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Sat, Oct. 19

Gunby: The myth of keeping your head down
Column: Tee It Up

There is not one golfer who has topped a shot and heard his playing partner explain this error by saying “You looked up. Keep your head down.” You follow their advice and top or even whiff the next shot. Sound familiar?

Many have learned this so-called “basic rule of golf” from the moment they held a golf club. I am one of those. My dad taught me to keep my head down, watch the club head hit the ball and don’t worry about where the ball went.

He even held my head still with his hand. My dad meant well. He was just relaying what he had heard and learned from others.

In my eyes, he was the greatest man on earth, so I followed his instruction dutifully. Only until I delved more into the golf swing did I discover that this is a perpetual myth.

I still work on breaking the head down habit I ingrained at a young age.

The reality is that a topped shot is a result of the club head contacting the ball above its equator. That’s what actually happened. Period.

Golf Digest published a book in 1963, “How to Solve Your Golf Problems”, with a panel of professionals including Byron Nelson, Paul Runyan and Horton Smith.

They identified one of the causes of a topped shot is “over-emphasizing advice to keep your head down.”

Your head is centrally attached to your spine. All our body is connected to the spine. When you keep your head still (or down) it limits your shoulder turn (back and through). Your lower body movement, particularly your legs, are immobilized. You then finish flat-footed or back on the right foot (trying to lift the ball into the air).

And your arms will probably collapse at impact. All these byproducts of trying to keep your head down will make the golf club head return to impact at a higher level than it was intended. Plus, there is a great possibility of a lower back injury.

Harvey Penick stated in his famous Little Red Book, “Looking up is the biggest alibi ever invented to explain a terrible shot”. He goes on to say, “Even Ben Hogan told me he loses sight of the ball ‘somewhere in my downswing.’”

You will never see the club head contact the ball, except maybe on a putt. Whenever we hit an object, such as a nail with a hammer, our eyes close. The same happens with a golf club and ball. It is a reflex to protect our eyes.

How many times have you hit a shot and not known where the ball went? Or finished flat-footed instead of around on your right toe (for a right-handed player) facing the target? My condolences, you have perfected keeping your head down.

Here is what I suggest. After impact, feel like your club, body and head are chasing the ball to the target.

This will direct all your swing’s energy to where you want to hit the ball. And you will not have to rely so much on the timing of your hands to square the clubface. Some great anti-head down models to copy are Annika, Tiger and Henrik Stenson.

John Gunby Sr. is a columnist for The Daily Courier. Reach him by email at

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