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Friday, December 16, 2016

Using Your Hands in the Takeaway (Video)

A couple days back Dana left a comment on an old blog post from 2010 called Manuel de la Torre on Arm Swing. In the comments I had mentioned how the old hickory players used their hands to start their backswings and that I could post a drill if the commenter was interested. As it turns out, the commenter from 2010 wasn't... but Dana is. So let's take a look at it.

This post will actually spread over a couple of posts, since I have a lot more material on my blog to refer to now, material that may make the drill I mentioned easier to understand. You need to understand the basic principle at work here (today's post) before I can teach you to use the drill properly (the next post). Okay?

The original post started with the late Manuel de la Torre, who taught a swing based in some of Ernest Jones's teachings (his book was published in 1935), who in turn adapted his method to steel shafts from the old hickory shaft techniques. So let's start with what de la Torre said about the hands in his book, Understanding the Golf Swing. Let me pull something from the old post's comments that I copied from that book, simply because you need to know what he means by "hands" and "arms" to understand what he's saying.
Earlier in the text (on page 51) he specifically defines the arm as "...that portion of the extremity from the shoulder to the elbow, the rest of it to the wrist is the forearm."
Are you clear on that? de la Torre separates your arm into arm, forearm, wrist and hand in his teaching. So when you see ARM in this quote from his book, he's talking about your arm above the elbow. And when you see HAND he means your hand separate from your wrist. Got it?

Okay. Here's the quote from his book. Bear in mind that he's writing for right-handed players, so you lefties will need to substitute "left shoulder" for "right shoulder" in the first paragraph:
To produce the backswing, the player must swing the clubhead back with the hands (both hands) toward the right shoulder so that when the backswing is completed, the club is over the shoulder. The hands must be used because a coil has to be created in order to be able to generate the desired speed. The hands must be used exclusively to swing the clubhead from the ball to the end of the backswing, where the arms take over and swing the entire club to the end of the swing.

When your hands swing the clubhead in the backswing, be sure that as soon as the clubhead starts to move, everything moves with it. Clubhead and shoulders start together, stay together, and reach the end of the backswing together. The rest of the body will respond automatically if it is relaxed.

Notice that when referring to hands and arms, the plural is used. Both hands are used in the backswing and both arms are used in the forward swing.

If a player would take the address position and lift the club vertically to place it on the shoulder, the hands would be used to make this movement. No other part of the body would be considered.

You should make no effort to cock your wrists in the backswing. When a player attempts to cock the wrists, they must be cocked in the plane that corresponds to the club being swung. This would be just another "moving part" making the golf swing difficult to produce.

The wrists are cocked by the club being swung over the shoulder. It is a natural reaction to that motion. It just happens. (p50-51)
There's more, but it gets into the downswing and such, which is more than we need for this discussion.

He's got some interesting stuff in here. Let's take it piece by piece.
  • According to him, your hands make the backswing and your upper arms make the downswing. This isn't a distinction that most instructors would make, and it's probably just how he understands the motion -- you know, the way he feels it when he does it.
  • He says the hands must be used in order to create a coil -- that is, a shoulder coil. He says the shoulders turn because the hands move the club. That might be a bit confusing, so it deserves a closer look.
Imagine for a moment that you took your address position but, instead of holding a club, you just put your hands together. If someone took hold of your hands and just pulled, they could pull your shoulders around into the coiled position you had at the top of your backswing. And since your arms would be pretty relaxed -- after all, the "puller" is doing all the work -- both of your elbows would stay pretty straight as they did it. This is the idea that de la Torre is describing; that's why he emphasizes that both hands and both arms have to work together.

Many instructors actually teach a version of this, although you probably didn't realize it. Have you heard teachers talk about trying to keep your trailing hand as far from your shoulder as you can at the top of your backswing? That's the same idea, except they're talking about pushing your hands away from you with your arms while de la Torre has your hands pulling your arms and shoulders around.

Likewise, when he says that everything moves together, this is what most instructors call "keeping the club in front of you" during your swing. But again, they're trying to push the club back while de la Torre has your hands pulling you around.

And that's where most of you will get tripped up as you try to wrap your mind around this. How can your hands pull your shoulders around? You can understand if another person grabs your hands and pulls them, but how can your hands pull you around when they're only attached to your arms? Hands don't just move on their own!

Here's the trick: During your swing, your hands are holding your club. Your club has weight and, if you start it swinging, the club's momentum can pull you around. And that's what he's describing in the last three paragraphs I quoted.

Here's a video I've posted more than once. Steven Bann is K.J. Choi's coach, and in the first minute or so of this video he demonstrates almost exactly what de la Torre is describing. Take a look, then I'll explain a bit more below the video:

Now this may just be the way I feel this movement, but I'd say the lifting motion Bann is making (and de la Torre is describing) is actually caused by bending the elbows ever so slightly. Some of you may feel it mostly at your shoulder joints, some may feel it at the wrists and some may even feel that the fingers are causing the lift. Technically, it's probably started by the fingers since the clubhead has to move first and your fingers are the closest part of your body to the clubhead.

At any rate, it's a very slight movement that starts the club moving upward, and then the club's momentum starts helping your arms move upward, so you feel as if you're just trying to move along with the club. That's what happens until the club shaft points straight up in the air.

de la Torre says you don't consciously cock the wrists. The wrists don't cock until you get to the top and the club starts to move from that vertical position and literally falls toward your shoulder. Gravity makes your wrists cock as your arms slow down. (They HAVE to slow down or you'd smack your shoulder with the shaft. That can be painful!)

You make the same sort of movement when you pick up a glass of water or just about anything, really. (Hopefully you aren't swinging it up over your shoulder and throwing water everywhere, but the motion is the same.)

Now, when Bann separates your backswing into an upward move and a rotational move, that's the key to letting your hands start your backswing. Tomorrow I'll teach you how to combine the two into a smooth backswing. Today, just get used to that upward move that Bann shows you, and then coil your shoulders so you can feel the position at the top of your backswing.

Yeah, you heard me. Practice taking your address position and lifting your club up over your trailing shoulder, then turn to the side. You've probably practiced stranger things before!

UPDATE: The next post in this series is here: Using Your Hands in the Takeaway, Part 2


  1. Thanks, Mike. Very helpful. Before reading the response, I thought you were going to start the backswing by a small but noticeable backward movement of the hands. I will work with the backswing drill and look forward to your next post. Thanks for responding.

    1. I'm glad it helped, Dana. That "backward movement" you mentioned is part of the classic swing, which is done with softer shafts. The way I described it in this post is better suited to modern swing technique, which is done with stiffer shafts.

      As a side note: While classic and modern swing techniques are often identical, there are differences that work well with one but not the other. Hopefully, I make those differences clear when I write these kinds of posts. That's why I leave the comments open on all my posts -- so people can ask those questions if they have them.