The short answer to the question "should you take a divot in golf", if there has to be one, is “yes, with exceptions.” There is a reason why this near-universal advice exists, as virtually every good ball striker in the modern game of golf takes a divot with their normal iron shot, even if it was a very small one.
The longer answer, like so many things in golf, is a big “it depends.” While taking a divot is not essential for beginners, it is a good skill to learn.
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Golf is full of “exceptions that prove the rule” and also the game of golf requires such a dramatically wide variety of shot types and has seen a myriad of approaches be successful at the highest level, it is the ultimate proving ground where one-liner “truisms” go to die!
In this article we’ll take a look at different situations, different types of divots, the right and wrong way to take them, and some of the divot patterns (or lack thereof!) from famous professionals like Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, and Moe Norman.
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What Is A Divot In Golf?
The word “divot” actually was first used by the old Scots, specifically in the context of golf. It has roots in Gaelic words that mean “black dirt” but the modern word “divot” first appeared around 1540 to refer to exactly what it means today - a piece of ground removed by a golfer during a shot.
This should explain a little bit about exactly how fundamental the divot is to ball striking in the game of golf.
One thing to be aware of, that we will continue to touch on throughout this article, is that not all divots are created equal. Sometimes, you can barely see or even tell that a divot has been made. Depending on a lot of factors, a proper divot on a “perfect” strike could be just a light bruising of the turf, and not necessarily a huge “pelt” taken by the golfer.
Learning to take a divot the right way will put you on a fast track to breaking 90 and beyond.
Are You Supposed To Take A Divot In Golf?
In general, for standard iron shot, yes, a well struck ball will almost always result in some form of a divot being taken. There are lots of caveats, however, depending on which club is used, the playing conditions and type of turf, the type of shot, and the golfer’s swing tendencies that will make divots more or less noticeable in different situations.
It is also possible, for example while teeing off with a driver, while chipping, or while hitting a specialty shot, to hit an ideal shot and take no divot at all.
How To Take A Divot
The fact is old as dirt that divots are taken by striking an iron shot with a descending blow, and making “ball-first contact.” Two of the oldest suggestions in golf, and they aren’t wrong. Where people get into trouble though is understanding exactly how subtle both of these actions really are.
The general concept of taking a divot can now be explained in much more precise terms through the advent of Trackman, Flightscope, and other clubhead radar measurement systems.
This might sound like overkill, but a lot of the difficulty in golfers who try to force themselves to take divots is because for good ball strikers, it actually is quite a fine line that they are walking.
According to Trackman’s collection of data from PGA Tour and LPGA Tour players, a 7-iron shot is contacting the ball with a downward angle of just a few degrees. For reference, one minute on a clock face represents 6 degrees. So if 3 o’clock to 9 o’clock is a perfectly level strike, the best golfers on the planet are hitting down on it at an angle that is LESS THAN one minute - i.e. the same angle as if you drew a line from 2:59 to 8:59 on the clock face.
Even with a wedge shot, most golfers will just approach this 6 degrees or “one minute” mark, and with long irons and fairway woods, it can approach almost nothing.
Needless to say, in order to take a divot, you have to hit down on the ball - but it is extremely subtle.
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Should You Take A Divot With Irons?
In general, yes an optimal iron shot will take a divot, but it should be about as shallow as you can make it.
However, sometimes the playing surface dictates the divot more than the ball strike. For example a dry, dusty, hard surface might not produce a visible divot at all, even with a good strike. Conversely, a swampy South Florida fairway might be a lot more prone to take a strip of sod several inches long away in one fell swoop.
The other factor is your swing type. Some very good players have been a lot more “sweepy” or “pickers” of the golf ball, and that is just fine if mastered properly. The mistake many amateur golfers make is that they do not take divots because they are adding loft by “throwing” the club at the bottom of the swing and usually hit the ball too high and too short to get the most out of their motion.
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Why Am I Not Taking A Divot With Irons?
For amateur or beginner golfers, the main culprit is usually going to be with the release of the club.
Rather than de-lofting the club and hitting down on the ball, most amateurs who don’t take divots are presenting a lot of loft to the golf ball at impact and hitting with a scooping release motion. One major cause of this move is tight grip pressure.
This will cause the club to utilize the “bounce” and glide across the ground instead of the leading edge being angled to take a thin strip of dirt immediately AFTER contact.
This release pattern also prevents a divot because - when it is even timed properly to make good contact, it means that the club head is going to be moving UP out of the ground immediately after contact instead of continuing on a very gradually descending path for a few inches after contact.
One way to help correct this common problem is by simply employing the proper golf grip and allowing the hands and arms to work properly through the golf shot!
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Should You Take A Divot When Chipping?
On a general stock chip shot, from a good lie, it is definitely not necessary to take a divot. However, there are scenarios where you could take a divot while chipping and it would be just fine.
