One of the most satisfying things to witness when watching the PGA tour is the flying ‘dollar bill’ divots the pros take when hitting their mid-irons or wedges.
While seeing Tiger Woods launch a massive 5-iron over water is extremely satisfying, there’s something truly mesmerising about watching a beautifully curated patch of turf go cartwheeling into the air straight after he hits his shorter clubs.
However, when researching for this article, I noticed there seems to be some debate among golf instructors about whether you should take a divot or not. So, what’s the answer?
You should take a divot when striking a golf shot, but not with every club. Wedges and short irons when hit correctly will create a clear divot, imparting backspin on the ball, yet longer clubs like 5-irons and hybrids should ‘brush’ the turf, rather than take a deep chunk out of the ground.
Even though golfers generally understand that taking divots has its advantages, it seems to be something people find persistently difficult to implement in their own swing.
And, frustratingly, trying too hard to take a divot can sometimes create other problems.
In this article, I’ll answer everything you need to know about divots to help improve your ball-striking and start flying those pancake-looking turf strips through the air – just like the pros.
Table of contents
Are you supposed to take a divot in golf?
Generally, the shorter the club, the deeper the divot should be in golf. This depends on shot type, though, as sometimes even a 60-degree wedge will need to be clipped off the top of the grass. As a basic rule, the deepest divots should be taken with wedges, getting shallower as the club gets longer.
Let’s work our way through this from wedges, to short irons, to long irons and eventually longer clubs, as the optimum divot size and depth will change depending on which club you hit.
If you are playing a wedge, such as a 60-degree or gap wedge, you should take a divot that is relatively deep.
Now this isn’t to say you need to leave a crater in the surface of the earth, but your attack angle should be fairly steep and run well into the negatives.
In a blog article from Trackman, they weighed up a range of data to determine the optimum attack angle for different clubs, based upon swing speeds.
For the golfer who swings at an average pace, a pitching wedge will perform best when hitting about 3.9 degrees down on the ball.
Knowing this, a 56- or 60-degree wedge will probably benefit from being a little steeper than this.
Now on the pro tour, players will actually hit their 6-iron an average of 4.1 degrees negative, similar to what an amateur might consider a good angle for their wedge.
The key to remember here is swing speed; the pros rip it a lot faster than the weekend hacker, so the power they possess can cut through the turf and send the ball sailing higher than you or I will be able too when using the same club.
As you move through to mid and longer irons, these attack angles should gradually get shallower, leading to a divots that are less prominent.
By the time you reach a 3-wood, for example, the strike may only be one or two degrees negative.
While this is still a downward strike, you’ll be looking more so for a scuff than the removal of a chunk of turf, and if your swing speed is slow, you really need to aim to clip a hybrid or 3-wood off the surface with little turf interaction.
With driver, your attack angle should reflect the ball flight you’re trying to produce.
If you’re looking to squeeze a low fade into the fairway, you should be aiming to hit slightly down on the ball.
If you’re looking to bomb a big draw high on the breeze, increasing your angle of attack will produce the best results.
We’ve explained this in more detail in another article that I definitely recommend you read.
But for most amateurs, an attack angle close to zero is a good thing to aim for as the loft of the club, the tee and the way the face is delivered means that a neutral path into impact with a standard 10.5 degree loft driver will actually translate into around 12-14 degrees of loft when contacting the ball.
Why is it good to take a divot in golf?
It is good to take a divot in golf for several reasons including to compress the golf ball, strike the ball first then turf, and to utilise the loft of the club to get the ball airborne. If you are regularly taking a divot right after contact with the ball, it will lead to more consistent and effective ball-striking.
It is important to note though that taking a nice divot is usually a result of a good swing, not the reason for a good shot.
What do I mean by this? Well, if you go out on the course deliberately trying to hit down on the ball and take a divot, you may end up coming in too steep or even getting ground first and start fatting shots.
You want to aim to take a nice divot with short to mid irons as this will give you a good result because you have made a good swing and shallowed the club out at the right point.
If you go out to the course trying really hard to take a divot without paying attention to the preliminary parts of the golf swing which led you to a shallow attack angle, such as a correct takeaway or proper hip turn, you might find hacking down into the turf gives you equally poor results.
Ultimately, you want to take a divot just after the ball as it will indicate you have made contact with the ball first, leading to compression.
It will also mean you are utilising the loft of the club, hitting “down” to make the ball go “up”.
Why am I not taking a divot with my irons?
If you are failing to take a divot with your irons it usually means your angle of attack is too shallow and the club is on the way up, rather than down, when you make contact with the ball. This can lead to thin shots and won’t produce the quality of strike you might when compressing the ball.
This has been something I have struggled with for a long time, especially with clubs like a 5 and 6 iron.
Due to the lower loft, I always felt as if I had to pick the ball up and launch it into the air and a divot would just result in a huge chunk.
You do have to remember, though, that not all irons are created equal in the divot stakes, and a 5-iron shouldn’t leave a huge crater like a wedge might, but, ultimately, you should still strike a long iron with a negative angle of attack – it will just be a slight one.
