Getting the Golf Ball in the Air

A golfing paradox: if you hit down on the ball it goes up, and if you hit up on the ball it goes down (or at least doesn’t get up very high). In general, that’s correct, but as playing advice, it’s not quite right.

Of course, we want to get the ball in the air. The higher the better, it seems.

I read where Gary Player, during his playing days, was commenting on Jack Nicklaus hitting a 3-wood. He said while some players hit that club farther than Nicklaus did, and some players hit it higher, no one hit it that high and that far at the same time.

And I saw it, too. At the 1973 Andy Williams Open in San Diego, Nicklaus on the 72nd tee hit the longest drive I’ve ever seen, and the highest, and it was the same shot. I’m still amazed.

My son wants to get the ball in the air. We go to the range together and I see him, time after time, lifting as he comes through impact.

Now, he does hit a high ball when he connects. Too many times, though, he doesn’t, because of the tiny room for error. The ball doesn’t get up when he misses.

I catch myself doing that on the course. I want the ball to go up and the logical way is to swing up. But that doesn’t work. Here’s what does.

You know that advice about swinging down at the ball? Please pretend you never heard that. Instead, swing level, THROUGH the ball.

Down, at: no. Level, through: yes.

Your downswing describes an arc which curves sharply downward at the start, but which is fairly flat at the bottom through the ball.

To be strictly correct, since you want your divot to be IN FRONT of the ball, the clubhead still has to be descending when it gets there. That descent is so slight, though, you don’t need to think about it.

Here’s what to think about instead. Whenever I remember to do this, the shots I hit are poetry.

Make sure your hands get to the ball before the clubhead does (it will be the opposite if you’re lifting) and feel like you’re dragging the clubhead through the ball. Dragging on a level path, parallel to the ground.

That’s my image, you can come up with one for yourself if you want to. Just deliver the clubhead to the ball in a brushing-through motion (there’s another image) with the hands leading the clubhead so you can use the loft built into the club to get the ball in the air.

This movement seems counter-intuitive. It it feels like you’re de-lofting the club excessively and driving the ball into the ground. You aren’t. You’re just using the club’s design to get the ball in the air for you.

You might have to slow your swing down a bit to get enough control to strike the ball this way. Don’t worry. The ball flies off the clubface, high and straight.

When you remember to do it.

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