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Friday, January 28, 2011

Why Holding Your Wrist Cock Doesn't Work

Are you wondering why I've included this post in the "mindset" category? It's because too many players have a mental hang-up about power, and it keeps them from making the correct moves. If you have the right mindset, proper wrist action is almost automatic.

And remember, I'm writing this because of a question from Dexter, who's a righthander. You lefties will have to reverse the "lefts" and "rights." Sorry about that.

In yesterday's post I wrote about "flipping" the club at impact. Flipping is related to what I called "back cock," where the back of the right hand bends back at the top of the backswing. Today we'll look at the more common problem of "losing the angle" too early in the hitting area, which involves the "side cock" where the thumb side of your hand bends. At least, that's the problem more people complain about. This post will probably need to be split in two in order to adequately explain what's happening.

I've done articles about "the Secret Move" before. You can find them listed on "The Route 67 Posts" page. This diagram from the first of those posts is probably worth a page of description:

Secret Move Diagram

The post that originally used this picture focuses mainly on getting extra distance with your driver. However, even a deadhanded swinger like Steve Stricker uses this same concept -- it's just not as dramatic. Today I'm going to focus on how wrist cock works in a deadhanded swing -- which will help lengthen all of your shots without affecting your accuracy much at all -- and why most attempts to "hold" that angle don't work.

In fact, attempts to hold the angle generally make you lose it quicker! If you want to carry that wrist cock down into the hitting area, you can't make it happen -- you have to just let it happen on its own.

The logic behind this paradox is actually pretty obvious if you just think about it for a moment. Let's say you drop a piece of pottery onto a stone patio. It's going to break, right? That's because there is no "give" between the two. The pot and the patio are both rigid, and neither one gives any ground, so the pot shatters the instant it hits.

Now replace the pot with a rubber ball. When you drop the ball, it gives -- in this case, it deforms -- and absorbs the impact, which takes a few microseconds. Then the ball springs back to its round shape and redirects the energy toward the floor. As a result, the ball bounces off the ground.

That's essentially the same thing that happens with wrist cock. In a word, if there's no "give" at the top of your backswing, you start losing your wrist cock almost immediately. If you have some "give," the club doesn't react immediately. Instead, it absorbs the energy at the change of direction and holds it for a few microseconds while you start down, then gives you a bounce that adds power to your downswing. That "give" comes from several areas, like your overall flexibility, but there are primarily two sources that concern us.

The first is your shaft flex. Too much shaft flex gives you a lot of angle, but very little control. If you go back to my post about Walter Hagen's swing and look at the videos you can see his hickory shafts bending almost double under the strain. They were too flexible and "gave" too much, so the Haig was notoriously inaccurate. But if the shafts are too stiff, it's like slamming your wrists against that patio floor -- except that pots don't feel pain.

The other big factor is your wrists' ability to cushion the change of direction, which they do primarily by the action of cocking. Now don't rush over that last sentence without making sure you understand it. When I mention "the action of cocking," I'm actually talking about how much they move -- that is, how large an angle they move through while they cock.

I've referred to Jim McLean's research on the "V-Gap" in several posts. (Just search on the phrase "v-gap" in the search box above the Blog Archive list in the sidebar to find all the posts I've done.) The V-gap is simply the difference in the angle your wrists have at waist high on the backswing and at the same point in the downswing. McLean discovered that the players who hit the ball farthest had the biggest V-gap. If you look at the pictures in McLean's Golf Digest article, you'll see that he's saying a large cocking angle (what teachers traditionally call a "late cock") gives you more distance than a small cocking angle (an "early cock").

Hopefully you can see now why advice like "try to hold the angle" and the similar "set your wrists at the top" don't help you get any extra distance. In essence, to use my original image, you have gently set the pot on the patio. The pot doesn't break, but it doesn't bounce either. It doesn't hurt, but it doesn't help. It does nothing at all. In fact, it doesn't matter if you exchange the pot for a ball. When you set the ball gently on the patio, it's not going to bounce either!

When dropped, the ball absorbs the impact and resists bouncing away because of the downward movement of the its mass -- what physicists call inertia. Until the resistance of the floor overcomes that inertia, the ball cannot bounce away. But a ball simply placed on the floor has no inertia and therefore there's nothing to resist. That's an example of Newton's First Law of Motion, which says:
An object at rest stays at rest, and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction, unless acted upon by an external unbalanced force.
Attempts to hold or set the angle at the top of your backswing are the equivalent of setting the ball gently on the patio. The club is at rest, so there is no force acting on it to keep your wrists from uncocking. By "setting" your wrists at the top, you have already eliminated the inertia of the club; when you start down, there's nothing to hold the club in place against the centrifugal force trying to sling the clubhead outward and uncock your wrists.

No, if we want to carry our wrist cock down into the hitting area, we're going to have to learn how to "let it happen." And this is a convenient place to break until tomorrow.

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