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Thursday, January 27, 2011

A Relaxed Approach to Wrist Action

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.

When Rocco appeared with Jimmy Ballard on Golf Channel's 12 Nights at the Academy series, he said he didn't feel his wrists cock at all during his swing although they clearly do. If that statement surprises you, then you don't quite understand how the wrists work during a golf swing. And when teachers talk about "setting the wrists at the top," that often just adds to the confusion. Your swing works best when "setting your wrists" is not an action but a reaction.

That's what I want to look at in today's post -- the reaction your wrists should have during your golf swing.

One thing you need to understand is that sometimes we use a conscious drill to teach an unconscious move. In this case, the drill isn't what you want to learn; rather, you focus on the reactions the drill causes in your swing. A good example is the "early cock" drill I gave Dexter. Cocking his wrists early counteracts the excess forearm rotation he had -- rotation that causes him to "lay off" the club when it should stay on plane.

By using an early cock --  which is a conscious move, one that I have to think about -- I learn what it feels like when my forearms don't rotate. (Which, ironically, is what would happen normally if I didn't interfere!)  I used to have that problem, and Carl used the early cock drill to teach me correct forearm movement. I no longer use an early wrist cock because I don't twist my forearms anymore. It's important to understand what a drill is trying to teach you if you want to get the most good from it!

So, since we've already talked about forearm rotation, let's look specifically at wrist cocking. Wrists can cock in two directions. The one we think about first is sideways, thumb toward forearm, which is what we normally refer to as "cocking." But the low wrist also cocks backwards, and this move helps you square the clubface. The forward "uncock" of that wrist is what causes the "flip" mentioned in my look at John Cook's swing. We'll talk about it first.

You can best compare this backward cock to the way your hand moves during a slap. Isn't it convenient that I have this rough diagram of a slapping motion? Just follow the numbers to follow the sequence, and you can even slap a wall hard enough to make some noise as long as you don't hurt yourself:

How your wrist moves during a slap

Now here are a couple of observations about this motion that you SHOULD make if you really pay attention:
  • The harder you slap, the more accurate this diagram becomes. At a very slow speed (say, the speed of a short putt) you probably won't notice much wrist cock at all. But as you speed up to a waist-high pitch shot (I don't want you to break your hand on a wall imitating a full swing!), the wrist cock happens as you change direction. This is because your wrist and forearm are relaxed. That's part of what happens at the top of your backswing -- the weight of the club moving in the "backswing direction" helps cock your wrists when you change to the "downswing direction."
  • Your wrist and forearm are just as relaxed at high speed as at low speed! You may have never thought about this, but it's true. In fact, to get the soundest noise, you have to stay relaxed! If you try to help the move along and consciously cock and uncock your wrist, it simply doesn't work well. It's exactly the same in your golf swing; if you tense up, you slow things down. To get maximum swing speed, you have to just let your wrists act without conscious interference from you.

How your wrist moves during a slapDo you remember my post about Walter Hagen's swing? I pointed out that, in the second video on that post, he set up with his iron shafts leaning forward -- the shaft formed a straight line with his left forearm. When he does this, his right wrist takes position 1 in my slapping diagram. Many other players use this setup as well.

Why? Because it presets both wrists so they get to the position we want at the top of the swing. In the diagram at left, the left wrist (the flat one) is actually turned a bit so the 'V' between the thumb and forefinger points toward the right shoulder. At the top of the backswing, this position allows the right wrist to cock back (like a slap).

Now, when this happens at the top, some players will feel this as a slapping action. Others will feel as if the elbow "sets" because the elbow bends and moves to create this angle. How you feel it isn't the issue; I just want you to be aware that it happens. If you look at the top position of most players (check some of the YouTube videos if you don't believe me), you'll see this flat right wrist / backcocked left wrist position.

Which brings us to that flip at the bottom. Since slapping is such a natural move to us, we naturally try to do it when we make a golf swing. The problem comes when we do it at the wrong time during the swing. And we do it often! We just have different names for it, depending on where we do it.

A classic example is casting, which I've written about before. When you cast, you "slap the wall" at the start of your downswing, somewhere around shoulder level. It's not unusual for people to straighten their bent elbow at the same time, which is where the "casting" label came from. (I included an illustration of that in the casting post.) But straightening an elbow is much easier to see than the slap movement. You can make a weak slap just by straightening your wrist at the wrong time. Suddenly all your speed is gone and you may not have even noticed that you did it. What happened? You tightened up your forearm and wrist, which messed up your timing.

An unconscious move got derailed by a conscious attempt to control it.

Some people "slap the tabletop," right around waist high. These people often get caught up trying to "hold the angle" longer. But if you try that slapping exercise from earlier in this post, you already know that you can't get a good slap if you tighten your muscles.

And then there's the people who "flip." They are so close! For them, the ball is the wall, and their hand slaps the wall. They slapped properly, but their "wall" is in the wrong place!

So how do we fix it? Simple -- we move the wall!

Here's your drill: Set up (no club) perpendicular to a wall. I want the outside of your foot (left foot for righties, right foot for lefties) about 4 inches from the wall. Now I want you to practice slapping the wall with your low hand (right hand for righties, left hand for lefties). Just take your golf setup, turn back to about waist high, then swing around and slap the wall with your low hand. Please understand that I don't want you to slide forward toward the wall. I want you to turn your shoulders and hips more fully through the shot. Your belt buckle should be pointing toward the wall when you slap it.

Let me repeat that: You have to turn through the shot more in order to slap the wall with your palm. That's probably why you're flipping the club -- you stop your turn too soon. This drill, which you can do inside when you can't go to the course, will help you learn to turn through your shot better.

To take it to the course, set up normally with your ball in its normal position... but try to "hit the wall" with your hands before the clubhead hits the ball. I don't care if you can actually do it or not; what I want is for you to turn through the shot with relaxed wrists. If you do, you will create the proper amount of "lag" as a byproduct. The idea here is to stop interfering with a proper move that should happen unconsciously, and we do this by focusing on a move we do make consciously.

Give it a try and see if it doesn't help solve the problem. And since this post ran so long, we'll look at the other way your wrists cock tomorrow.

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