How to Keep Your Head Behind the Ball in the Golf Swing at Impact
Online Golf Instruction By: Chuck Quinton, Master Instructor • FULL BIO •
Watch this golf instruction video to see one simple drill that will help you keep your head behind the ball right now!
For golfers who miss shots frequently in both directions, one of the very first things I check is the position of their head throughout the golf swing. In doing so, I'm looking for something very specific that I see in about 75% of all amateur golfers.
STEP 1: MAKE SURE YOU'RE SETUP CORRECTLY BEHIND THE GOLF BALL
Most golfers setup to the golf ball incorrectly to start with. That i,s that their head is both too far in front of the ball at address and ends up even further ahead at impact. It is critical in any golf swing that your head stay behind the ball throughout the entire swing and especially at impact. This is because we need our head behind the ball for maximum release at impact. If your head is in front of the golf ball at impact, you'll always be robbing yourself of power.
In the swing sequence below, you can see just how this golfer demonstrates keeping his head behind the ball at impact. Hitting a 6 iron here, Adrian exhibits a perfect ball position at address with the left side of his head setup directly on the back of the ball.
At impact, his head stays well behind the ball and he is in a world class impact position.
Now, contrast that with an amateur's golf swing who exhibits the "flip" discussed in the video. Can you spot the differences?
The amateur golfer sets up with the golf ball too far back in his stance in relation to his head. In his effort to "stay centered" over the ball, he never gets behind the ball at the top of his backswing. This is a common "phobia" for most golfers as they fear "swaying" off the ball. By trying to incorrectly prevent the sway, they end up with a reverse pivot and a weak golf swing.
During the golf swing transition, his head naturally moves forward with the weight shift to the left side and his head gets further out in front of the ball by the time he arrives at impact. This forces him to release the club early just to make contact.
It's critical that you setup with your left ear on the back of the golf ball at address and that you have a proper amount of axis tilt. Axis tilt actually is one of the main setup traits that determines swing plane. Without axis tilt, you're almost certain to reverse pivot and swing over the top.
STEP 2: DON'T PUSH FROM THE RIGHT SIDE
This is where most golfers go severely off path with their golf swings and end up with their heads well out in front of the ball at impact, and even end up with hip pain in the golf swing. The feeling of pushing off the right leg aggressively or "pushing" from the right side of the torso are very powerful feelings that take work to overcome, but it is critical that you learn to not be overly dominant with the right side of the body. The challenge of the game of golf is that is a predominantly left side dominanted movement and most golfers are very right handed. I spend much of my time with my students teaching them to move their body and left arm correctly in the swing.
Learning how to rotate correctly and stay centered in the golf swing starts right from the takeaway. If you want to keep your head behind the ball at impact, you need to learn how to use the correct muscles that keep you centered during the takeaway. Take a look at the picture of Tiger Woods backswing below and note how his head stays behind the ball throughout the backswing. You can also see the axis tilt he has at address and how he maintains that axis tilt to the top of his golf backswing - this is critical for learning how to keep your head behind the ball in the golf swing.
Tiger's head doesn't move an inch in the above swing sequence. Why do most golfers' heads move off the ball during the backswing? Because they push from the left side. If you don't understand this concept, check out the push vs. pull video here. The concept of pushing vs. pulling is one of the most important golf swing fundamentals that you'll ever learn and it will change your golf swing for the better, I promise! It's truly ground-breaking!
Now, as the golf downswing begins, you have to reverse the process to unwind while keeping your head behind the ball. The main reason golfers move their heads in front of the ball at impact is pushing from the right side. They do this in an effort to try and get too much power from the body because they don't have enough lag or don't know how to use lag properly for club head speed.
The trick of the golf swing is, when it's done correctly, it will feel like there is virtually zero effort involved. However, if you're like the 99% of amateur golfers out there that push from the right side, every shot feels like a herculean effort and it will take time for your mind to adjust to the fact that you simply don't have to work that hard in a proper golf swing.
STEP 3: USE THE RIGHT ARM TO KEEP THE HEAD BEHIND THE BALL
It may seem strange to focus on the right arm while discussing keeping your head behind the ball, but it is the key. Take a look at Tiger keeping his head behind the golf ball at impact in the swing sequence below.
Note how Tiger stays very centered. If you're pushing from the right leg or right side of the body, it will be nearly impossible for you to keep your head positioned behind the golf ball. However, you can use the extension of the right arm to help deliver the golf club back to the ball. When combined with the proper movements of the left arm in the golf swing, you'll have a picture perfect impact position just like you see above.