If you have a bad lie (ball sitting down in a low spot or bare spot for example) it may be necessary to chop down on the ball more in order to increase your likelihood of getting the face on it and getting it into play, in which case taking a little divot is going to be inevitable.
Also, many players chip with a slightly descending blow still, but a lot of wedges are built with a certain “grind” to the sole of the club that prevents it from entering the ground as easily as their irons. Combine this with the fact that many chip shots are much softer swings, and you don’t expect to see divots often around the greens. However if the ground is very soft or muddy, you may still see a small patch of grass removed with a medium or long chip shot.
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Should You Take A Divot With Driver?
You should absolutely not take a divot with the driver in golf.
The main reason for this is that the driver is teed up well above the ground, and the driver should have the flattest or shallowest or most “sweep-y” swing arc of all your clubs.
While the average PGA Tour player is hitting ever-so-slightly down (1 degree or less usually) or level with their driver at impact still, the more the data comes in the more men’s players are hitting slightly up to several degrees up with their drivers at impact. LPGA Tour players have long hit with several degrees of uppercut in order to maximize height and carry distance.
All told, in order to contact the ground with the driver, if you are swinging it on the proper arc it would have to be a fairly large miss.
Why Am I Taking A Divot With My Driver?
Taking a divot with your driver is always something you should try to understand and avoid doing.
There are a couple of main ways that it can happen. The first is due to the release, and the second is due to the swing path.
If your divot is happening before the ball with a driver swing, despite how terrible this sounds it actually is usually easier to fix than the alternative. This is known as a “dropkick” and is likely due simply to early release.
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If you do chunk a little bit before the ball, it actually means that you are probably coming into the ball at a good angle, sweeping the club to where the bottom of the arc is actually immediately at or just before the ball, in order to hit level or up on the teed-up ball. Rory Mcilroy has actually said before that his “good miss” is a SLIGHT dropkick, which still goes straight but just loses a few yards. He is known as one of the golfers who hits more “up” on their drives than anybody else.
If your divot is after the ball with a driver, it is almost always going to be because your swing path is way out of line for what it needs to be with a driver. Over-the-top, slicer-type swings can sometimes fool you and produce playable shots with short irons and wedges, but the driver reveals all.
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The easiest way to start hitting up on your driver is by adjusting your setup. From your normal setup position, pull your trail foot back away from the golf ball a couple of inches. Next, tilt your shoulder so that the right one lowers until the shaft and your left arm feel like they are in a straight line. Swinging from this position is a good way to hit much straighter drives!
What Your Divot Can Tell You About Your Golf Swing
The legendary golf coach Harvey Penick has said he could tell a lot about a swing from looking at a player’s divots - but that it was mostly helpful if he could also see the ball flight.
What Harvey was doing was an old-time way of deducing the same general information that a swing radar system would give us now. One thing to be VERY careful of though is mis-reading a divot.
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You need to look very closely at the PATH of a divot and not how the beginning or end are angled. If you look closely, if a player has their toe-down at impact, the toe side of the divot will be longer than the heel side, and an give the illusion that it is “pointing” left when the path was actually dead straight, and the opposite is true if a player has the toe in the air at impact.
Mis-reading this situation can lead to players chasing their tail adjusting swing mechanics when really a lie angle adjustment or a different mechanical focus is needed other than swing path.
Divot Before The Golf Ball
The divot before the golf ball or “fat” shot is dreaded by amateurs and pro golfers alike. By far the number one culprit here is an early release.
The easiest way to correct this without any mechanical thoughts and start getting a good, compressed, delofted, “smashed” impact feeling with a divot after the ball is to do this two ball drill that is perfectly demonstrated in the video below.
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The one way you can “cheat” this drill is by swinging more across the ball in order to miss the second ball and generate a more downward blow, but that is not what we want. Don’t be afraid to start the second ball a full foot behind the first ball to begin with and work your way up, and don’t be afraid to set it slightly inside the target line to remind yourself that even though we’re swinging down, we still want the clubhead coming from the inside.
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Divot After The Golf Ball
The divot coming after the golf ball is the “golden ticket” when it comes to divot analysis.
This is what you will see from the best ball strikers. It depends on exactly the club used and the exact conditions of the ground, but this divot could start a millimeter after the center of the ball all the way to visibly past where the ball was sitting.
Divot Going To The Right Of Your Target
A divot going right of your target is generally going to indicate a swing path going to the right. If the divot is after your ball, like it should be, this means that the club was going even MORE right than your divot at the moment of impact (for a right-handed golfer).
While generally the club coming from the inside is good for any shot shape, most good players even when they are playing draws or cuts, the divot is going to look FAIRLY straight to the naked eye, because their path is only a few degrees in either direction.
The first thing to check if your divot is significantly to the right of the target is your alignment. In many cases you will be lined up too far right and should always check your divot against a stick or club laid at your feet at address.
