How to stop hitting the golf ball fat

I caught the end of a popular Melbourne radio show yesterday. It’s a regular golf segment and they tend to finish off with some listener questions, with a local golf pro offering advice.

One guy called in and wanted to know how to stop fatting the golf ball. His thinking was he wasn’t getting onto his front foot in the follow-through.

The pro’s answer basically revolved around stopping the hips from sliding outside of your right hip (assuming you’re right handed) in the backswing. The pro went as far as to suggest you can even put an umbrella in the ground (outside your leg) to help avoid any lateral slide.

I find this coaching really narrow and limited. Scratch that. I find it bad coaching. Why?

Because it is making a huge assumption that the golfer’s fat shot is all related to the hips. There’s a chance it could be but I doubt it. It literally could be a thousand things, and probably a combination of things past our understanding. To have such a narrow view point is unlikely to help the student and won’t allow them to play their best. What tends to happen is the golfer will focus on the hips for a while and get some relief. Then what happens? The fat shots return and he needs to find another solution. It goes on and on with no real breakthrough or improvement made. Does that sound familiar?

So what’s the answer?

My viewpoint is pretty strong here. Good coaching is not rocket science and only requires a grade 1 level of human learning. Not sure why it is, but the golf industry likes making things way more difficult than necessary.

I would have said something along the lines of…

Ok, so you’re hitting the ball fat. That’s not great because you’ll always struggle to get the ball to the target. I want you to see if you can top the ball for the next few minutes. Let me repeat.

I’m not interested in seeing beautiful, long and straight shots. I want you to top the ball. Your objective here is to strike the ball above its equator. Hopefully, we will see some worm burning action soon.

A request like this usually gets some push back. Golfers (humans) are trained to not make mistakes. But if you’re going to learn to NOT do something, then sometimes you’ve got to break your comfort zone and deliberately exaggerate.

The chances are the pupil will struggle for a bit. Some encouragement will be needed to keep him focused on the task. It’s easy to get distracted.

Come on. You’re not focusing on the task. I want you to hit the top of the ball. It’s going to feel awkward and uncomfortable but keep going. I want you to focus on the point of impact and see if you can tell me if you’ve topped the ball. Good, even miss the ball if you have to, but hitting the ground first is no longer an option.

This is a perfect objective to get the pupil away from thinking about crazy things like his hips. It is only a matter of time before he will be able to hit a perfect topped shot. And he would have done it without any instructional/technical advice. It never surprises me how successful this kind of coaching is.

I really shouldn’t get all excited because this learning all very natural to us. It’s how we learn to walk and most other things we develop while young. The adult mind, bad coaching and an almost compulsive desire for control really does get in the way.

Objective based coaching is fun. Both for the pupil and the coach. When you are encouraged to break a few rules and not worried about making mistakes you free up. You relax. And with this comes greater enjoyment and learning.

The coach isn’t repeating the same drivel day after day. They need to come up with challenging exercises to help each student. I can’t even imagine how boring it must be teaching the other way. But with this style of coaching both are learning in each session.

And there’s an even better reason this coaching is so good.

It’s scalable.

In the fatting example, you could get the pupil to hit less and less of the ball. An extremely tough shot is to just nick the ball so it travels only a metre of so. This shot is way harder than a standard shot (it’s also harder than it looks). Just think about the control and skill required to take a full swipe at the ball and just brush the top of it. Have you ever tried it? If not get outside and have a go.

The hip and umbrella drill doesn’t offer the same scope. There’s no clear objective and it’s hard to know when you’ve accomplished the task. But with topping the ball, the ball doesn’t lie. You get immediate feedback so learning takes place more quickly.

To be honest, if you can deliberately top the ball you can do almost anything. From here, hitting the ball solidly will not be a problem. In fact, it will seem easy. And I can certainly guarantee that fatting the ball will no longer be an issue.

The great coach can take this concept even further by experimenting with ball flight when the student is ready. For example, learning to hit a low fade will challenge anyone with a dose of the “fats”. But if done right the student will learn new shots and will have improved their skill level far beyond what the “other” method offered.

So there you have it. A natural and simple way of curing a fat shot. It’s way better than thinking about your hips or making up some other story.

Final point: If you’re having trouble with a certain shot break free and exaggerate in the opposite direction. You’ll probably surprise yourself but don’t tell your golf pro.

Side note: If you can approach golf learning like this you may find that certain things in your swing will fix themselves. So where you once had some terrible hip movement or body action they could improve without any thought. You may even finish your swing on the front foot. This is natural learning at its best and is so much easier than the alternative.

Leave your thoughts below and share some problem shots you’re having. We might have some fun working those out in a later post.

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  • Luke

    Reply Reply May 17, 2012

    Apologies if I’m starting to sound like a broken record, but I went through a bad bout of the fats at one stage. And I’m talking 6 inch gouge behind the ball and 7 iron going 90 yards fats. I tried all the usual cures – address the reverse pivot, get your weight shifted properly at impact etc etc but to no avail. In the end, all was gradually cured when I stopped worrying about it, stopped trying so hard, stopped hitting AT the ball, and just got my rhythm back. It’s really not complicated.

    On to this:

    “Final point: If you’re having trouble with a certain shot break free and exaggerate in the opposite direction. You’ll probably surprise yourself but don’t tell your golf pro.”

    This is excellent advice. When I’ve struggled with a slice at times, I tried to learn a new swing to counter it. Wrong again. With a slice the natural tendency is to want to aim further and further left but this just leads to cutting across the ball even more. It takes some bottle to do out on the course, but I eventually made myself practice aiming way right, setting up for a draw and eventually I started drawing it and even my bad swings became more of a controlled fade. Most golf coaches however would never make it this simple. Someone once told me that the golf swing is very counter-intuitive and is about opposites. If you are slicing, learn to aim right. If you are hooking, make yourself aim left. In time, the swing path will right itself. This is far more effective and much simpler than trying to manipulate your swing path or ‘plane’ or practice ‘positions’. Urghh…

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