Hit Down With the Driver?

I just finished reading the November 2007 issue of Golf Digest and am a little confused.

In this month’s Breaking 100/90/80/70 section, Bobby Clampett sings the praises of hitting down on the ball. In his estimation, the bottom of the swing arc should be about four inches in front of the ball, meaning that when the club makes contact with the ball, it is still moving downward.

I can buy that. In fact, I just covered it in my post about the general misunderstanding of what hitting down on the ball means. What I’m a little surprised about is his point that the driver should be included in that category.

In the article, he says:

I’m blown away that so many reputable golf teachers instruct their students to strike the driver on the upswing. Regardless of whether a ball is on a tee or on a ground, the swing bottom must consistently be four inches in front of the ball. And swinging slightly down on the ball with the driver goes a long way toward ensuring that.

He goes on to give a couple of reasons why hitting down with a driver is important, including helping to keep the left wrist flat at impact.

He’s blown away? I’m blown away.

I can’t say that I’ve ever heard a pro or read an instruction book that said to hit down on the ball with the driver. Every piece of advice I’ve ever been exposed to says that the driver should strike the ball with a level to slightly ascending blow.

Sure, it’s probably been said somewhere. You can probably find someone recommending just about anything with the golf swing.

As you know, I like to talk about the swing but I’m not a pro (yet). So, I’m left wondering what to think. Listen to everything I’ve ever read and heard about hitting the driver, or listen to Bobby Clampett? That may have sounded sarcastic, but it wasn’t. After the Stack and Tilt phenomenon, I’m not discounting anything out of hand anymore.

The only option at this point is to check out some video.

Here’s a slow motion look at Tiger Woods hitting the driver. Pay special attention to the close-up of impact near the end of the video.

Now, just for the sake of not putting all our eggs in the Tiger basket, let’s have a look at Trevor Immelman. Again, pay close attention to the close-up of impact near the end.

Trevor Immelman on YouTube (sorry, I can’t embed that particular video here).

In both cases, it looks to me as if the club head is imparting a level hit on the ball. I’m not seeing any descending blow, though it’s not easy to tell on video sometimes. I will say with confidence that it doesn’t seem like either of those players was bottoming out four inches in front of the ball.

I watched a few other videos trying to find any evidence that I could that anyone was hitting drivers with an downward blow. I found a couple on YouTube (search for “swing vision”) where it looked like club head did dip right after impact, but it seems like maybe it’s more from the force of impact.

Here’s Phil Mickelson:

To me, it looks more like the force of impact makes the back of the club dip toward the ground, not so much that he’s hitting the ball with a descending blow. Pay close attention to the leading edge at the bottom of the club face.

One thing is certain: this advice is definitely in opposition to conventional wisdom.

And, I’ll also say this: whether Clampett is right or wrong, hitting the driver with a slightly descending blow should only result in a few less yards of carry and a slightly higher ball flight, due to increased spin. At the same time, if a descending blow somehow leads to better ball striking (say, with more crispness or consistency, for instance), then it could be worth it.

What do you think? Have you ever heard mainstream advice that recommended hitting down with the driver? Do you do it yourself (on purpose)?

Comments

  1. There may be a reason why Clampett has been on Tour for MANY years :) !! Those magazines are the death of a golfers swing if he/she tries everything that’s in them EVERY month!!

    Find out your swing faults, correct them, and stay focused on what YOU need to do to play better golf. Don’t let magazines stray you from your game!

  2. Oops! I mean “hasn’t” been on Tour! LOL

  3. Double Eagle says:

    I think I agree, Mike. Learning about golf and the golf swing by reading books and magazines is fine. But to shape your game, you really need to see a pro.

    These tips that appear every month in these magazines are often times very brief and may or may not be applicable to an individual player’s game. Just because someone slices the ball doesn’t mean that a specific tip or drill will solve the actual problem.

    It’s good to experiment and learn, but you can’t just go out and rebuild your swing every month. And without a doubt, a lot of these tips can make a bad swing worse if they are misunderstood and not applied in correct situations.

  4. keith says:

    Looking at the video, I noticed tiger does not seem to tee the ball up very far. He hit the ball on the top portion of the club face.

