Ball First For Crisp Contact, Better Shots
One of the most important fundamentals of good iron play, particularly with the short irons, is to strike the ball before the club makes contact with the ground. I've written about proper impact before, but a question from Deryl prompted a revisit to this subject. Specifically, Deryl O. wrote:
"As warmer weather approaches and the new season begins, I am determined to improve my short game. I continually hear that we must strike the ball first for the greatest success. Do you have any suggestions or tips to help those of us with a less than perfect swing actually accomplish this?"
Well, Deryl, let’s just dive right into an examination of impact so that you really do understand this “ball first” advice you’ve read all your life. If you watched impact on crisp iron shots from a worm’s eye view of the ball, you’d see the club coming into contact on a very slightly descending path, the lower third of the iron face making first contact with the ball just about at its equator, and then the descending path continuing so that the club brushes the ground or takes a small divot beginning just in front of the spot where the ball was actually sitting. Here’s a YouTube video that is one of the better I’ve seen:



So, there’s a clear picture of what you are trying to do . . . now, how do you do it? That’s what Deryl wants to know, and I suspect many others of you as well. Let’s begin by freezing that video exactly at the moment of impact and study what is going on there. First of all, the golfer’s weight is well onto his left side. That’s the only way you can “stay ahead” of the ball to get proper impact.

Secondly, look at the forward leaning angle of the shaft. This proves that the golfer’s arms and hands have passed the ball before the clubhead got there. To do that, his hips, shoulders and body core have turned through the address position already as well. The golf clubhead was the last part of the matrix to get to the ball!!!

To do this, your set up and ball position have to be correct. In this video, notice that the ball is well back of the golfer’s left heel. This appears to be a mid-iron, not a short iron or wedge, however. Ben Hogan wrote that all shots are played off the inside of the left heel, while others teach that as the club shortens, the ball moves further back into the stance. What works for YOU is what you want to do.

My recommended practice session is to begin hitting 8-iron shots, with your normal ball position. Work on the “clubhead last” idea for getting through the ball. See where impact is happening. If you are not hitting the ball first, just move the ball back about a half ball-width each swing until it becomes easier. A great tip for this kind of practice – and for playing – is to focus your eyes on the front edge of the ball . . . the side toward the target . . . as you swing. That re-orients you to the “target”. I believe most of us focus too much on the club at set-up, so we actually play the ball too far forward. Make the front edge of the ball your focus, and it helps your body’s eye/hand coordination immensely.

So, Deryl, I hope that helps you understand solid impact and gives you some study points so that you can build better impact into your game this spring. I’m sure all our readers will chime in with other tips and insight as always. Have fun, guys!

And Deryl, enjoy your new EIDOLON V-SOLE wedge.
The Wedge Guy is sponsored by SCOR Golf, where Terry Koehler is President/CEO. He encourages you to submit your questions or topics to be considered for his columns on Tuesdays and Fridays. Each submission automatically enters you to win a SCOR4161 wedge to be given away monthly. Click the button below to submit your question or topic today.


[ comments ]
onedollarwed says:
I was part of the golf team in high school - which meant the coach would hang out with the top 4 guys and leave us to wander the course aimlessly. It was during these years I developed my initial prospects for the game which would take another 2 decades to "harness." (Smashing the ball toward the hole hopefully, with minor emphasis on scoring or equipment (I was using grandfathers' mix and match and cracked clubs, using only found balls).
However, by chance the coach crossed a fairway I was in, and since he was a family friend we chatted for a sec. He watched me swing like Paul Bunyan and take a divot the size of Babe the blue ox. He suggested I put the ball back in the stance so I could get to it before the ground. I was the first piece of advice I was to get. I'm not sure how much you could say it helped my game, but it did get me thinking about ball position.
2/15/11
 
onedollarwed says:
I've become very comfortable hitting center-back even areas off the right foot especially for high-risk wedge punches. If you read the "new ball flight physics" stuff you'll also be aware of how that change of position in your rotational arc can start the ball off right with a slight draw - if done judiciously and w/o the reverse pivot, a conjunction of two benefits then by moving the ball back some.
2/15/11
 
BAKE_DAWG40 says:
I focus on the back of the ball. I've heard of focusing on the front side of the ball helps you to impact the ball first and have tried it but I skull the ball everytime. Anyone else run into this problem??
2/15/11
 
DoubleDingo says:
I was about to ask the question about focusing on the front of the ball, and then saw my question answered before I could ask it. Thanks for reading my mind Terry. I will apply those techniques to my iron shots and see what happens.
2/15/11
 