YouTube golf coach Rick Shiels explains in the video below the intricacies of long iron striking, along with a drill to get your attack angle spot on.
In the shorter or mid irons, generally wedges through to 7-iron, you should be taking a fairly generous divot in order to make the club perform as it is intended to.
If this is a rarity for you, then there are a few reasons why this might not be the case (all more or less relating to attack angle), which I’ve detailed below.
You need more shaft lean
If your hands are behind the clubhead at contact it will cause your shaft to lean backwards, promoting an upward swing at the point of contact.
Work on getting more shaft lean to get your hands in front of the clubhead and your swing working downwards through the ball.
A great way to practice the feeling of proper shaft lean is through the use of an impact bag. We’ve listed the best ones available, and why they work so well, in another article here.
If you play the ball too far forward in your stance, you’ll find your club shallows out too early and is on the rise by the time it gets to the ball.
Try moving the ball back in your stance a little, especially for wedges and short irons, to make sure the ball is nearer to the low point of your swing arc.
If you play your irons with 55 percent or even 60 percent of your weight on your back foot, it will make it very hard to hit downwards through the ball.
Try a 50-50 weight distribution and follow through towards the target to get the club travelling downwards through impact.
Should I take a divot when chipping?
No, you shouldn’t take a divot when chipping, but you should definitely be making contact with the grass and ‘scuffing’ the surface. If you want to impart spin on the ball it’s crucial to strike the ball first, then the ground, which should lead to only a slight disruption of the earth beneath.
Often the pros on tour will look like they pick the ball super clean, yet still get a real gripping result with the ball holding up on the green in only one or two skips.
However, when you try this on the weekend, the ball often just comes out thin and flies through the putting surface.
That’s because even when the very best players look like they are picking the ball off the fairway, there is still a slight interaction with the turf straight after impact.
Depending on the lie and desired height of your shot, you may need to make more or less contact with the ground, but when chipping, this should only ever be slight.
This does differ to pitching though, where you will need to take a bit more of a divot to make the ball fly farther with greater velocity.
Why am I taking a divot before the golf ball?
If you take a divot before the ball you are shallowing the club out too early, leading to a fat shot. This could come about through setting up with too much weight on the back foot or an attack angle that is too steep.
Sometimes those who slide and sway in the golf swing will find an early divot and heavy shot is one of their big misses.
Often this is because they move back off the ball during their backswing, then try and hit with a negative attack angle but don’t make up the equal amount of distance when moving forward through the swing.
Try working on a rotational move, rather than a slide, to remedy this issue (we’ve explained how to do this in detail here).
Why am I taking a divot with my driver?
If you take a divot with your driver it is because you are shallowing out the club too early in the golf swing. The driver should ideally create a neutral or positive attack angle when swung correctly, so try and avoid swinging with too much of a negative descent as you might strike ground first or hit too far down on the ball.
Possibly the main cause of this early shallowing of driver is having too much weight on the back foot.
Many golf coaches confuse people when explaining the driver set up, stressing the importance of a backwards tilt or ‘K’ shape with the body when preparing for a drive.
While the right shoulder – for a right hander – should sit lower than the left to create an angle, weight should still be around 50-50 through the feet, something many people get wrong.
If weight is too strong through the back foot, you might find that the driver shallows too early in the swing and takes turf before getting to the ball.
Try evening out your weight while keeping those shoulders at an angle much closer to neutral.
What does your divot say about your golf swing?
The divots you take can say a lot about your golf swing, giving evidence as to whether you are hitting the ball too heavy or too thin. The direction of a divot can also provide great information as to why a shot went left, right, sliced or hooked.
The below video from HOOA Golf gives an excellent overview, outlining issues that can be determined from divot analysis including contact, direction and ball positioning.
Some things to look out for include:
Divots are too shallow: Shallow divots mean you are catching the ball too thin and need to work on attack angle or bringing the ball farther back in your stance.
Divots are too deep: Overly deep divots mean your angle is too steep and you might need to maintain more height in your swing or even move the ball forward in your stance.
Divots point left: You could be swinging with an out-to-in path, leading to a slice.
Divots point right: You could be swinging with an in-to-out path, leading to a hook.
Are big divots bad in golf?
Divots that are too big can be bad and often lead to real inconsistencies in your contact. While they might work out at times, often they can lead to extremely heavy shots or shots that perform quite poorly. It’s important to take consistent divots that aren’t too deep to strike the ball well more regularly.
One reason why people can take huge divots is through losing too much height in their swing.
If you drop your head the rest of your boy will follow, and you may end up with an attack angle upwards of 10 degrees negative.
If you get ball first this can sometimes come off, but with anything beyond a 7-iron it is unlikely you’ll get a desired result from this sort of strike, especially if you get ground first.
We’ve written a detailed guide on where your head should be positioned in the golf swing and provided some tips on how to maintain your height to prevent excessive ‘dipping’.
As appealing as it is to hit huge dollar bill divots with every shot, it’s important to remember that every club isn’t the same and divot depth should change for different clubs and different types of shots.
The one thing that can’t be denied is the value of analysing your divots, so use this as valuable feedback about the parts of your game that might need some tweaking.