What is an over the top golf swing?
The term ‘swinging over the top’ refers to a downswing that is too steep and a swing path that approaches the ball from above the ideal swing plane.
Said another way, golfers with this problem have a tendency to approach the ball from ‘out to in’ rather than ‘in to out’. The end result is usually a massive slice, but pull hooks can also occur if your clubface is closed at impact.
More than anything, it is almost impossible to become a consistently good ball striker if your golf swing is severely over the top. You will always be fighting a slice, and flirting with out of bounds stakes on the right of the hole.
What causes an over the top golf swing?
The number one cause of an over the top golf swing is a backswing that is too flat.
It is easiest to think of this problem in the following terms. Professionals have a steep backswing and a shallow follow-through. This movement pattern creates ample space for them to drop their arms and the club ‘into the slot’ on the way down, making it easy to approach the ball from the inside.
Amateurs that swing over the top have a shallow backswing (ie flat/too far inside) and a steep follow through. The tendency to take the club back way too far inside during the backswing leaves an amateur with no choice but to swing over the top during the follow-through.
Why amateur golfers swing over the top?
This image from Jim Mclean’s Book ‘The Slot Swing‘ provides a perfect visual representation of why golfers swing ‘over the top’.
The backswing is way below the ideal plane (ie way too shallow, way too flat). As a result, the only way to return the clubhead back to the ball is by swinging over the top.
It is a matter of cause and effect. A backswing that is too flat tends to result in a follow-through that is too steep.
There is one piece of popular golf instruction that can serve as the catalyst for a backswing that sways too far inside. It’s called ‘the one piece takeaway’.
Even though it is advocated by great players like Jack Nicklaus and Justin Rose, when most amateurs practice this move, it triggers a backswing that is way under the ideal plane.
To combat this tendency, it is far better to practice an early wristcock. This gets the clubhead moving vertically rather than horizontally during the first part of the swing, which is far more desirable in most cases, especially if you have a tendency to swing over the top.
Joe Nichols has some excellent ideas on early wrist cock, but if you find his swing philosophy too extreme, the SwingGyde is an effective and affordable training aid that can help you learn how to set your wrists correctly during the backswing.
How to stop over the top golf swing
1. Employ A Steep To Shallow Swing Pattern
First and foremost, you need to completely overhaul your understanding of the backswing to follow through movement pattern that most elite golfers use to achieve remarkably consistent ballstriking.
As you can see from Jim McLeans image above, most modern professionals employ a ‘steep to shallow’ backswing to follow-through swing pattern. Said another way, they take the club back outside the ideal plane, so they can drop it into the slot during the follow-through. This makes it far easier to approach the ball from the inside, which is the very opposite of coming over the top.
Even though are some players like Tiger Woods that take the club back almost perfectly on plane during the backswing and the follow-through, this movement pattern is significantly more difficult to execute consistently.
So, while you can achieve great things in the game of golf with a perfectly on-plane swing, you need to have Tiger Woods level talent and spend thousands of hours practicing. It is far easier to learn the ‘steep to shallow’ swing, which can deliver much more consistent results in far less time, for most golfers.
2. Stop Initiating The Transition with Your Shoulders
One of the most challenging aspects of any golf swing is the transition. Shifting direction from the backswing to the follow through in a fluid yet athletic manner is difficult. There is no way around this.
One of the biggest issues that can occur during the transition is to initiate the downswing with your shoulders. Doing this is basically a killer blow for your golf swing.
If you get to the top of the backswing and your primary instinct is to use your shoulders to start the follow-through, you will put the shaft in a position that is way above the ideal plane, effectively forcing you to come over the top.
The antidote to this particular issue is to keep your back to the target during the first part of the downswing while lowering your hands to waist high. Only once your hands are waist-high during the downswing, can you safely release the power stored up in your shoulders, knowing that the shaft and the club will be approaching the ball from the inside.
Drills to stop over the top golf swing
1. Headcover Drill
One of the simplest drills that you can do right away is the headcover drill. All you have to do is place the headcover of your driver about 2-3 inches away from the tee, as you can see in the image above.
Then, you simply start hitting driver, doing your very best to avoid making contact with the driver cover placed on the ground.
This drill is very helpful because it basically forces you to shallow your follow through and approach the ball from the inside. If you find it difficult to avoid clipping the headcover, it means that your follow-through path is severely out-to-in, which is the perfect recipe for coming over the top.
By spending 10-15 minutes on this drill every time you hit the range, you should gain an intuitive understanding of how to shallow your follow through with the driver specifically.
2. Clay Ballard Slice Fix Drill
Clay Ballard has a reasonably straightforward drill that can help you stop coming over the top. In essence, you use your lead arm and place the club into the ground, in line with your back foot.
While keeping the club pointed down at the ground, you then practice rotating your trail arm and your body, into the impact area. When your lead arm is placed in this position with the club, you should find it relatively simple to rotate your torso and drop your trail arm into the slot.
Another great benefit of this drill is that it can help prevent early extension and excessive lateral movement during the downswing.
3. Bob Kramer Down Swing Drill
The Bob Kramer downswing drill is extremely useful, because it hits the nail on one of the primary reasons that golfers come over the top, namely, initiating the transition from backswing to follow-through with your shoulders.
In Kramer’s words, when coming over the top, the right shoulder goes high, and the left shoulder goes low. The image below represents this issue visually.
As you can see in the image above, when you start the downswing with your shoulders first, you put the club into a position that is way above the ideal plane. The only way to make contact with the ball is by coming over the top.
In this image, you can see that Kramer has delayed his shoulder release. His back is still facing the target, and he gets his hands into a waist-high position, before unleashing his shoulders.
Coming over the top makes it very difficult to get good at golf. To help remedy this particular issue.
- Fix Your Swing Pattern: In essence, you need to employ a ‘steep-to-shallow’ swing pattern rather than a ‘shallow-to-steep’ swing pattern. Almost all modern professionals use this movement pattern to hit the ball exceptionally well.
- Stop Initiating the Downswing with your Shoulders: Starting the downswing with your shoulders is a catalyst for coming over the top. Instead, you need to keep your back facing the target for longer and allow your hands to drop into the slot before uncoiling your shoulders.