DOES THE HEAD EVER MOVE IN FRONT OF THE BALL?
One tiny detail that shouldn't be overlooked is the position of Tiger Woods' head in the frame on the left. You should note that his head has in fact moved slightly in front of the line it was on at address. This is actually an important fundamental of the golf swing - your head DOES move in front of the ball, but then it moves back.
The head position should change and move forward during the weight shift phase of the golf swing. If it doesn't and you just move your hips forward, your head will fall away from that line and create a lot of secondary axis tilt. This tends to shift the horizontal swing plane to the right, and leads to big blocks and hooks; not to mention a very sore back and left hip.
You will note, however, that as Tiger begins to fire the right arm after he has shifted his weight the head moves back to the exact same position it was at address. I discuss this further in the golf instruction video at the top of this article.
WHERE CLUB HEAD SPEED COMES FROM
You may not realize that over 60% of the club head speed in the golf swing actually comes from the release of the right wrist. In fact, the golf club accelerates from around 25 mph to over 90 mph with a mid-iron in better golfers' swings in only the last three feet of the golf swing. Clearly, your body is not speeding the golf club up that much in such a short span of time and so late in the downswing. In fact, most professional golfers' bodies are actually slowing down during this phase in the swing.
This isn't always the case with amateurs because they lack lag in the downswing. So, they must try and make up for the speed somewhere with the body and pushing from the dominant right side is usually the place they seek power. The professional knows he only needs to focus on releasing the wrists correctly and he won't have the need to overuse the body for power. He will be able to use his right arm and wrist which will allow him to stay behind the ball at impact. This is the key differentiator between professional and amateur golfers and why pros look so effortless when they swing the club.
If you want to know how to use lag in the golf swing to help you stay behind the golf ball, check out this article. Otherwise, click the link below to watch this video on how to keep your head behind the ball.
Checkpoints for Practice
- "Keeping the head centered" is a visual - a feeling of turning around your spine
- Your head does not literally stay fixed in one spot, but it should always stay behind the ball
- Many amateur golfers set up with the ball far back in their stance, with the head over the ball instead of behind it
- Ideally, the left ear should start out just behind the ball
- It will move slightly farther behind the ball in the backswing, then return to the line in the downswing
- The head may move back again through impact, only crossing the line when pulled through by momentum in the finish
Video Transcription: Keeping Your Head Behind the Ball
The movement of the head, or lack thereof, in the one plane swing is something that's really misunderstood.
Nine times out of 10, what I see in a golfer is for them to line up - I'm going to draw a line here, straight up and down from the back of the ball - 9 times out of 10, the average amateur golfer that I work with sets up with their head either on this line, or even in front of it, so the ball is played really far back in their stance and their head is set really on top of the ball.
What happens when they do this is that as the swing goes back, their head actually gets farther in front of this line during the downswing. It's part of the dynamics of the golf swing. There's going to be a little bit of lateral head movement in most every golf swing. If you want your head to stay behind the golf ball in the swing, it should seem obvious that it should start there!
When we're talking about keeping the head centered it's a visual, that you don't let your head sway or shift a great deal off the ball. You want to feel like you're just turning around your spine in the golf swing.
You can do this literally - many golfers do it - but what's important is that, no matter what, you set up correctly and you always keep your head behind this line and understand that it's ok for your head to move a little off the ball during the backswing. I give my golf students a margin of about 1.5" of lateral movement. Anymore than that and things get trick in the downswing.
This line that I've drawn, I'm going to change the color of it, make it a little easier to see. This red line is drawn up directly from the back of the ball. You should always set up with the left side of your head either on this line, or behind it, on all your golf shots.
Now, as the ball moves farther up in the stance with the driver, you'll see in a minute that you can set up farther behind this, but your head should never, ever, ever be in front of that line.
I'm going to work this swing back. You can see the line drawn straight up. The golfer has his head just on the left side of that ball. I'll zoom in here a little bit so you can see that.
As he swings back, note how he keeps his head very close to that line and he stayed very centered, but his head had a tiny amount of lateral movement. There's nothing wrong with the amount of movement off the ball here. It's part of the dynamics. This swing is still very Rotary in nature. He's staying very centered. You haven't seen a big shift off the ball, but his head is definitely behind the ball.
Now watch as he comes down. His head moves back on that line. He stays on that line and never gets in front of it. During this part of the golf downswing, as part of the dynamics that we talked about in the Dynamic Swing video, his head is actually going to move backwards. This moves his head back behind the golf ball in the swing.
You can see that his head stays behind that ball. At this point here there's no better golf impact position that you're going to see in anybody in golf than what this is right here. This is as good as it gets on the impact and release.
