I’ve taught for close to 15K hours.
Every time I meet a new golfer, I’m greeted by the same old clichés. Some of these are harmless, but (as we will see), some might be causing you more trouble than they are worth.
So I’m going to do a job that every coach out there wants and needs – I’m going to kill a few clichés. And I will start with this one.
Oh, and read all the way to the bottom for the kicker. It’s pretty important!
First of all, let’s define what it means, because it can be interpreted differently.
Some players will interpret “head down” as meaning they should keep looking at the ground for as long as they can and not “look up” at where the ball has gone.
But, if this created good shots, why
- Does Robert Allenby have 22 professional wins?
- Was Annika Sorenstam arguably the greatest ever lady golfer?
- Is Henrik Stenson a major winner, having spent over 250 weeks ranked in the World top 10.
- Was David Duval world number 1 before Tiger Woods came on the scene, having shot a 59 and won 13 tournaments (including a major).
- Is Dustin Johnson World number 1
Some of the best players lifted their heads early
“But, Adam”, I hear you say.
“I’m concerned with my head actually lifting up as I am coming into contact with the ball”.
Again, this is not necessarily an issue. If it were, then Spieth might have struggled.
Yellow line represents his head height mid way through the downswing
McIlroy wouldn’t be good.
Tiger Wouldn’t have been one of the greatest ever to have lived.
In fact, a whole host of players “spring up” through impact.
So, Why Do You Say It?
Whenever a golfer hits a bad shot, we look for an answer.
We ALWAYS look for an answer.
And, usually, when we have a playing partner with us, they are going to be the “residential expert” who throws the cliché book at you.
“Hmmm”. A shadow of doubt is cast in your mind. “Maybe he’s right” you think.
So, for the next shot, you keep your head down and BAM – you hit a decent shot.
So it must have been the key, right?
I once had a watch. It ran out of battery one day. I whacked it against a table. It started again and continued for another month.
Do you see what I’m saying?
Just because you made something work doesn’t mean you did it in the right way. In fact, you might have done it in a way which could hold long term detriment, such as whacking my watch on the table.
Eventually that watch broke. Let’s find out how the “keep your head down” mantra might break your swing.
Good players rotate.
Their bodies open up as they start the downswing (in conjunction with a lateral shift), and a professional golfer’s chest can be as much as 30 degrees open at impact.
This rotation helps the lead shoulder to work away from the ball, which helps produce forces on the grip of the club which can speed it up.
Watch this video clip below of the lead shoulder movement.
The lead shoulder moving away from the ball (through the chest opening up) also helps to change our hand path into a more favorable “up-and-in” motion, a topic I talk about in The Strike Plan.
This desired hand path can aid us in creating a more consistent arc height, as well as a better ground contact – keys for consistent striking.
If you try to “keep your head down”, you often ruin your ability to rotate your body. This results in poor and inconsistent contact, as well as your arms collapsing (in order to try and fake a better hand path).
As this picture shows, trying to force your head to stay down can lead to poor body rotation and need to collapse the arms to compensate.
Lots of players then take it further and try to force their arms straight to avoid the inevitable arm-collapsing-chicken-wings
Combining “head down” with “straight arms” can be lethal.
Hand Path Down
Ever see this end position?
Yeah, it’s associated with choppers and I call it the “old man” finish.
A lot of times this is caused by trying to keep your head and body down for too long, instead of allowing it to spring up as you are rotating.
This can make the movement of the lead shoulder less than desirable.
If the lead shoulder movement is poor, this will often create a hand path which moves too linear, instead of up and away from the ball.
Here we see Tiger demonstrating a left shoulder movement which is dramatically upwards (green) which allows the hand path to also move up (yellow).
A hand path which is too linear can kill strike consistency, swing path and clubface consistency, speed generation (through parametric acceleration), and may even create wrist/forearm injuries.
Apart from the mechanical detriments to thinking of keeping your head down, this thought process is what we deem an “internal focus of attention”. This is where our attention is directed inwards towards our body movements.
Over 15 years of motor learning research has concluded that internal focuses tend to produce negative effects including
- Reduced performance
- Reduced learning
- Detriments to coordination
- Reduced outcome consistency
- Poorer connection to the task
While I don’t agree with all of the research (the situation is more complex and more things have to be taken into consideration than the studies suggest), I would agree with the general consensus of internal focuses of attention being less optimal for most golfers.
I discuss these concepts in The Practice Manual – The Ultimate Guide For Golfers, I look at other forms of attentional focus, as well as how to test to see what is best for you.
I promised it, and here it is.
We have seen that some of the best players to have played the game lift their heads/look up early (both elevating and rotating).
We have also seen that trying to actively keep your head down can ruin
- body rotation
- lead shoulder movement
- hand path
- strike consistency
- directional consistency
- potentially cause injury
But there is also this interesting fact.
Whenever I get a “head lifter” (someone who thinks they are lifting their head early and causing bad shots), I run a little experiment.
I film their swing when they have hit a great shot. I also capture a swing on camera when they are “sure” they lifted their heads. We then compare the swings side by side.
After running this experiment hundreds of times, I have not seen a single case where someone has lifted their head earlier in the bad shot.
The more surprising part to the pupil is that, in most cases, the worst shot they hit was the one they kept their head down the longest.
Even though they felt otherwise.
In the above picture, the player was positive they had looked up before they hit it (where is says “bad shot”). The evidence shows otherwise.
