The Thin Shot In Golf: What It Is, What Causes It

Illustration of a thin shot in golf
In a thin shot, the club often strikes the ball near its equator. Illustration by William Glessner

A "thin shot" in golf is one in which the clubhead strikes the golf ball too high (near the midpoint of the golf ball, or slighly lower or higher), which typically results in a low, sometimes slicing shot. A thin shot also often produces much more vibration that is felt in the golfer's hands.

It's impossible to predict how a thin shot will turn out. If it's a low screamer but one that stays up in the air and then gets lots of roll-out, the ball can overshoot the target by a lot.

If it's a ball that barely gets off the ground and then drops, it might not go far at all if there is rough or a hazard between you and the target.

If you're hitting from the fairway with a short iron or wedge and hit a thin shot, the ball might wind up way over the green.

A thin shot is the opposite of a fat shot (in which the golfer's club hits the ground before contacting the golf ball). Thinning it is preferable to hitting it fat. In fact, the best golfers, who are talented enough to hit it slightly thin on purpose, have an expression: "Thin to win," or "thin it to win it." Which simply means that thin shots (which, depending on the severity of the mishit, still sometimes work out) are preferable to fat shots.

Uses and Other Names for a Thin Shot

Golfers have various expressions when they hit a thin shot:

  • Hitting a thin shot can be called "thinning it," or a golfer might say, "I thinned that one."
  • Golfers talk about "hitting it thin" or say "I caught the golf ball thin" or "That one was a little thin."

All mean that instead of making crisp, correct contact (sweeping the ball with woods, contacting the ball with the club still traveling down - "hitting down on it" - with an iron), the golfer's club made contact too high on the golf ball.

Thin shots can also be called bladed shots (the leading edge of an iron is what first contacts the ball near its equator), or skulls or skulled shots. A ball that is first struck above its equator and particularly closer to the top of the ball is a "topped shot," and hitting such a shot is called "topping the ball." A low screamer than spends most of its time very close to or on the ground is a "wormburner."

What Causes Thin Shots?

Thin shots happen when the golf club impacts the golf ball too high on the ball - near or a little below the ball's equator. But what causes that?

Golfers thin the ball when our swing bottoms out in the wrong place. If your swing bottoms out behind the ball, the result is a fat shot. If the swing bottoms out ahead of the ball, the result is a thin shot.

Another common cause of thinning it is when the golfer raises up just before impact, lifting his or her head and torso. This pulls your arms up, too, which raises the club. In that case, even if the bottom of the swing is in the right place, the club will contact the golf ball too high on the ball's surface.

How to Stop Hitting It Thin

Start with the easiest things to check: your basic setup positions. Make sure you aren't positioning the golf ball in your stance way off normal; make sure your aren't setting up with your shoulders aligned well right or left.

These things can throw off where your swing bottoms out.

"Don't try to lift the ball," is a common thing golf instructors say to all golfers, but especially those who are plagued by thin shots. What does that mean? Your golf clubs are designed to get the ball up in the air. Some golfers try to "help the ball" into the air, feeling like they have to swing up into the ball. Don't do that! It results in lifting up your torso and/or lifting up your arms just before impact, and that causes thin shots.

In his book Golf for Dummies (buy it on Amazon), Gary McCord writes:

"If you're prone to hit an occasional (thin shot), set up with your nose behind or to the right of the ball, which moves the bottom of your swing back. When you find the right spot, you hit the ball and the ground at the same time, which is good. I've found that most people who hit their shots thin have a tendency to raise their entire bodies up immediately before impact. Concentrate on keeping your upper torso bent the same way throughout the swing."

You can also click this link to find many instructional videos on YouTube about eliminating thin shots.