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Saturday, August 6, 2011

Should You Change a Child Who Swings Crosshand?

Looney left a comment on my How to Copy Josh Broadaway... If You Dare post that was a bit too complicated to try and answer there. He wrote:
I have a 7 year old son that plays cross-handed and he won 6 tourneys against 10 year olds this summer. The season is over and I'm wondering if I should switch his hands, turn him around left handed or just let him keep swinging cockeyed. What do you think?
Wow -- that's a tough question, Looney. Most people would automatically  recommend you change him from cross-handed simply because it's not the way we normally play golf. I'm not certain that alone is a good enough reason, since most breakthroughs come because someone went against common logic. Your son could be that breakthrough; we just don't know.

However, there's a reason we don't see too many cross-handed players. When making your decision I think you have to consider:
  • how your son's performance compares against the folks he plays against, and
  • what kind of goals your son has -- or you believe he might have as he grows up.
In the first case, I'm just talking about stats. How long has he been playing this way? How far does he hit the ball, and how accurate is he? He may be beating 10-year-olds, but how good are those 10-year-olds? Unless his opponents are very good for their age, he still might not be playing all that well compared to a good player with a more traditional grip.

As for goals... if he just intends to play for fun or occasionally enter an amateur event, maybe crosshand is fine. But if he has more serious aspirations -- even if it's just to get a scholarship and play for a college team -- I'd seriously consider the change. Some of the techniques he may need to learn in order to be competitive don't lend themselves to crosshand play.

Since the only player I know who's had any real success playing crosshand is Josh Broadaway, I looked over his stats on the Nationwide Tour... and quite frankly, they're not that good:
  • His best finishes are 2 thirds, and he's only made 65 of 152 cuts in his career -- that's less than 43%.
  • His scoring average is almost half a stroke better than the Tour average... but nearly 1.5 strokes behind the leaders. At the time I'm writing this, he's T44 in Scoring while the Tour average is right around T78. That's not particularly good.
  • He's about 5 yards longer than the Tour average and he's above average in scrambling, but he also hits fewer fairways and fewer greens than average. That's really not good!
Given those stats -- and given that Josh is the most successful cross-handed player I know of -- I'd suggest you change your son's grip. I wouldn't turn him lefty though, simply because I think you'd be depriving him of an obvious strength of his current swing -- namely, he's used to leading through the shot and squaring up the clubface with the back of his left hand.

Here's my suggestion: Tell him to think about his swing as a Frisbee throw, with his left hand at the end of the club "throwing" the clubface through the ball. Leading with the left side is more of a classic swing move, a la Tom Watson, that should feel very similar to his current crosshand swing without requiring too much work to adapt.

When he makes this change he won't have to hold the club too tightly with his right hand, which should help him keep much of his old swing's feel. And he's already used to making a strong body turn to get his wrists uncocked, so he should have a strong move through the ball with the new grip. Once he gets used to it, I'd be surprised if he didn't pick up some extra distance as well.

And by applying that crosshand move he already knows to the new grip, so he's leading the swing with his left hand, he should still be able to square the clubface at impact much more easily than other players his age. Tom Watson is still a great model to follow, because he has such a long flowing swing even at 61.

And the reason I suggest likening the swing to a Frisbee throw is because he'll keep his left elbow close to his side through impact if he does, and that's probably the biggest key to hitting the ball long and straight. Most kids can instinctively throw a Frisbee as hard and straight as they want, so he should see some good results from the change pretty quickly. That will help him stick with the change long enough for it to feel as natural as his crosshand swing does now.

If you get him a teacher, make sure the teacher knows you want to teach him to lead with his left side and control the club primarily with his left hand, just like a classic swing. If the teacher doesn't want to teach him that way, I'd find another teacher. (Some teachers teach right-hand control. There's nothing wrong with that; I just think that the classic left-hand control style will feel more natural to a crosshander.) You want to make the new swing feel as familiar as you can.

Of course it's your decision, but that's the best advice I know to give you. Hope it helps, and good luck! Let me know what you decide and how it goes.

4 comments:

  1. Hi,

    It's a very interesting question. Should we encourage a child to be right handed ?

    Right Brain, Left Brain, it's quite complicated. Should hendrix play his guitar differently ?

    It's beautifull to see who we are different ... Bubba, Rickie, Jim, Luke, Lee ...

    Have a nice day

    ReplyDelete
  2. In general I don't care whether people play left- or right-handed, Baptiste -- but I was answering a specific question here. The answer isn't about right- or left-hand play, but crosshand vs conventional. Reread Looney's question. He's describing a child for whom conventional would be right-handed. To switch him to left-handed would involve relearning everything he already knows.

    If the child in question was playing crosshand from a left-handed setup, I would have recommended conventional left-hand.

    I don't have a problem with left-handed players. Don't forget that a large number of my posts are written with left-hand instructions. It all depends on who asks the question I'm answering. ;-)

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hi,

    I'am sorry, i wasn't clear, it's ok with your post (and blog), i was not reacting at it but just thinking of the initial question (as if, i was involved as a father). My meaning was "Should we encourage a child to change his natural grip ?" instead of "Should we encourage a child to be right handed ?". Sorry.

    So i was refering to left or right handed people to make it simple because to me the way people react in front of a situation depends of how the brain wants to treat the situation/problem (i mean for exemple the very first time you grip a club, or the very first time you shoot in a soccer ball). I will not be suprise if someone tells me that if a brain want to grip crosshand, it's only because his neronal network is optimised to treat this information this way.

    And then i was thinking of what beautifull machine we are.

    See you,

    b

    ReplyDelete
  4. No prob, Batiste -- I just wanted to make sure that there was no confusion about my stand. Some people are naturally lefties and some are naturally righties, and I'm not so sure that most of us couldn't play the other way if we chose. Both Phil and Johnny Miller are righties who play leftie, after all.

    Playing crosshand is a slightly different situation. Children sometimes take it up because it's easier to lift a heavy club that way, not because it's the way they would swing it if weight wasn't a problem. That's a concern for parents, whereas being right- or left-handed isn't (or at least, it shouldn't be).

    But as I said in the post, "Most people would automatically recommend you change him from cross-handed simply because it's not the way we normally play golf. I'm not certain that alone is a good enough reason..." I think even crosshand has to be approached less judgmentally than we do; it just might be natural for some people. Corkcorey left a comment on the Josh Broadaway post, and he clearly feels that it's the natural way for him.

    ReplyDelete