head is because you want to have more power behind our shots. If you’re like most golfers, you think that if you can have more weight back and throw it through quicker, then you will hit the ball farther.
News flash, that’s just not true!
Less is more in terms of movement.
Most of the time, when you try to hit the ball harder, it actually goes shorter because you sacrifice centeredness of contact for speed. Instead, focus first on making an impact with the center of the clubface and, second, on speed.
How To Stop Hitting Behind The Golf Ball
Now that you know why the dreaded chunked shots happen, we need to talk about how to fix them.
The simple fix is to say, keep your head still throughout your backswing and downswing. Only after impact can you let your head move.
That’s always easier said than done though. A great example to watch an elite golfer do this correctly is Ernie Els.
Draw an imaginary circle around his head or just hold your mouse cursor on his head. You’ll see that it stays incredibly still throughout his entire swing. This helps him make a solid impact and start hitting it pure much more consistently.
When you take your practice swings, focus your attention on the movement of your head. Now, your tendency when you do this may be to tense up your neck muscles but be sure to stay relaxed.
Relaxed muscles have greater control than tense muscles. So, relax your neck and shoulder muscles. Take a few practice swings and focus on your head movement. Notice when you have the desire to tense up your neck and shoulder muscles. This will be a good indication of head movement because you’ll flex those muscles more when they are in motion.
Trying too Hard
Also, another common reason that players hit behind it because they are trying to hit it too far. Another easy piece of instruction is to take a little more club so that you can have a better tempo.
Instead of trying to mash everything, try taking an extra club on every shot and swinging easier. This will help you create a more relaxed feel and your muscles won’t be as tense.
Since you already know that you have plenty of club, you will subconsciously relax and have a much better tempo than feeling like you need to jump all over the shot. This will naturally result in a stroke that limits the unnecessary moving parts.
Drills To Stop Hitting Behind The Golf Ball
Telling you just to keep your head still and relax won’t always fix the issue though.
While this is hardly the latest news, perfecting your backswing and downswing takes diligent practice. This isn’t something you can read once and instantly implement (sadly).
But if you’re committed to improving so you can shoot lower scores, we got you covered. Here are some helpful drills that you can try out to give you the feeling of keeping your head still so you can hit it pure.
These drills will help you to stop hitting turf first.
Video Drill To Stop Hitting The Ball Fat
If you’re looking for the latest drills to help you stay steady, check out these easy to follow ones. This drill is all about getting self-aware and understanding what your head is doing throughout the shot.
- Have a friend take a video or record your own (preferably a slow-motion video if possible) of you hitting a golf ball.
- Then, draw a circle around your head at address, using a free app like “Hudl Technique.”
- As you watch the video, focus on your head. Remember, it should stay inside that circle until after you’ve made impact with the golf ball. If you’re able to do that, you’ll find that you limit the number of chunked ones that you hit.
- Be sure to notice your biggest tendencies. Like I said earlier, some people will sway their head backwards, some will dip down, and others will lift up.
- Whatever your tendency, try hitting while doing the exact opposite of what feels “normal.” For example, if you tend to sway back on your downswing, try to hit a shot where you move your head forward instead. Since you’re so used to moving your head in one direction, this will be difficult to do and will probably result in a fairly steady head.
Stable Head Drill To Stop Hitting The Ball Fat
- Have a friend stand in front of you, face-on.
- Have them take their club and rest the grip side on the top of your head. Tell them to keep it still throughout the swing, so they don’t keep it resting on your head unless your head is perfectly still. This will allow you to “feel” your head position throughout the swing.
- If you bump the grip more at one point, you know you’ve moved.
- If you feel your head disconnect from the grip, you know you’ve moved there as well.
- Again, if you can maintain the same connection between your head and your friends grip, then you’ll notice that your shots become crisper and the chunky shots disappear from your game.
This drill is used by top PGA Tour players including Tiger Woods himself. This helps him hit some of the best iron shots in golf and has been seen with caddies and coaching using this drill for nearly two decades.
Book-On-Head Drill To Stop Fat Shots
Here’s another instruction drill that you can do on your own and see massive results to hit better shots. The cool thing is that all you need is a small book to help solve your latest issues.
- Grab a small book and balance it on the top of your head.
- Try to take a few swings with the book on your head. It’ll be tough to do, even if you keep your head still but you will improve.
- Obviously, the book is going to fall after you make impact, but focus on keeping it on your head as long as possible. If your head moves, the book will fall, which a sign that you’re moving too much on the way back.
You can even do this in your living room with an imaginary club or in your bedroom while looking a mirror. Take a lot of practice swings and feel the stability of your head throughout the entire golf swing. Do this 50-100 times each night, so that you program your mind of this new feeling through repetition.
Finally, my favorite drill of all to fix a chunked golf shot is to use a tee when you are on the driving range.
Take Out The Tee Drill To Stop Hitting Irons Fat
- Take a tee and push it all the way into the turf, so that you can only see the top of it, but it’s not sticking up out of the ground.
- Then, put your ball about 1/2 inch behind the tee (which is barely visible).
- Take a swing and focus your eyes on the top of the tee rather than the golf ball.
- Your goal will be to “take out” the tee with your divot. If you do the opposite, it’s a sign that you’re doing something wrong from takeaway to impact to strike the turf instead of the tee.
This drill will help you learn how to make impact with the ball first and then the turf, thus eliminating a chunky shot.
Since you can’t put a tee in the turf like this during your round of golf, simply focus on a blade of grass that is located in front of the ball that you’re trying to hit.
This will force you to bottom out in a location where you’ll make better impact and not hit behind the golf ball. Give these few drills a try because they’re the best drills available to help your golf game.
To make this drill even more challenging, hold a tee in your mouth with the sharp end pointing down. Try not to move the tee much during your swing. Do this drill slow-motion or without striking it to just understand the feeling that you’re trying to achieve.
Remember, all of these drills should feel uncomfortable as you experiment! Anytime that you’re trying something new, it shouldn’t feel right in the beginning. Instead, it should feel awkward at first as you’re fighting aganist old habits.
Other Tips For More Consistent Strikes
- Don’t hit off of mats (if possible). Hitting off this surface can mask bad shots and not allow you to identify each warning sign in your swing!
- Play more forgiving clubs. Your clubs will also help you hit it more solid as the right clubs for your game won’t make it feel like you need to “kill” it each time.
- Keep your shoulders level at address position. If you “chili dip” at impact, you’re likely to hit well behind it and produce chunky or dropkick shots.
Use these latest tips to stop hitting behind the ball once and for all. While it’s unlikely that you will never hit fat golf shots again (I mean, you are human), now you know what causes this to happen and how to avoid common mistakes in the future.
So what is the most significant piece of instruction?
Focus on keeping your head in a similar position throughout the entire swing.
This is the key element in making sure that your club makes solid impact with the golf ball. You want your body to move around your spine while keeping your head in a similar position. This will help you find the low point just ahead of the ball and help you create the perfect divot for a quality golf shot.
Remember, whatever happens with your head will almost directly influence whether you hit the ball fat, thin, or solid.
I’m sure that if you put these ideas in to practice, and use the drills listed above, you’ll see a dramatic reduction in the number of bad ones that you hit. Not to mention, you will probably see better spin, launch angle, and distance too as you’re striking the turf from the right impact position.
If you want to learn more about improving these numbers, I suggest looking at using a launch monitor during your practice sessions. Feel is not real and data doesn’t lie!
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