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Saturday, September 24, 2016

How You Squeeze the Club's Handle Matters

In yesterday's post I referred you to an article by Bob Toski on why it's easier to learn to play golf if you use your hands more. In my post I wrote the following:
Most teachers would say that Toski is teaching a classic swing and that the idea of "controlling the motion with the lead hand" is no longer correct. This shows a complete lack of understanding about the differences between a classic and a modern swing:
  • If you have a classic swing, it feels as if the TRAILING hand controls the swing, although both hands are working together.
  • If you have a modern swing, it feels as if the LEAD hand controls the swing, although both hands are working together.
Why the difference? Because of the shaft flex. The classic swing uses a very soft shaft, so the trailing hand is the pivot hand; the trailing hand relaxes a bit at the top of the swing to control the flex. But the modern swing uses stiffer shafts, so the lead hand is the pivot hand; it keeps tension on the shaft so it will be forced to flex against the trailing hand.
If you understand what I was talking about, you'll be better able to decide if a golf tip you hear is something you can actually use. So today I'm going to explain in more detail what this means.

And yes, there will be photos at the appropriate spots.

Since I mentioned that shaft flex is important to this discussion, here's a very brief history of shafts:
  • Although hickory (soft) shafts were the standard, club designers were looking for something better because hickory was inconsistent. They actually experimented with steel (stiff) shafts in the late 19th Century!
  • It wasn't the shaft flex that made hickory shafts undesirable. Rather, it was the excess torque, the twisting motion of the clubhead during the swing (that is, the face would open and close, even if you kept your hands perfectly square). Soft modern graphite shafts don't have this problem, so a classic style of swing can work very well with modern equipment.
  • Steel shafts didn't catch on everywhere until the R&A finally voted to allow steel shafts in competition in late 1929. So, for a while, both types of shaft were used in competition.
  • It took players quite a while to figure out how to best use steel shafts because they were so stiff. Sam Snead said the switchover was the hardest thing the pros ever had to do.
  • Byron Nelson is generally regarded as the one to discover that stiff shafts required more leg drive to properly load the shafts, around the mid-1930s. He used downward leg drive; it was Ben Hogan who popularized the forward leg drive often taught now.
As you may have guessed, the physical change required an equally drastic change in mindset. Although a classic swing and a modern swing look mostly the same -- bear in mind that many classic swingers also used quite a bit of leg drive -- it's the way the hands function that changes how the swing actually feels to a player.

Alright, are you ready? Here's the first photo:

The difference between where each swing applies pressure in the grip

This is taken from a photo of Rory. The first thing you should notice is that a classic swing grip looks just the same as a modern swing grip. The change is a matter of which fingers are actually holding the club.
  • THE CLASSIC SWING uses SOFT SHAFTS and puts grip pressure in the thumb and index finger of the TRAIL HAND.
  • THE MODERN SWING uses STIFF SHAFTS and puts grip pressure in the last 3 fingers of the LEAD HAND.
As you can see, although your grip remains the same -- and it doesn't matter whether you use an overlap, interlock or baseball grip -- the two swings apply pressure at opposite ends of the grip. This creates a difference in how wrist cock -- the "hinge" of the swing -- behaves in each swing. And as a result, this has a dramatic effect on how each swing feels.

Let's start with the classic swing:

How the wrists 'hinge' in the classic swing

Since the classic swing actually grips the swing with the thumb and forefinger of the trail hand, the cocking (or hinging) of the club happens at that end of the grip. The club is actually held by the thumb and fingers of the trail hand AND the thumb and forefinger of the lead hand. Meanwhile, the last 3 fingers of the lead hand allow the butt end of the club to move slightly upward at the top of the backswing, then they apply a bit of light downward pressure to load the shaft during the downswing. This has two effects:
  • It allows the player to prevent overflexing of the shaft, which makes consistent impact more difficult.
  • It also increases the player's ability to "feel the clubhead" because the head movement is transmitted quite clearly down the softer shaft into the 3 relaxed lead hand fingers. I can verify this from my own practice.
You might think this would make it hard to keep a firm grip on the club, but it's just the opposite. Harry Vardon described the grip as being vise-like, and I can confirm that it takes very little grip pressure to lock the club in place. The relaxed grip in the final 3 fingers does NOT result in "regripping" on the way down, simply because those fingers weren't gripping the club to begin with!

And because the club actually cocks (or hinges) at the "thumb end" of the trail hand, it feels as if the trail hand is actually controlling where the clubface is pointing at impact. In reality, both hands are controlling it but you feel the main pressure in your trail hand.

Now let's look at the modern swing:

How the wrists 'hinge' in the modern swing

Whoa! Things changed up pretty quickly there! The hinge now moves all the way to the butt end of the club, while the trailing hand creates a lever fulcrum -- felt as a slight upward push -- as the club starts down. This is a power move designed to force that stiffer shaft to load. (In comparision, the soft shaft doesn't need us to make it load. Rather, we're trying to stop it from loading too much.) As a result of this, it feels as if the lead hand is controlling where the clubface points at impact -- although, again, both hands are doing it.

To get that fulcrum action during your downswing, you don't actually push up on the shaft. That upward motion is caused by the extra leg action. Your trail hand is just trying to hold its position relative to your lead hand, because otherwise the extra downforce could hurt your lead wrist badly. As a result, it feels as if you're pushing upward.

That's enough for today, I think. Take some time to digest this before we go any further. I think you'll find it helps clear up a lot of confusion about what you're trying to do when you swing.

And it's important to understand this post before you can understand what players like Jason Day and Rory McIlroy are doing... why it takes so much practice, so much time in the gym, and why it often makes their backs hurt. Again, we'll talk about that later.