He's only able to have this type of impact, where his hands are leading the club, well ahead of the club, able to strike down on the ball, get a lot of forward shaft lean at impact - he hits his irons a very, very long ways - and get this kind of release, because his head staying behind the ball.
If you move aggressively in front of that line, or your head moves in front of that line, you're going to be blocking it and flipping it all day. If you have trouble missing shots both ways, I can almost assure you that you're not keeping your head behind the ball in the golf swing and pushing hard off your right side. You're also likely not rotating correctly.
You're not rotating your hips and your shoulders and your core out of the way. You're sliding your body in front of that line and getting in front of the ball, then your club is coming in late. It's too far behind you, and at that point you have to save the shot either by flipping it with your hands or just blocking it out to the right.
This is a good example of how well a golfer should stay behind that line, never get in front of that line, and stay behind the ball and hit it solidly.
Let's take another look at a golfer here. We'll look at Tiger Woods. He's got a driver here, and the reason I pull this up is because he hits the ball very much on the upswing, so he's got the ball well out in front of his stance.
I'm not actually going to use that line, at the back of the ball. What we're going to do is draw a line directly down from the left side of his head - this yellow line here. The red line represents the back of the ball; the yellow line represents his head.
As we take the club back, notice how his head stays behind that line, but actually very close to it. You can see how well Tiger's head stays centered. When we're talking about keeping the head centered and behind the golf ball, this is actually ideal.
He has no lateral shift off the golf ball, and we can prove that if we draw another line here on the outside of his hip. You will see very little movement past that line, so at the top of his golf swing he's right on that line where he was at address.
This is a very powerful position, to have this leg angled in here and not have it shift off the ball dramatically.
What we want to note is, as he comes down, focus on this yellow line. His head gets back on that line during the golf downswing, then his head actually moves back. This is the dynamics that we talked about earlier.
He's getting his hands to lead that club head on the way down, maintaining his angle, and as he comes down into impact his head is still behind that line. You never see any good golfer get out in front of that line. You're always working to keep your head behind the golf ball.
When we talk about staying behind the ball, this is exactly what we're referring to. That head never slides out in front of the line that it was at address. You can see this in any good golfer's swing. It's really, really important.
We'll take a look at another swing here, with a driver, with Adrian so you can see the same thing, but with a different club and a different golfer.
Now, Adrian doesn't play the ball nearly as far forward in his stance as Tiger does. You can see his head's a little bit closer to that line at address. This is because he hits slighlty down on the golf ball with his driver for more control.
As we move the club - the camera angle moves a little bit here - but notice how well, coming into impact, he stays behind that ball. He never, ever gets in front of that ball.
It's a Rotary movement. If he didn't rotate - if he started to slide from the top - he'd lose his tush line. I talk about losing the tush line in this online golf instruction video.
He would lose his tush line and he would slide. His head would get out in front of that golf ball. He would move laterally forward and he wouldn't be able to stay behind the ball to hit with the full force of his body here, to get into this proper release position.
It's very important that you learn how to stay behind the ball throughout the golf swing, and to avoid getting in front of the ball and avoid flipping it and blocking it.
The best thing you can do to learn this is to actually have a person - if you have a helper or somebody -go out to the range with you and put a shaft on the left side of your head, and make certain that your head never forcefully bumps into that shaft until the ball is long gone.
You can see that Adrian's head, where it was at the top of the swing here, is never going to move forward of that line until well into his follow through. It's not until this point here that the head starts to move. It's pulled around simply by the force of the club releasing there.
It's not something where you're driving your body into it. It's a very, very important concept so practice this in the mirror. Video tape yourself if you can.
This is one of the really important things that's really hard to see unless you look at it on video tape. Work on rotation. Work on turning your body back and turning your body through, without having a lateral slide or shift on the downswing.
Imagine that there's a wall or a shaft - somebody's got a shaft next to the left side of your head - and you don't want to bump into that on the way down. You'll start to feel that you're staying behind the ball a lot more. A lot of you are going to feel like you're going to do one of two things.
You're going to feel like you're going to hit the ball straight up in the air because in order to get into this position you're going to have to move the ball up more in your stance than where you're used to playing it with an iron. That's totally OK. The golf ball should be played off the left side of the head in most cases, which is roughly the logo of your shirt.
A lot of you may have that ball back pretty far in your stance. It's totally normal for you to have to move it up and feel like you're going to hit the ball very high, but if you stay behind the ball and keep rotating through, it won't happen.
You've got to get into a proper impact position. This is one of the keys to getting in that proper impact position.