How to Keep Your Head Behind the Ball in the Golf Swing at Impact

By Chuck Quinton, Master RST InstructorFULL BIO

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 BALL


That is 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.

In the swing sequence below, you can see just how well Adrian Wadey 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.

keeping head behind ball at impact

Now, contrast that with an amateur's golf swing who exhibits the "flip" discussed in the video. Can you spot the differences?

head in front of ball at impact

The amateur golfer sets up with the 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.

During the 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.

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. 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.

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.

tiger woods head behind ball impact Note how Tiger's head stays centered due to the pulling motion created by the right side of torso and the rotary motion of the obliques during the backswing.

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 right side. If you don't understand this concept, check out the push vs. pull video here.

Now, as the 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.

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.

tiger woods head behind ball impactAt impact, Tiger Woods' head is still behind the golf ball.

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.

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 it 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.

You will note, however, that as Tiger begins to fire the right arm after he has shifted his weight the head moves back. I discuss this further in the video.

WHERE CLUB HEAD SPEED COMES FROM


You may not realize that 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 in only the last three feet of the golf swing. Clearly, your body is not speeding the 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 and 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 swinging the right arm 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.

tiger woods head behind ball impactAs you use lag in your golf swing to build club head speed, you can easily keep your head behind the ball like you see here.

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

Related RS1 Articles & Videos:

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.

Line on back of ballThe left side of head is on the back of the ball

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.

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.

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.

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.

Head close to lineThe head is still close to the line

Now, as the ball moves farther up in the stance with the driver, etc., 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 just 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.

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 downswing, as part of the dynamics that we talked about in the Dynamic Swing video, his head is actually going to move backwards.

You can see that his head stays behind that ball. At this point here there's no better 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, is by staying behind the ball.

Head stays behind the ballHis head gets back on line (left) and stays behind the ball through impact (right)

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 rotating.

You're not rotating your hips and your shoulders and your chest 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.

Ball well in frontTiger's ball (red line) is well in front of his stance

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, this is actually ideal.

He has no lateral shift off the 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.

The hip stays very close to the lineThe right hip stays very close to the line through the backswing

What we want to note is, as he comes down, focus on this yellow line. His head gets back on that line during the downswing, then his head actually moves back. This is the dynamics that we talked about.

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 staying behind the 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.

Head movement through the downswingThe head is slightly off the line at the top (left), returns to it quickly (center), then moves off again at impact (right)

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.

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. We haven't talked about that in the videos yet, but it's a very important concept that we're going to address.

He would lose his tush line and he would slide. His head would get out in front of that 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.

Head movement, address & impactAdrian Wadey: Head position at address and impact

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.

Head movement, impact & releaseAdrian Wadey: Head position through impact and release

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.

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