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Friday, May 28, 2010

Conscious Hand Action

Part of the Route 67 series

In yesterday's post I included a quote from Ben Hogan that said:
The main thing for the novice or the average golfer is to keep any conscious hand action out of his swing. The correct swing is founded on chain action, and if you use the hands when you shouldn't, you prevent this chain action.
The key word here is conscious, and it's probably one of the least-understood aspects of the golf swing -- not just for the full swing, but all the shots you play during a round of golf. (If you've ever heard Dave Pelz talk about making a "dead hands" swing, it's the same concept.) Now, there are some shots where hand action is desirable -- some examples: In one of his comments Court mentioned Gary Player's description of some sand shots as "striking a match," I mentioned hand use with the "swoosh" move when making a drive, and Phil Mickelson recommends a lot of hand action during flop shots. However, these are exceptions, not the rule.

Most of the time, unconscious hand action is what you want. In fact, most of the basic setup guidelines you hear assume that you won't actively use your hands!

Why do you suppose almost every teacher wants you to use the lightest grip pressure possible? Light grip pressure makes it harder to consciously use your hands. The idea is that the swinging of your arms, which you consciously control, provides the power for your swing; and your hands and wrists act as an unpowered hinge connecting the club to your arms. Some teachers use the image of a whip to describe a golf swing because you can't muscle a whip; it's way too flimsy for that. You use the motion of your arms to get the weight of the whip itself to behave the way you want. It's the same concept with a club.

An easy way to feel this is to take your putter -- which is short, so you won't break anything in the house! -- and hold it with a very light grip. And I do mean light; I want you to feel as if your wrists are limp noodles. No, you couldn't do that if you were trying to hit a ball because you want to keep your wrists moving in a single plane, but that's not a problem for our little exercise here.

Now, using this light grip, I just want you to swing the club back and forth. When you start, if you're holding it lightly enough, your hands will start back before the head of the club does. (You may recall some of the older teaching texts actually advised starting your swing this way. It's because they wanted you to grip the club as lightly as possible.) Let your wrists bend as you swing back and forth; if you were to follow Hogan's technique of keeping your forearms as close together as possible during the swing, this would create a reasonably consistent wrist cock. Are you with me so far?

This will create a fairly rhythmic swing. However, you can change both the rhythm (and therefore the clubhead speed) and the amount of pressure you feel at the change of direction by simply moving your arms more quickly or more slowly, or by changing the direction of your arm movement abruptly. In fact, if you have a smooth rhythm going and make an abrupt change in direction with your arms (remember, your wrists are just limp noodles!), first you'll feel more pressure in your wrists, and then it will feel as if the club speeds up to "catch up" with your arms. That comes from a combination of wrist cock and increased load on the shaft.
  • Shaft loading, if you don't know, is a result of the head trying to continue on its current path while the grip end starts moving in the other direction. Shaft load is visible as a curve in the shaft; the amount of this curve, and how much force it takes to cause this curve, is determined by the shaft's flex rating. Depending on the shaft, that rating may be a number, like 5.0 or 5.5, or a letter like R or S. Just for comparison, a regular shaft is an R or 5.0, and a stiff is an S or 6.0.
Now this is a fairly simple thing to control on short swings up to the length of a pitch shot, which is why most players can learn the short game so much more easily than the full swing. In addition, we generally strive for a slower, more rhythmic swing in the short game; since it's not a power swing, it doesn't require any special timing to get a good stroke. All you need is a light grip -- firm enough to prevent the club from wobbling around in your hands, but not so tight that your wrists and forearms tense up.

With this swing, you can use a mid-iron (like a 4- or 5-iron), make about a half-swing (a backswing with your hands at waist height or just above), and hit a controlled shot up to around 150 yards. (That yardage is based on my experience; I'm between 5'9" and 5'10" tall.) All you need to do is let your wrists get fully cocked on the way back and, when it feels almost as if your hands and arms have coasted to a stop and you feel wrist pressure similar to what you felt with the putter swing earlier, you make a rhythmic swing to your finish and just let your wrists fully uncock. The beauty is that it doesn't require much practice at all to keep this short game shot in shape.

Furthermore, you can make a full swing this way. You'll swing just a little faster, but not enough to throw off your balance. It won't be a powerhouse swing by any stretch of the imagination, but it may very well be a more powerful swing than you have now, especially if your old swing consciously uses wrist action. Based on my personal experience, I'd say you could hit a driver between 230 and 250 yards with this smooth, rhythmic swing. That may seem like a long way for such an relaxed sort of swing, but it will create a decent version of the swoosh move -- that extra wrist cock down near the ball that gives you extra distance. (Check the "Route 67" page for links to those posts.) If you look back at the video I posted of Sun Young Yoo's swing, her practice swing is only a little slower than a full swing using this technique.

But what about bombing it? How do you get a powerful full swing out of this? What if you want to get everything you can out of your drive?

That's what I call the REAL secret move in golf, and it's one reason why there are so many different approaches to swinging a golf club. We'll look at some of them next week.


  1. If I choose to use my hands to add extra hook or slice around an object (ok - an object well off the fairway where I'm not supposed to be in the first place) - isn't that conscious use of the hands ? :-)

  2. I've always found that, when playing a flop shot, trying to use your hands does nothing but cause an early release and results in hitting shots fat.

    I had a lesson with a PGA Pro a few years ago and he taught me to hit flop shots without ANY conscious hand movement. After all, the club will naturally find it's way to the ground without any help from me.

    This works on full shots as well. Try it out. You'll hit the ball solid.

    Jim Dauer

  3. Court -- Yeah, but that's one of those exceptions I mentioned; in fact, depending on your lie in that spot, manipulating the clubface may actually be the percentage shot. What we're talking about here is your regular swing. When your ball is in a trouble situation, sometimes you have to do unusual things to get out... but you don't want to be manipulating the clubface 35-50 times a round. That's just begging the ball to end up in trouble!

    Jim -- It depends on your lie and what you have to get over. If you watch Mickelson, for instance, he's usually in a thick lie and has to get the ball up quickly. Otherwise, you generally won't need to manipulate the clubface -- it's just a question of whether you have the right club for the situation.

    A good example: A few years ago, one of the courses I like to play pretty much lost a few fairways because of drought, but they let us play it until they were ready to make repairs. I had a 60-degree lob wedge with very little bounce, and I learned how to hit about a 15-yard flop off the hardpan with it... and I didn't need to use my hands to do it, all because I had the right club.

    In most cases, you're 100% right, Jim; but in some trouble spots, you just have to make do, which means you have to manipulate the club. Otherwise, the less you use your hands, the better.