Divot Going To The Left Of Your Target
Divots going to the left of your target are probably the most common thing for an average right-handed golfer to see. This will tend to indicate a leftward swing path or slicers pattern for a right-handed golfer.
It is common to see this pattern among golfers who stand too close to the golf ball, due to the way they are forced to come over the top in order to get to the ball.
Because of these tricks, we should always take information from the divot and combine it with what we see the ball doing to get the best picture before making any changes based on the divot alone.
The shallow divot is the most coveted thing in golf. When you look at the practice ranges at PGA Tour events, the players are not out there “digging to China” (as the owner of the driving range I grew up on used to say about his customers).
As we mentioned earlier, with irons and wedges most good ball strikers are hitting down on the ball, but at an angle that is less than one minute on a clockface (6 degrees or less). That is a remarkably thin angle. Sometimes because of the way sod is laid a lot more can rip out, and some elite players do intentionally dig down into the ground for various reasons, like if they have a bad lie.
Overall though the shallow divot is what the elite ball striker is after in most cases. If turf conditions are moderate, and a player is hitting a long iron, it’s also possible that you might not even see their divot, as it will just be a quick bruising of the turf in front of the ball on a perfect strike.
Deep divots are more often than not a sign of a potential swing flaw. Yes we will see some tour players taking out huge pelts. Oftentimes these are on courses with extremely soft and rainy conditions and even more often they are hitting a wedge shot that requires a more extreme angle of attack than normal.
All players have their tendencies, also, and some great ball strikers take more or less of a divot - but it’s definitely alarming if you are taking too much of a divot too often and you’re not an elite ball striker. The number one reason why this happens with amateur golfers is because the more a player swings across the ball, the more they swing down on it as well, and can take huge divots.
Try playing with different grip styles to see if you can shallow out your divots!
Do You Have To Take A Divot In Golf?
By all means, you absolutely do not HAVE to take a divot in golf.
First of all there are many shots that don’t require a divot or where a divot is not optimal. Secondly, sometimes course conditions (like hard, dry, and firm conditions) won’t make divots easily and many players who grew up in places like West Texas developed swings that swept or picked the ball off the turf naturally.
Lastly, and maybe most importantly. While the “ideal” PGA Tour caliber ball strike does include a nice dollar-bill-sized divot. However, we have to remind ourselves that golf is not a game of perfection.
It all depends on what you want from your game. Plenty of golfers have gotten very, very good with imperfect swings. And many people have gotten very, very good by mastering other aspects of the game and learning to manage their tendencies in the long game. At the end of the day if you aren’t trying to become a high-level competitive player, and you are generally happy with your long game, absolutely don’t make a change just because you don’t take a divot.
The other aspect is, if you look at the strike conditions for LPGA tour pros, you will see that they are not hitting down on the ball nearly as much as the guys. They do still hit a degree or two down on it in most cases. It’s not that they aren’t capable of doing so, it’s that they have learned that it’s not optimal for them! The most important thing is to understand what is best for your game.
Pros Who Don’t Take Divots
There are many pros over the years who “don’t” take divots. We use the word “don’t” in quotation marks because technically they all were still hitting down on the ball slightly, but to the eye and even to their feel they were barely able to notice the divot at all on many swings.
Perhaps the three most famous pros who took little to no divots were Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, and Moe Norman. Moe Norman was lauded for “not” taking divots and said that he hated to take a big divot. These guys' caddies were sure glad they didn't have to replace divots as often as others!
Did Jack Nicklaus Take Divots?
To be sure, Jack Nicklaus took PLENTY of divots in his career. That said, he took some of the smallest divots and hit more shots that were “picked clean” than most professional golfers, so he has this reputation for not taking a divot or barely taking a divot.
Being a “picker” is one style of play and as evidenced by Jack, it cannot really be argued with if done properly. This is a microcosm of one of the bigger fascinations when you study golf - how many of the greatest players ever were as dominant as they were in spite of eccentricities in technique.
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Final Thoughts On Golf Divots
The main thing to understand when analyzing golf in general, and especially when it comes to questioning whether you should take a divot or not, is that it is a game of tendencies more than absolutes.
That said, just by the laws of physics, you have the best chance for a consistent, powerful strike if you hit a ball off the ground with a descending blow. Exactly the amount of a descending blow depends on many factors and circumstances - such as club selection, personal preference, what is optimal for your physical ability, and the exact lie or turf conditions for a given shot. Even having the proper size grip on your clubs can make a difference!
Even the best golf shots are normally hit with a descending blow that is extremely slight, producing a thin divot or even just a slight splash of dirt and discoloration of the turf in front of the ball, while some golfers can hit the ball just fine and make it hard to discern any divot at all.
Perhaps the art of taking a divot can be summed up by Moe Norman’s famous saying that divots should be “bacon strips, not pork chops.” Keep that in mind as a goal and you’ll be well on your way to hitting more crisp, consistent golf shots.
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