There are several bits of information that come up on the topic of the golf swing that are often misleading to people. Some things just naturally lend themselves to various interpretations or even varying degrees of whatever is involved.
One of the big offenders in this category is the idea of hitting down on the ball with irons. We might say “hit down on the ball” or “the club makes a descending blow”. Unfortunately, some players may get two wrapped up in that idea and take it too literally.
Let’s step back for a second.
Think about the arc of the golf swing. Obviously, the club head starts behind the ball. It moves in an arc back and up to the top of the swing then back down in a similar (though not necessarily the same) arc, through the ball and then up into the follow through.
By definition, that arc will have an absolute low point, where the club is closest to (or under) ground level. Once the downswing starts, the club head is getting lower and lower as it approaches that low point, then it immediately starts moving higher into the follow through.
When we talk about hitting down on the ball, we’re simply talking about striking the ball before the club head gets to that low point. In other words, the club is moving down and still has even further to go.
Let’s have a look at K. J. Choi hitting a 6-iron:
[Update: Oops! The video was removed from YouTube since this post was written. You'll have to take my word for it.]
can see would have seen there, especially in the close up, the club is still moving downward well after contact.
Now, back to the misunderstanding. Some players believe there is some kind of action they need to take to properly hit down on the ball. Unfortunately, this just leads to a steep angle of attack and the club head getting stuffed into the turf and huge divots that expose rare mineral deposits.
Try this experiment: go to the driving range with a 7-iron and hit a few balls (or even just do swings with no ball), paying careful attention to the divot and to the location of your feet. I hope I don’t need to say that astroturf mats are inappropriate for this experiment.
As the club is entering the turf (at the back of the divot) it is still moving downward. As it comes back up and leaves the turf it is moving upward. Therefore, the low point of the swing is somewhere in the divot.
Now that you know where your divots start and end, you have all the information you need to hit down on the ball. Simply play the ball just a fraction behind where your divot starts. Then, you’ll strike the ball with a descending blow without any kind of conscious effort to hit down.
Eliminating a conscious effort to hit down on the ball will help you make more consistent contact and avoid fat shots. Playing the ball in the proper location relative to the low point of your swing will improve your ball striking as well.
It’s as easy as that!