Should you Actually ‘Hit Down’ on the Golf Ball

hit up on the golf ball

Should golfers over 50 and senior golfers actually hit down on the golf ball with their irons? Do you hit down on the golf ball? And if so, how steeply should you hit down on the golf ball?

“Hitting down on the golf ball” is one of the most commonly heard instructions given to golfers on the golf course today. But not all “golf-isms” are good advice.  After all, many golfers are still told to keep their head down during the golf swing….which we know is bad advice!

Don Trahan from Peak Performance Golf states emphatically that “you should NOT! hit down on the golf ball.” Instead, he instructs his students to hit UP on the golf ball…Should You Hit Down on the Golf Ball.

Here is the case that Don Trahan makes against hitting down on the golf ball:

  1. It will slow your club down. Decrease swing speed
  2. It will twist the club and cause mis-hits
  3. It will cause pain to transmit up the arms, wrists, shoulders
  4. It encourages an over-the-top swing by encouraging the arms and shoulders to move first from transition (top of backswing) which will cause a slice and pull.

Similar to my disagreement with Trahan in my last article, he tends to exaggerate his points a bit and you must be aware of this before you completely revolutionize your swing.

Trahan wants you to take “shallow divots instead of deep divots,” which is good advice for golfers over 50. But how in the world can you take a divot after you hit the ball if you are not swinging the club down on a descending path to the golf ball? It is literally impossible and, thus, swinging up through the ball and taking a divot is also impossible.



Therefore, let me modify Trahans advice from “not swinging down on the ball” to “not swinging down as steeply to the ball.” As for his first two criticisms of swinging down on the ball (1. it will slow your swing down and 2. it will twist the club), these only occur if you hit the ground before you hit the ball; hitting the ball ‘fat.’ So these points are really non-points.

Hitting Down on the Ball will Cause Pain

This is a valid point that is worth your time to consider. If you are taking deep and hard divots after you hit the golf ball, you are sending a lot of force up through your hands, wrists, and joints that can cause pain. If you have arthritis, you have probably experienced this pain.

If you have this problem, you should work on taking a shallower approach to the ball and think of hitting through the ball instead of down on the ball.

how steep should your golf swing be

Good shallow divot Vs Deep and Potentially Pain Causing Divot

In case you do have arthritis pain that is made worse by hitting divots and is limiting your golf game, than you definitely need to change your golf swing. To decrease pain, work on picking the ball clean like you would if you were hitting an iron out of a fairway bunker. This is not ideal, but if it keeps you in the game, it is worth it.

Does Focusing on Hitting Down on the Ball Encourage an Over the Top Golf Swing

If you are wholly focused on hitting down on the golf ball, it can cause you to lead your swing with your upper body and come over the top of the golf ball. I have seen this happen with golfers.

So maybe instructing golfers to “hit down on the golf ball,” is not the most ideal way to phrase this piece of instruction. So why do we incessantly advise golfers to do it? What is the actual problem?

The Root Cause of Golfers Trying to Lift the Ball into the Air

In physical therapy we have a saying, “pain is a liar.” Which basically means that where the patient is feeling the pain, is often not the area of the body that is causing the pain.

Similarly, the cause of golfers hitting up on the ball, may or may not be that the golfers are trying to lift the ball up. So what other cause could their be? The actual cause is extremely common in golfers over 50 and senior golfers. The problem is releasing the club too early in the downswing.

Early Release and Hitting Up on the Golf Ball

If you make a golf swing motion without a golf club, your hands will naturally swing down towards the ball reaching their lowest point around where the golf ball is; the arms descend to the ball in the golf swing. So if you are swinging up to the golf ball in spite of your arms swinging down, the problem maybe in your wrists.

senior golf early release problems

Early release VS Correct release

When you release your hands early, you allow the club to move in front of your hands which will cause the club to bottom out early and then ascend, or swing upwards.   Problems with this swing including hitting the ball too high, losing distance, hitting the ball ‘fat’ and ‘thin.’

Take a Moment to Analyze Your Golf Swing Release

Take a short moment to analyze your own swing. Do you take a divot after you hit the ball? If your divot is deep, you are probably swing down too much in your golf swing. If you usually don’t take a divot, your are probably releasing your wrists too early and ascending through the ball.

Fortunately, these problems are not that difficult to correct. We will address how you can easily fix these issues and begin striking the ball like the pro’s in our next article.

Thank you for your interaction,

+Dr. Ryan York, DPT CGS
Doctor of Physical Therapy
Certified Golf Performance Specialist

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2 Responses to Should you Actually ‘Hit Down’ on the Golf Ball

  1. Vic deCarlo February 17, 2016 at 7:30 pm #

    Very good article. As a ‘senior’ player now with the usual physical issues mine being a bone spur in my left shoulder and nerve damage in my left arm, trying to mimic the common swing being taught by ‘professionals’ is not much of a consideration for me. I took a slightly different approach to not only continue playing but having a good and safe time doing it. As for hitting down with an iron that was one of the first changes I made for when I missed even a little it was like my finger was just pushed into an electrical outlet. Here briefly is what works for me now and if any player out there can take one example to extend their playing years then great! BTW, I have been through lots of clubs, pain Rx’s and analgesic rubs and always stretch out before play.

    1. On irons I set up not to take much if any divot. I strike just below and behind the ball with my hands slightly ahead of the clubface. Good contact and small if any divot.
    2. I rely on Fairway woods and this year Hybrids and mimic the same set up. It’s more of a sweep brushing the grass. Again not swinging down so much unless I’m playing a specific shot that requires it.
    3. I carry 4 wedges and I will usually take a small divot. If I take a big divot it’s called “fat” in my game similar to Tiger Woods a year or so ago.

    So if you can take a divot, roll the ball up the clubface and add spin then that’s great. If not that can be great too. Being able to get out and play for 2-4 hours and not getting hurt will extend my playing time and yours and that’s the name of the game for me. Not swinging down or taking a divot has helped my game.Take that risk factor out of play, make your swing a repeatable one with the majority of clubs and brush that grass instead of hitting down whenever the opportunity presents itself. I want my clubs to advance the ball not earth.

    Lastly I don’t align with the statement that if you’re not taking a divot you’re probably releasing your wrists too soon. Your wrist release position which is subjective to the shot you are attempting and your physical ability, should be a consideration for the shot not a must do for every shot one attempts. Holding on to that release position too long can send you to the house. Play smart and within your physical ability and you’ll enjoy the game as you age. IMO of course.

  2. Ben February 28, 2017 at 10:59 pm #

    If you continue to rotate/bend through the ball, you will hold lag as a consequence. You cannot cheat and try to maintain lag physically. The longer the rotation the more lag there will be be. As you age (depending on your acquired skill level) you will naturally lose rotational/bending power: Phil Mickelson will have more at 60 then someone who perhaps starated at 40 and plays once a week.

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