  5. Double Eagle says:

    With the big-headed drivers on the market today, typically the sweet spot is slightly above center. That’s the spot that gives the optimum launch angle, combined with the least amount of backspin.

    As a general guideline, I like to tee the ball up so that with the sole of the driver sitting on the ground behind the ball, approximately half the ball is above the club face. That gives me the perfect height to hit it just a hair above center on the club face (when I manage to make a good swing).

  6. Clive Scarff says:

    All the power is in the downswing, why would anyone want to hit up with the club that is supposed to go the farthest? Clampett is dead right. And a great player in his time. I cover this very issue in a chapter of Hit Down Dammit! Clive Scarff

  7. Double Eagle says:

    I see where you’re coming from, Clive.

    However, there are some factors that I see coming into play. With the physics of driving a golf ball, three important factors are launch angle, ball spin, and club head speed.

    I don’t have access to the equipment necessary to scientifically test hitting down versus hitting up/level, but if hitting down gives the optimum launch angle and ball spin, then I can see a case being made.

    With respect to club head speed, typically the club is still accelerating as it makes contact with the ball. Striking the ball sooner in the swing means less club head speed. Does it make enough difference to matter? Again, I don’t know because I can’t test it.

    The only evidence I have is circumstantial: namely that those who do have access to equipment to measure these things (tour pros) continue to strive to hit their drives with a level or slightly ascending strike.

    Now, just because most people do something one way doesn’t mean that way is the best. I’m open to the possibility that Clampett and you are on to something. I’d just need to see some science behind the concepts to be truly convinced.

  8. Clive Scarff says:

    Thanks to opening your mind on the subject, and re-visiting the subject itself. However, I have to question the notion that tour pros “strive to hit their drives with a level or slightly ascending strike”. I think that is an assumption and am curiuos to know on what you base this assumption. Keep in mind that the flatter shaft angle of a driver, and the forward ball position usually used with a driver will create a less steep angle of attack, without the player having to resist hitting down. That is the beauty of the equipment. The same swing with a pitching wedge will create a much steeper angle of attack, creating the illusion the player is hitting down more with his wedge than say his driver.

    Finally, with respect to clubhead speed, hopefully the science is obvious that the clubhead is travelling the fastest on the way down, and slowing down on the way up. To hit the ball on the way up would be to hit it when the clubhead is slowing down, defeating the purpose of even using a driver in the first place (if distance was the goal).

    Many thanks,

    Clive

  9. Double Eagle says:

    Clive,

    I’m not sure that you can say that the club head is moving at maximum speed simply because it is descending. If gravity was the primary factor in club head speed, then I could certainly agree, but it’s not. In fact, it’s the turning of the torso, shoulders, and hips that bring the club through impact and give the club its speed. The phrase “accelerate through impact” originates from the fact that the club head is still accelerating as it strikes the ball and that it reaches its maximum speed somewhere after the hit, well after it begins moving in a *slightly* upward arc.

    Regarding where I’ve come to understand that tour pros strive to hit the ball with a level or *slightly* ascending strike, I have to say that so far, Bobby Clampett and yourself are the only individuals I’ve ever heard counter that bit of conventional teaching. Every instructional book or article I’ve ever read and every teacher I’ve ever spoken to or heard discussing the subject says that. Now, because something is “accepted” doesn’t make it so, but it’s certainly not something that I just observed myself out of the blue. I can’t recall ever hearing a tour pro indicating that he was trying to strike a drive with a descending blow (until Clampett, of course).

    As I mentioned in the post, high-speed photography of the swings of many top Tour pros are available on YouTube. The arc of the club head is clearly visible and the ones I’ve seen clearly show a level to slightly ascending strike.

    If you can point me to any other tour pro or notable teacher (besides yourself or Clampett) that plays or teaches that, I’m more than happy to do further reading/research on the matter.

  10. Troy says:

    I know that I’m a little late to the party, but I came across Clampett’s book “The Impact Zone” this morning and put his 4-inch downward strike to use today with exceptional results – even with a driver.

