The ability to control ball flight is what separates averages golfers from the elite players.
While shaping your ball left-to-right or right-to-left through the air is an important skill to master, being able to dictate whether your ball travels high or low off the tee, or from the fairway, is equally vital.
Controlling trajectory is especially key when playing golf in the wind – whether it be keeping the ball low and penetrating into a strong gust, or bombing it high into the sky to maximise distance with a tail breeze blowing behind you.
I’ve written another article on the strategy behind playing golf in the wind, including how to calculate club distances, which I’d definitely recommend you check out if you’re someone who struggles to score well when it’s blowing a gale.
But the question that has brought you to this page is: how do you hit higher and lower shots in golf?
A golf ball’s trajectory is determined by a few key factors including attack angle; ball position at address; and clubface loft at impact. Placing the ball forward in your stance will promote a higher flight, as will a positive attack angle. Keeping the ball back in your stance, and creating a negative attack angle at impact, will produce a lower flight.
Simple as that, right? Well, not quite. While it may sound easy and straightforward to do, controlling the height of your golf ball is no easy task, and takes plenty of practice on the course and range to master.
In my own pursuit of knowledge about the secrets behind golf ball flight, I spent hours trawling the internet and watching heaps of YouTube videos from the world’s best instructors to learn as much as I can.
In this article, I’ll share the best tips and use what I learned to answer some of the most common questions about controlling trajectory in golf.
Table of contents
How do you hit a golf ball higher?
To hit the golf ball higher, you need four things: clubhead speed; a shallow or upward angle of attack; loading into your trail side; and a good hip turn away from the ball followed by a fast turn back through into impact. If you want to hit towering driver and iron shots, you need to focus on increasing your clubhead speed.
Australian star and major winner Jason Day has one of the highest ball flights on the PGA Tour, and in a Golf.com article in 2017 he listed these four factors as the reason why he can hit booming, high shots that gives him an edge over his rivals.
Day, who is the 2015 PGA Champion and 2016 Players Champion, explained:
My standard ball flight is about as high as anyone’s on tour – from driver, right down to my wedges. That gives me a huge advantage in carrying hazards, flying it over trees and holding greens.
It certainly helped me win the Players Championship. In the opening round when I shot 9-under-par 63, I hit 15 greens in regulation. You can’t do that at TPC Sawgrass with a low ball flight.
One of the other important things to remember in order to hit the ball higher is to ensure it is forward enough in your stance at address, as this will help promote the shallow/upward attack angle that is crucial to getting the ball up into the air.
When hitting these clubs your divot should be shallow and even (your irons will have a slightly deeper divot than your fairway clubs).
If your divot is too deep, it means your angle of attack into the ball is too downward; if you don’t take a divot, it means your angle of attack is too upward, and likely means you’re ‘picking’ the ball off the fairway and not getting the proper compression needed to launch the ball correctly.
I’ve written some detailed, instructional articles that explain how to achieve each of Day’s four secrets, which I’ve listed below. Check them out if you want to unlock a higher ball flight!
- Hip Turn In Golf: How Much You Need
- Rotation Basics: How To Stop Swaying
- Generate More Speed (How The Swing Should Feel)
- Where The Ball Should Be In Your Stance
- How To Cover The Ball For Better Compression
But while these articles will give you a great foundation to hitting the ball higher, you do need to adjust things ever so slightly depending on what club you’re swinging. Let’s take a further look.
How to hit the golf ball higher with driver
To hit higher drives, position the ball slightly further forward in your stance than normal, on the inside of your front foot, on a longer-sized tee. Widen your stance by moving your trail foot back and keep your head behind the ball through the entire swing, as this will increase shoulder tilt and promote an upward strike on the ball.
At impact, your head, lead leg, and club shaft should form a straight line as you strike the ball and launch it high into the air with minimal spin, which in turn will maximise distance.
This is illustrated well in the screenshot below, from a great video by golf instructor Clay Ballard:
While it’s important to feel like you are hitting up on the ball, you want to let the clubhead release naturally through the ball, and not try and force it down the fairway with your hands, as this flipping motion is likely to hurt your distance and potentially lead to hooks or blocks off the tee.
Why am I not getting any loft on my driver?
