Originally published February 2, 2004
Golf is a difficult game. Yet to so many of the uninitiated it might seem incredibly simple. The objective is to strike a ball that is just sitting there. After all, how tough can it be? It's not like baseball, or tennis, where the ball is moving as we attempt to make contact with it. It's not like hockey, where someone is trying to knock you down. And if it is, re-thinking your choice of foursome should perhaps be the bigger priority. Why is it then, in golf, that this stationary ball is so difficult to hit? Why do we even miss it completely at times?
Golf is difficult - deceptively so - due to our perception of how to get the ball airborne. We want the ball to go up, and our natural inclination is to hit up at it. However, we need to hit down.
Part of this initial deception in golf lies in the fact the ball is round, and our clubface is lofted (angled back). On first look it might appear that our goal is to slide the lofted clubhead under the ball, striking its lower half on the upswing, and thus driving - or lifting - the ball into the air. However, it is critical to note that the golf club has not been designed to get under the ball to lift it. It has been designed to strike the ball as the clubhead is descending on the downswing.
The face of the club will then contact the surface of the golf ball just prior to reaching the bottom of the swing arc. As a result the ball becomes trapped between the descending clubface and the ground. The ball compresses. Because the face of the clubhead is lofted, the ball will - rather than be driven into the ground as a downward hit might imply - spin backwards up the clubface, decompresses (adding energy to its escape) and climb into the air. The angle at which the ball climbs (trajectory) will be directly related to the loft of the club we have chosen for the shot.
Unfortunately until the technicalities of hitting down are fully explained, hitting up seems, on the surface, more logical. If we want something to go up, we tend to hit up at it. If I gave you a tennis ball, and a racket, and asked you to hit the ball up into the air - what would you do? You would lower your racket and strike up at the tennis ball.
And the tennis ball would go up. It's logical. So why wouldn't it be logical with golf too? Certainly - on the surface anyway - hitting down at something you want to go up, is not logical. And until it becomes logical, your muscles may resist as a result. Gaining a firm understanding of the golf swing - and especially the mechanics of “hitting down” - is vital to programming muscle memory. And good muscle memory in golf is essential, so you can stop worrying about your swing, and concentrate on the game itself.
Written by Clive Scarff
Clive is a veteran teaching professional at Bowen Island Golf Ranch in Vancouver, and author of the popular instructional CD-Rom “Hit Down Dammit!”