    After searching the web tonight and reading the Golf Digest articles which this idea is discussed, I feel the collections of articles are missing THE CRITICAL DRILL that’s discussed in the book to help the understanding of this theory a bit better.

    In the book Clampett suggest marking a line in sand and setting up to the line as if it were a ball and make your normal swing. Next check the divot. If it starts at the line and moves forward you’re making a descending blow. If it is behind the line and goes to the line you’re not making the optimal descending blow. So jump in a bunker or something of the sorts and grab a 5-iron give it a try and the results might be helpful or confirm something that you already know about your swing.

  11. Double Eagle says:

    Very interesting, Troy! I’m definitely planning on reading the book. I’m also interested to hear how you make out as time goes on.

  12. Clive says:

    Just a note to say that last week I finished filming for the instructional DVD “Hit Down Dammit!”. As part of filming, we employed the Photron fast speed camera. This is the exact same camera used for “Swing Vision” on CBS’s golf coverage. At an unbelievable 9,000 frames per second, we got some great footage of what happens at impact, both with an iron and a driver. Once it is ready I will be happy to provide a link to some sample video for those of you interested.

  13. Double Eagle says:

    That would be awesome, Clive. I’m very interested to learn more and I’m sure the readers are as well.

  14. Troy says:

    Cool, Double Eagle, I’ll keep you updated. I came across your site last night looking up the Bobby Clampett 4-inch deal and Google lead me to this site after a few clicks. I’m glad I found it. Interesting stuff. What’s neat to me, after reading a few post, I’ve concluded we’re roughly the same age, build, and skill level at this moment in time. So it will be interesting following your path and comparing it with how I’m doing on the links. Anyways, best of luck and I have booked marked your site for future references.

  15. Double Eagle says:

    I’m glad to have you aboard, Troy.

    -Mike

  16. Jon says:

    Here is my thoughts on the matter of striking down with the driver. When you swing the driver it is the same swing except of course the plane changes. You have the feeling that you are striking down on the ball – this helps give the flat left wrist at impact. However, because the ball is set up toward the front of the body the club is actually traveling upwards. So there you have it – its both.

  17. Clive says:

    Jon has hit on a very important point. All Tour Pros (and all very good players) hit down with their driver. What confuses people, and Jon has recognized this, is some catch the ball further along in the swing arc, as the club is rising. Making contact with the ball as the clubhead is rising is VASTLY different to “hitting up”. That said, nowadays most pros hit the ball on the downswing with their driver for better trajectory and control. Search YouTube for “Phil Mickelson hitting down” for an example. In the meantime, the DVD “Hit Down Dammit!” is now out and available at http://www.hitdowndammit.com for those who are curious. Thanks, Clive .

  18. Double Eagle says:

    I think we might be stuck a little bit in semantics. The fact that the club head is traveling up is really the main point I was making, not that the player should consciously try to hit up at the ball.

    But I think the opposite problem can happen when a player is told to hit down with the driver, without understanding what that really means. If he fixates on that, it’s easy to see where he could get very steep, hitting a weak slice, a smother, or even a skyball off the top of the face.

    Clearly, since the club head moves downward for the first half of the downswing, a player is technically hitting down. There’s really no other way to swing a club, unless it looks something like a baseball player swinging at a high pitch. The main point I’ve been trying to make is simply that the ball is struck while the club is on it’s way back up (with a driver) because of its position relative to the bottom of the swing arc.

    I’m pretty sure we’re all on just about the same page.

  19. Nils says:

    I think the trick is to straighten the legs, particularly the left leg, at impact. Look at Tiger! Reversing the direction of the club from down to up, creates a tremendous whip lash effect (angular momentum). In other words, while the club still is on its way down, raise the body by straightening the legs! Some instruction says “hit into a firm left wall”, but what is more firm than mother earth? I say, hit down and then use your powerfull legs for the take off.

  20. Bill says:

    Great comments on this subject. I look forward to seeing some video examples.