A low ball flight with driver is commonly caused by: having the ball too far back in your stance; lack of clubhead speed; incorrect tilt at address; a downward attack angle; or swaying in front of the ball at impact. If any of these faults creep into your swing, it will hurt your ability to get height with driver.
Setting up to the golf ball correctly – with the ball inside your front foot and your head behind the ball as mentioned earlier – is the most important component to bombing long, high drives.
If you don’t address the ball correctly, you’ll likely need to compensate with inefficient movements – such as flipping your hands at impact, or early extending – in order to get the ball into the air, which will cause inconsistency with your ball-striking and accuracy.
How to hit the golf ball higher with irons
Hitting the ball higher with irons is almost the same as driver, with subtle differences. You should place the ball slightly forward of centre in your stance (but not too far) and attempt to strike it with a shallow angle of attack – rather than a downward angle – as this will add the maximum amount of loft to your shot.
The greater clubhead speed you have, the better your chance is of launching the ball higher into the air (and keeping it airborne for longer, which translates to greater distance).
If you’re someone who has struggled getting height with your iron shots, no matter what you try and do to change your ball flight, you’ve probably been left asking yourself the following question…
Why am I hitting my irons so low?
The most likely reason you’re hitting your irons low is you have the ball too close to your trail foot at address, which encourages a steep, downward angle of attack. This causes you to deloft the club at impact, which means the ball will come out harder, and flatter.
Think of it this way: when you want to play a punch-shot, and keep the ball as low as possible, do you position the ball closer to the front or back of your stance? Of course, you put it further back towards your trail foot.
If you want to get those irons flying higher through the air, make sure you address the ball correctly (which we explain how to do for each club in another instructional article you should read).
But just as hitting the ball high for extra distance or to land it soft on a green is important, it’s equally as crucial to learn how to keep the ball low – either off the tee, or from the fairway.
Let’s take a look at how to do that.
How to hit the golf ball lower with driver
To hit the ball low with driver, start by positioning the ball closer to the middle of your stance. Secondly, narrow your stance and open it slightly at address. When making your swing, feel as if you’re hitting an iron shot and focus on increasing your forward shaft lean and compressing the ball.
The reason for moving the ball back slightly in your stance (more than you would for a stock driver) is it promotes a descending blow/downward angle of attack into the ball.
Similarly, you open the stance slightly to counteract the change in ball position – because you’re hitting with a more downward attack angle, you’re going to be striking the ball as the club is swinging to the right (on its natural arc), and having a marginally open stance allows the clubface to be square at impact.
All these changes working in unison should produce a low, penetrating ball flight.
Why do I hit the ball so high with driver?
A reason for hitting your driver too high can actually be caused by swinging with an excessively downward angle of attack, causing the ball to strike the top of the clubface and balloon into the air. This is commonly known as ‘skying’ the ball and will often leave a ball mark on the top of your driver. Try teeing the ball down more to find the middle of the clubface.
You should also check that your ball position at address is correct, as this will influence the trajectory of your shot (again, read our article on ball positioning here).
How to hit the golf ball lower with irons
Hitting your irons lower is essentially the same as hitting driver lower. Start by positioning the ball a couple of inches behind centre at address, and open your stance slightly to counteract the affect this will have on your swing direction. Lastly, feel like you have extra shaft lean (with your hands further forward) at impact to deloft the club.
Combining these changes will promote a more descending blow and give you that penetrating, low ball flight that you desire – and can save you plenty of strokes when playing in windy conditions.
What causes low ball flight with irons?
The three common reasons for hitting your irons too low are: closing the clubface at impact; hands being too far ahead of the ball at impact (excessive shaft lean); or too much weight on your front leg at impact/swaying too far ahead of the ball. Each of these three faults will promote a steep angle of attack/downward strike, causing a lower ball flight.
While it’s important to cover the ball correctly for optimum compression with your irons (as I explained in another article that you can read here), swaying in the golf swing can be a big killer when it comes to consistency with your ball striking.
To learn how to turn correctly, eliminate that sway and hit higher iron shots, check our guide called Rotation Basics: How To Stop Swaying In The Golf Swing.
Hopefully these tips can put you on the right path to controlling your ball flight better.
Mastering how to manipulate the trajectory of the golf ball will help you shoot solid scores in all kinds of conditions whether it be rain, sunshine or wind.
Mess around with different ball positioning, and attack angle, next time you’re on the range to see what works best for you.