DoubleDingo says:
@BAKE, I recalled hearing that technique during my round on Sunday, so I did try it on one of my approach shots from 97 yards out, over a hazard to an elevated green. The shot came off crisp and was pin high, but was off line by 12 feet right. Not bad in my book. Two putted, unfortunately for a double because my approach from 170 yards found the hazard (if I had only thought of focusing on the front edge of the ball on that shot!).
2/15/11
 
Banker85 says:
"Make the front edge of the ball your focus, and it helps your body’s eye/hand coordination immensely." how would this help? i dont get it? I am pretty good at hitting the ball first, i usually go by the longer the club the further the ball is forward and move back as i go down the set. works well for me but i keep ball positiion no further back than maybe half a ball past the mid point more towards back foot.
2/15/11
 
Bryan K says:
Where I place the ball in my stance has everything to do with what kind of shot I'm trying to shape. If I want a high-loft shot, I'll move the ball towards my front foot and open my club face. If I want a low trajectory shot, I'll move the ball back and close the club face.

But the most important aspect of hitting irons (and woods too) is making sure you are hitting down on the ball. It's almost like you're trying to dig the ball into the turf. I take it to an extra extreme. I actually focus on a point in front of the ball rather than just focusing on the front of the ball. I strive to get a good inch after making contact with the ball before taking my divot. And, yes, I strive to take a divot on almost every shot.

The reason I started this tactic was to try to get more spin on the greens. Amazingly, my distance increased by 30% at the same time.
2/15/11
 
Bryan K says:
banker85: The key is that you want to swing through the ball...not at the ball. Too many people have choppy swings because they are swinging at the ball like they are trying to kill a fly or something. When I swing, I try to forget that the ball is even there. I concentrate on taking my divot. I've even been known to swing with my eyes closed from time to time when I'm having trouble with "lifting" or "scooping" the ball.
2/15/11
 
Agustin says:
Focusing on the front of the ball helps to swing "trough" the ball and not "at" the ball. This also helps to improve the follow-thru and finish. Thile this help with making solid contat it does not necessarily helps making contact with the ball first. As Terry highlights, making contact with the ball first is a result of swing fundamentals; Stance and Posture, Backswing and Downswing.
2/15/11
 
Agustin says:
@Bryan Kautzman - LOL, beat me to it...
2/15/11
 
Agustin says:
If you ever see someone that has a nice smoothe practice swing that transforms into a choppy out of sync strike at the ball, this is usually from trying to Swing AT the ball. Whe they do their partice swing and there is not ball they simplyt swing trough which is the correct motion.
2/15/11
 
Agustin says:
:( So much for my spellchecker... Appologies.
2/15/11
 
legitimatebeef says:
What the heck is wrong with you people.
2/15/11
 
scottland says:
I'm not one for gimmecks, but look at the Pure Ball Striker, it's a little $14 piece of rubber that you stick on your grip. It will help you FEEL what holding clubhead lag into ball feels like. If you don't want to spend $14: take a small piece of tinfoil and ball it up to make the same shape. Not quite as comfortable, but it does the same thing. Place the tinfoil ball on the grip right where under your right index finger. You'll FEEL the clubhead lag, and lag is the first step to ball first contact.
2/15/11
 
svj says:
wasn't haney trying to make rush do this with some mirror behind the teed up ball a couple of weeks ago??
2/16/11
 
jrbizzle says:
Not a mirror - just a piece of corrugated board about an inch behind the ball, and a tee in front of the ball and just to the right (for right handers). Miss the board, hit the tee.
2/17/11
 
onedollarwed says:
"Hit the little ball before the big ball," as a friend often says...
I do have another friend who cannot chip for exactly that reason, somehow his wrist can't resist breaking and either catching soil or topping. I myself have tons of success hitting the back of the ball - which weirdly is what you really want to do, unless you can't - then it seems like "THOU MUST TRY TO HIT THE FRONT OF THE BALL!!!"

I am having fun with this one and still recommend John Updike's "Golf Dreams." THese are excerpts from his novels and stand alone essays, columns, etc. A real hoot. One chapter is called "swing thoughts," and will have you rolling. Off the top of my head, "spank the ball on the backside" was one he may have gotten from a pro. It helps me but sounds like it would make some of you scream. Also, "I am a rubber man," and "think schwoo!!"
2/18/11
 
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Terry Koehler is "The Wedge Guy" and President of SCOR Golf- The Short Game Company.

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