  21. Dan says:

    A little late to the party… but I agree with Double Eagle. It’s a bit deceptive and really comes down to semantics. Looking at the overall swing, you can see how it would be treated as a descending blow and in fact is…

  22. TimothyW says:

    The reason why there’s so much confusion on hitting down with the driver is that for the Driver, low point and impact point over lap sligtly. However, any geometrically sound golf swing must go down, out, and in to low-point. Now because impact point and low point over lap slightly, the club head can and will make contact with the ball as it is travelling up the arc…like Clive said “hitting up” and catching the ball as the clubhead is travelling up the arc are two different things. A player, or student of a typical teaching will be told to “hit up” with the driver and as a consequence they’ll use a sweeping motion in order to strike the ball off the tee, and ultimatly send it right with a big curve Slice.

  23. jhantonio says:

    Hi, double eagle,
    Brian Manzella seems to also agree that you should hit down on the driver.
    Maybe you already saw this, but here is one for his forums.
    http://www.brianmanzella.com/forum/golfing-discussions/8688-hit-down-driver-too-much-spin.html
    Thanks

  24. Double Eagle says:

    jhantonio, no I hadn’t seen that, but there are some interesting comments in that thread.

    As we kind of discussed in the above comments, I think there’s an issue of semantics here. The problem happens as soon as someone mentions hitting the ball with an ascending blow or “hitting up”. It gives people the idea that there’s some kind of special move to produce that kind of swing, when there’s certainly not anything of the sort. We’re simply talking about the position of impact compared with the low point of the swing.

    I don’t know if you saw this, but Golf Magazine did some research a while back that showed that a positive angle of attack produces optimal distance. You can read more here: http://www.lifeintherough.com/2009/01/18/hitting-up-with-the-driver-yet-again/

    It’s all about optimal launch conditions and there are so many cases where measurements show that a positive angle of attack (i.e. an “ascending blow”) creates optimal launch conditions.

    The main problem is that when you tell people to hit up on the ball, they start hanging back on their right sides or tilting their shoulders way right and other things to help that happen. In reality, we’re talking about setup changes.

    The idea of hitting down is better imagery to put you in a good impact position and is conducive to a proper golf swing. To me, that’s all about making a good swing. The idea of a positive angle of attack is more about setup. You’re still going to use something similar to the swing that Clive and Manzella and Clampett advocate.

    But if you look at the videos I linked in the post above and read the research that I linked in this comment, there’s a mountain of evidence that says that a positive angle of attack is crucial for maximizing distance, and in the case of the videos, we see that in practice the angle of attack is fairly neutral in practice (though Golf Magazine says that Tiger’s angle of attack is -3 degrees, so it may not be detectable in the video or it could be something that has just varied over the years).

    Again, that doesn’t necessarily mean doing something special with your swing unless it just happens to be very steep to begin with. It’s mostly a setup thing.

    I think we’re all on much more common ground than we might think and I really do think we’re debating semantics and misunderstandings about what both camps are really advocating. Unbelievably, I haven’t finished Clampett’s book yet, so I hope to get through it at some point so I can better understand where he’s coming from.

  25. Hi double eagle,

    Although I believe that the reading of golf magazine articles and videos of pro’s is helpful to most amateur golfers. I
    think the idea of the slightly descending blow with the driver was just for tiger and other top pro’s to squeeze the maximum out of their swings, and not for all golfers to follow literally. For most average golfers trying this would be difficult to get right and maybe detrimental to their games in the long run.

  26. Dogg_CPGA says:

    Gentlemen

    Clampett is exactly right, what every one of you is not taking in to account with this whole issue is that each and every player who’s swing you are looking at is striking the ball with a decending blow relative to the line of there shoulders, we all keep the spine angled away from our targets when we swing the cluband when we release into impact we are all decending into impact thus compressing the ball and bottoming out somewhere in front of the ball location, even with a driver. The problem with impact video is that you only see the clubhead and not what the body is doing with the clubhead. Too many people take hit up on the ball literally and too many instructors make too much money from people who ruin golf swings trying to hit up on the ball to actually tell anyone the truth about how an ascending blow actually works. The truth is that the golf swing is a decending blow in relation to the body and the driver swing can be an ascending blow in relation to the ground because of spine tilt angle not because the golfer is hitting up on the ball.

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