There is not much more humbling in golf than a full wind up and a shot that rolls less than 20 feet. A topped shot occurs when the clubhead obviously contacts the top of the ball, producing a low, rolling or bouncing result. We have all heard the common reasons why we top. We have all been told to keep our head down, that we “looked up” or “took our eyes off the ball.” Brace yourself. “Looking up” does not cause a top. There are several good players that “look up” before impact; Hal Sutton, David Duval, and Annika Sorenstam come to mind. The other common response has always confused me because golf is the one sport where the rules (Rule 13-1) state that the ball must be played where it lies [be at rest]. If it is at rest, why do we have to keep our eye on the ball? It is not moving. Baseball, tennis and other racquet sports have moving balls that require hand and eye coordination. Vision is not required for golf. Blind people play golf and some play pretty well.
There are three different types of tops: a “steep” top, a “mis-radius” top, and a “shallow” top. There are only a certain number of ways to produce each type of top.
Steep tops are those made on the way down with the bottom of the swing in front of the ball. This can happen when you lean ahead and turn too far in front of the ball (coming over the top).
Mis-radius tops are those where the clubhead simply does not get enough underneath the ball’s equator. This can be caused by having clubs that are too short, standing too far away, swinging too flat, coming out of your posture, or shortening your arms.
The shallow top is made by having the bottom of the swing too far behind the ball and contacting it on the way up. This happens when the club flattens and the head is “stuck” behind the player. It can also occur when a player tilts or leans back on their way to a reverse pivot. Another way this happens is if the player casts the club early with their hands, which moves the bottom of the swing back.
Once you can identify your mistake and the cause for it you can target your correction and be on your way to playing better golf.