How to Read Divots

By Mike Southern
Whether it's Tiger Woods or a weekend player, almost every good shot creates a divot.
Whether it's Tiger Woods or a weekend player, almost every good shot creates a divot.

Many golfers struggle with their games. They hit shots that don't go where they expected, but they have no idea what they did wrong. If you are struggling with your game, you might not realize that almost every shot gives you a tool that can help you diagnose your swing problems. That tool is the divot you leave when you hit the ball with an iron on the fairway. All you need to do is learn how to read the story divots tell. Think of your divot as an interpreter. Ball flight is the result of swing path -- the direction you swing the clubhead -- and face angle -- where the face of the club was pointed at impact. The divot tells you about the swing path. Together, they can tell you a lot about the shot.

Address the ball and make your stroke. Watch the shape of the ball's flight, then check the divot. Typically, depending on how soft the ground is, you'll get a divot two or three inches wide and a few inches long -- about the size of a dollar bill -- and no more than an inch deep. Shallower divots will take less turf; a 3-iron, which is swung on a shallower angle, should take a smaller divot than the steeper angle of a wedge.

Determine the direction in which the divot points. It should point along your intended swing path. Divots can only go in one of three directions -- straight, left or right. If you're right-handed, this means your swing path was straight, out-to-in swing (a pull) or in-to-out swing (a push). If the ball went straight in the direction of the divot, you had the clubface square to the path. If the ball curved to the left of the divot's direction, you had the clubface closed to the path. And if the ball curved to the right of the divot's direction, you had the clubface open to the path.

Determine where the divot is in relation to where the ball was positioned. Mishitting the ball is a big problem for many players. Looking at where the divot is in relation to the ball's position tells you how solid your contact was. Ideally, the divot should be just in front of the ball's original position. This means you hit the ball before you hit the ground. That's a descending blow, which is what you want. If the divot is behind the ball, you hit the ground first. If the ball jumped up into the air and didn't go very far, you hit the ball fat. That means you hit the bottom of the ball after you hit the ground. If the divot is behind the ball but the ball came out low and hot, you hit the ball thin. That means you hit the top of the ball after you hit the ground.

Determine how deep the divot is. Remember that thin shot you hit? If the divot behind the ball is very deep, you probably made a reverse pivot. That means your weight moved backward when you hit the ball, not forward to your left side as it should have. If the divot is ahead of the ball but it's very deep -- and especially if the divot points to the left -- you're coming over the top. You're starting your downswing by pushing your hands upward. And if the ball flight was very low but there's no divot at all, you skulled it. You straightened up at the bottom of your swing.

About the Author

North Carolina native Mike Southern has been writing since 1979. He is the author of the instructional golf book "Ruthless Putting" and edited a collection of swashbuckling novels. Southern was trained in electronics at Forsyth Technical Community College and is also an occasional woodworker.

Photo Credits

  • Siri Stafford/Photodisc/Getty Images
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