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Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Mystery of Handedness

Part of the Route 67 series

No, I'm not talking about what side of the ball you play from. In the grand scheme of golf technique, it doesn't really make a difference whether you play from the right side of the ball or the left side.

However, it DOES make a difference which hand controls the club -- and, consequently, your swing. It makes a huge difference in how your swing feels to you, how you decide which teachers to listen to, and even how you choose which swing thoughts to use.

Are you curious yet? This is what I call, for lack of a better term, handedness. And it really doesn't get talked about very much these days, which is part of the reason so many players struggle with their games.

Control in Other Sports
Most of us have played baseball, basketball, tennis, or some other sport growing up. We may not have been very good, but even after several years where we didn't play at all, we can still usually pick up the sport again and swing a bat, catch a ball, shoot a basket, or make a forehand stroke without much difficulty. In fact, after about 5 minutes, most of us can make those moves well enough to have an impromptu game with friends... and enjoy it.

Why is golf so different? It's because, unlike those other sports motions, we don't really understand what we're trying to do in our golf swing. And we compound that by not really knowing how that swing should feel to us. So many of those other sports motions are made with a single hand, or have to be started by moving a single foot, and those actions cause weight shifts and balance changes that require a certain response just to remain upright. Some of the moves can only be made from one position.

Enter golf. Everybody seems to do it differently... but they all look pretty much the same. The differences may be intangible, but they are very real once you try to duplicate the move. How can you even hope to sort those differences out?

Control Hands & Power Sources
Here's where handedness comes in. I've already mentioned that there are two main power sources available to us (yes, we're finally going to talk about them!), and that most pros try to use both at once -- that's why they have so many timing problems. As a weekend player, you want to focus primarily on only one power source. If you do, the other source will automatically work with it and add its power to the mix; it's just that you'll feel all that power coming primarily through only one source.

Handedness is part of that feel; you might think of it as the missing piece of the puzzle. To talk about this with a minimum of confusion -- and without having to write these posts two different ways, one for right-handers and one for left-handers -- I'm going to refer to your "control side" in two different ways.

To refer to the side that controls your swing, I'm going to borrow a couple of tennis terms: forehand and backhand. To make this more clear:
  • If you play golf right-handed, your left hand controls a backhand swing and your right hand controls a forehand swing.
  • If you play golf left-handed, your right hand controls a backhand swing and your left hand controls a forehand swing.
That's simple enough, isn't it?

To refer to the actions of your individual hands, I'll use the terms control and support. Your control hand does most of the work -- it's the hand you feel the swing with -- and your other hand is your support hand. If you have a forehand swing, your control hand is your forehand hand (doesn't that sound weird); if you have a backhand swing, your control hand is your backhand hand.

What it comes down to is this: There are basically FOUR ways to feel your swing, four feels from which teachers and players tend to describe what they're doing. I've listed them here.
  1. The leg-powered forehand swing: You feel your legs providing most of the power, and you feel that your forehand side controls the swing.
  2. The leg-powered backhand swing: You feel your legs providing most of the power, and you feel that your backhand side controls the swing.
  3. The arm-powered forehand swing: You feel your arms providing most of the power, and you feel that your forehand side controls the swing.
  4. The arm-powered backhand swing: You feel your arms providing most of the power, and you feel that your backhand side controls the swing.
Pretty simple, eh? And since all of these are matters of feel, perhaps you can see why so many people struggle with their games.

Let's say you have four swing thoughts in your head. One came from a teacher who teaches the first swing, one comes from a player who uses the second, another came from a teacher who teaches the third, and you read the last one in a magazine article that was based on the fourth. You swing thinking about the first one, but the ball doesn't go where you planned... but the fourth thought seems to address it, so you swing again and use the fourth swing thought. There is no way the swing can feel the same to you, even if you perform your swing thought perfectly, because you keep changing your reference point. No wonder we struggle with the game!

Starting tomorrow, I'll teach you how to recognize which swing is yours and how to recognize which teachings will mesh with your approach.

2 comments:

  1. Mike: How do you think Manuel de la Torre's swing fits into the discussion. I could argue for both hands.

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    1. de la Torre would say that the swing is controlled equally with both hands, and now (2017) I would tend to agree with him because of changes I've made in my own swing. But bear in mind that he based his teachings on a more classic style of swing. If you listen to most modern instructors, what I wrote in this article back in 2010 still seems to fit what you'll hear ALTHOUGH more teachers are emphasizing the trailing side's role in the downswing these days. That was still fairly heretical back then.

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