Why Keeping Your Head Down In the Golf Swing Is Bad Advice

December 12, 2021
5 min

We've all heard the phrase "keep your head down" offered as advice on the golf course. At this point, it has been passed down for so many generations that most golfers have come to believe it without question.

Unfortunately, this is misleading advice. In fact, it typically does far more harm than good. But as is the case of many other golf myths, we don't like to challenge a popular line of thinking that we hear consistently from fellow golfers. Can you blame anyone? Golf is a difficult game, and we like to rely on some of the basic fundamentals as a compass.

Here at Graff, we aren't aiming to complicate the game further. We just want you to reimagine this old theory so that it will actually make the game simpler to understand.

What's Wrong With Keeping Your Head Down?

If you were to go on to YouTube and check out the swing of a handful of PGA Tour players, you will notice there are many ways to swing a golf club. But invariably, there are some elements that just about every player shares.

For instance, if you were to draw an imaginary line on the top of a player's head at address, you will see their head goes down slightly during the backswing. It then ascends gradually through impact and into the follow-through. Their head rotates along with their bodies through the ball, allowing them to face the target shortly after impact.

Asking someone to keep their head down creates tension and limits upper body rotation, which significantly hinders power and speed. If you stare at the ground where you made impact or focus on keeping your head as low as possible, it puts unnecessary pressure on your lower back and prevents a fluid release of your arms through impact.

A baseball pitcher working out of the stretch position may be facing towards third base prior to starting his delivery, but he wouldn't pitch continuing to look at third base while the rest of his body went toward home plate. Just like the golf swing, throwing a ball is a continuous motion where your body needs to flow in the direction of the target.

So Why Is This Advice So Popular?

"Keeping your head down" is such popular advice because it relates to arguably the most common issue the average golfer has: consistently getting to an advantageous impact position.

A struggling golfer has issues with clean contact for many reasons, including these four:

  1. Dramatically changing their spine angle on the downswing, greatly altering where the bottom of their swing arc falls.
  2. Pulling their arms in towards their body in an effort to lift the ball up.
  3. Failing to clear their lower body to where both back pockets of their shorts/pants are visible as they reach the ball.
  4. Maintaining too much flex in their lead leg (for a right-handed golfer, this would be their left leg).

In particular, No. 1 on this list makes the head a primary scapegoat.

Someone may top the ball down and say, "I lifted my head up", "I swung too quickly" or "I tried to kill it". But that doesn't really describe the actual issue.

You may have felt your head lift because the rest of your body stood up abruptly on your downswing, but your head was just along for the ride. It's an effect, not a cause.

As for swinging too quickly, that is not the source either. Some of the greatest players of all-time have swung quickly. You can swing at any tempo you want if you get to impact consistently.

"Trying to kill it" is also usually code for one or all of the four above conditions not being met. However, it's a good rule of thumb to ensure you can make solid contact with shorter, more controlled shots first.

The bottom line: Your head will move during the swing. It's totally okay. Your head is allowed to ascend and rotate during impact and through the ball, creating an athletic motion.

Re-Framing the "Keep Your Head Down" Advice

Here is a different way to look at how your head interacts with your golf swing.

It doesn't have to be perfectly still, and it doesn't have to stay down. A good feeling to start with is to feel the level of your head lower slightly on your backswing as part of the natural turn of your body. On the downswing, you can then feel it gradually elevate as you turn through the ball.

You want to finish with your head and body facing the target. It's just like you would turn if you were throwing a ball.

As for struggling with having trouble getting the ball in the air, remember golf is a game of impact. Great players have all sorts of swings, but their impacts share more in common than any other variable.

Practice getting to a reliable impact position. That means your left leg straightens as you come into the ball and your lower body turns through as your arms naturally extend.

Here is a simple drill to help. Go out to the practice range and grab something in the area of a 6, 7 or 8-iron. Address the ball and take the club halfway back, about as high as your waist. Freeze in that position.

Now if I were to ask you to hit the ball from that still position, how would you do it?

You couldn't just throw your arms at the ball without moving your body. You may feel like you can gain power by standing vertical as you approach the ball, but it would be tough to make clean contact consistently that way.

A few shots into this drill, you will realize that you need the ingredients of great impact. And pretty soon, it will just happen naturally.

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