What It Means to Sclaff a Golf Shot

"Sclaff" is an old golf term, rarely used today, that is a synonym for a fat shot. If you hit it fat, caught it fat, chunked it, chili-dipped it, laid the sod over it, then you sclaffed it. If you are hitting a lot of heavy shots, you are sclaffy.

What all those terms mean was succinctly explained by Betty Hicks in a glossary to her Golf Manual for Teachers (affiliate links used in this post), published in 1949: A sclaff, she wrote, is a "shot in which the club cuts into the ground before striking the ball."

Today, most golfers use one of those other terms to refer to hitting the ground before hitting the club: fat, chunk, chili-dip and so on. Sclaffing it means that your swing bottomed out before the clubhead reached the golf ball.

The Historical Dictionary of Golf Terms (whose definition of sclaff is "to hit or graze the ground unintentionally with the clubhead before hitting the ball") cites multiple 19th century uses of the term. It says the origin of the term is Scottish and is onomatopoeic — "sclaff" being a word that sounds like what it means, a club hitting the ground.

In his 1913 Travers' Golf Book, U.S. Amateur and U.S. Open winner Jerome Travers wrote about the sclaff:

"Most sclaffed shots are caused by taking the eye off the ball. A dropping of the right shoulder during the swing also brings the club to the turf before the ball is reached. Still another cause for sclaffing is standing too near the ball, when the club head is dug into the ground back of the ball, owing to the lack of room between the player and the ball."
Travers also prescribed a way to stop sclaffing shots:
"The best cure for sclaffing is to moderate the stroke and to keep the eye on the front-center of the ball, or an even an inch or two in advance of it, if necessary."
If you are hitting the ground before the ball, head over to YouTube and search for videos on how to stop hitting the ball fat. You'll find plenty of golf instructors offering tips.

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