So even when you think you are lifting your head early, it is highly unlikely that you are actually doing it.
So Why Do We Think We Did?
Golfers will often say they lifted their head after a topped/thinned/bladed golf shot.
I believe this is because there is a disconnect between where the player expects the ball to be versus where it actually is when they first catch sight of it.
Player expects to see the ball in the Pink zone, but ball is actually in the blue zone
The player then believes that they lifted their head early, because the ball flight is lower than where their eyes are looking.
Matters are not helped when “Bob-24-handicap” dispenses his timely advice and tells you that you “looked up”.
What Really Happened?
As always, whenever an issue pops up with a golf shot, it’s best to first trace it to the lowest common denominator – impact.
How did the club interact with the ball to cause it to fly the way it did?
When you find this answer, THEN you can start the problem-solving process.
In most cases of “looking up early”, it is an issue of poor ground contact or poor clubface contact (missing the sweet spot).
This is why some of the top professionals can still lift and rotate their heads and STILL play elite level golf. Top pros strike the face and the ground effectively, so their head lift (or lack of) is irrelevant.
If you want to get better at this game, stop trying to keep your head down, and start working on better contact instead. This is far more relevant to your shot quality and scores.
This is the whole reason why I developed The Strike Plan – so that amateurs can learn these skills and gain more rapid success – hitting longer and more consistent golf shots.
The strike plan looks at ways of improving your strike quality through a better understanding of concepts, and through the use of skill development exercises which can be done on the range or at home. The program also looks at techniques which the pros use which make striking the ball easier and increases your margin for error.
To learn more about The Strike Plan, click below.
If you want a really in-depth look at some of the more advanced training principles to improve your game, pick up a copy of the amazon best-seller (in 5 different countries). Click below to find out more.
Ha ha I’ve heard that more than once from some of my 25+ handicap buddies. Buff explained something similar to me – that your neck may need to turn to help the flow. Anyway – more interesting stuff to think about!
Adam while I totally agree you shouldn’t tell students to keep their heads down I haven’t figured out exactly what to say when a student looks up before they even make contact.
Another concern I have is when instructors use “outliers” as proof of a concept. I can send you 30 shots of top 10 players and you will see that they are still looking down where the ball was when their trailing arm is parallel to the ground after they have hit the shot.
I love your stuff and have learned much from you regarding”impact” but felt compelled to comment on this.
Hi Jim – in terms of what to say to a player, why not just work on fixing the issue at hand. For example, if a player is topping it, instead of telling them to keep their heads down (which can ruin pivot and cause other issues), why not just work on/improve their ability to brush the ground in the right place.
In any regard, it’s very rare that a bad shot is actually caused by looking up early. I’ve got 15K hours of teaching under my belt and can count the number of times I have seen a player look up earlier than usual on their bad strikes.
Regarding the pros – I think it’s useful to see that it is possible to look up early (in some cases even beneficial) and hit tour-level shots. this shows players that it’s not the looking up that is causing their poor play
I am pretty confused by these type of posts. I understand that we want the head to rotate through the swing but most all great players heads are staying down through impact as they are maintaining spine tilt including all pictured. This keeps there heads down. Keeping your head physically as close to the ground during the swing seems sensible to me as long as you rotate through after impact.
I posted many pros who didn’t keep their heads down vertically or rotationally. Here is another article looking more at the vertical component – https://www.adamyounggolf.com/early-extension/
Even when a pro player does “kinematically” keep their head down, they are not doing it “kinetically”. There is a tug of war between the pull of the club (swing a heavy iron bar and see how it tries to pull your body towards the ground through impact) and the counter-pull by the golfer.
Not to mention, when an amateur tries to keep their head down, they ruin their pivot, their hand path, and their ability to create speed.
Rotating the head in the forward pivot has taken my ball striking from high balloons due to flipping the club (head down) to penetrating bullets with no flip (I haven’t seen contact in years). Head down and behind isn’t the only way to hit powerful straight golf shots. I practice a lot without even looking down at the ball, only concentrating on my external surroundings. This has produced some of my best ball striking especially in regard to shaping the ball. Also, on course for a draw I find a spot just to the right of the ball line and I try to rotate my head to that spot on the way through. Converse for the fade. It might not be for everyone but it is absolutely valid for some.
Great article. I saw my teacher today. First thing he saw (collapsed left arm through impact) and said, your eyes are looking to where the ball was too long. I’m a 7 and when I’m on I can break 70 not on? Lucky to break 90. Started turn my head with the shot gained height and length. Thanx for the article again. Tim c.
I appreciate this article and its sentiment. I would like to share the one area where I believe an exception is warranted: chipping around the green. In this case, much less body rotation is called for and I find that keeping my head still is key to quieting my entire body and making more consistent contact.
I’m never sure exactly why I blade or chunk a chip shot; I just know that when I tell myself to watch the ball and then watch the ground where the ball was, I make better contact on chips. This might inhibit my rotation slightly, but I would argue that a bit less body rotation is not fatal with shots around the green.
All thoughts welcome.
I encourage players to let their body work up through impact with chip shots too. Really helps to reduce yips and create a shallower arc. Take a look at a guys like Seve – they really didn’t stay down with their chip/pitch shots. As far as lateral motion goes, the best tend to have a little forward movement of the head as they go back, followed by a stabilization as they come down.