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Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Hand Position Drill, Part 1

In yesterday's post I looked at the improvement in Dexter's swing and decided the next step was to eliminate his excess forearm rotation. Usually I take two or three posts to explain the hows and whys of drills, but this time I'm doing to try and do that as we go. I'm dividing this drill into several pieces, each of which builds on the others.

After I looked at Dex and his friend Doc's swings, I finished the post by saying
"So what both Dex and Doc need to do is correct that over-rotation of their arms during the backswing. In the next post I'll give them a drill to teach them both the proper movement of their arms though the entire swing -- or rather, teach them what they should feel in order to get the proper movement. That's what is really tripping them up."
The first stages of this drill focus almost totally on how a good swing feels. One good thing that has come out of Seve's untimely passing is a renewed interest in his game, and one of his keys was an awareness of his hand position throughout his swing. That's what made him such a great shotmaker, and I want Dex (and Doc, if he decides he wants to try this) to learn how to make shots rather than just swing the club.

To do that, we're going to build our drill in stages. Each stage will focus on developing a feel during that stage of the swing. One of the most important lessons you can learn is that what you feel you're doing during your swing is almost always entirely different from what you think you're doing. Much of making a good swing is just about getting out of your own way, of putting yourself in a position that allows a good swing to happen naturally.

For the first part of our hand position drill, we're going to incorporate a move Dexter has already proven he can do -- the one-piece takeaway. We're going to use the one-piece takeaway drill as our first building block in this drill, but we're going to make a few changes to it:
  • change our grip
  • cock our wrists
  • increase its range
Let's look at each in turn.

Change Our Grip
In the original drill we used our normal grip, which for most of us is turned slightly strong on the club. (That is, your hands are turned slightly to the right if you're a right-hander, slightly to the left if you're a left-hander.) But this time we're going to start with a neutral grip, with both thumbs on top of the club shaft. The reason is simple: It's much easier for most of us to correlate our hand position to the clubface position this way, and that's what we ultimately want -- to know that when our hands are in this position, the clubface will send the ball in that direction.

Cock Our Wrists
By using a neutral grip, it's very easy to cock our wrists straight up. Here's what we want to do: We take our normal setup position and, using a neutral grip, cock our wrists so the club shaft forms a 90° angle with our forearms. Yes, it's going to look a bit strange, standing in your setup position with the club pointing straight up in the air, but bear with me.

Increase Its Range
In the original one-piece takeaway drill we only turned from our setup position until our hands were waist-high on the backswing. Now we're going to add the same portion of our followthrough -- in other words, the drill is now twice as long, from a half-backswing to a half-followthrough. Got it?

So Here's Part 1 of Our Drill:
If you aren't already, get familiar with the one-piece takeaway drill in the post I referenced earlier. Dex already knows it, so I'll get on with how to do this new version:
  1. Take your setup position, holding the club with a neutral grip.
  2. Cock your wrists upward, so the club shaft makes a 90° angle with your forearms.
  3. Start your backswing, slowly turning until your hands reach waist-high. Now, this is vitally important and will probably be the most confusing part, but I'll explain it in a minute: I want you to make sure the club shaft is perpendicular to the ground when you reach that waist-high position. This won't require any forearm twisting. All you need to do is lift your left elbow (right elbow if you're left-handed) straight away in front of your body, just a little. Although your elbow moves, you'll probably feel it more at your left shoulder, as if you were pushing the club away from you.
  4. Keeping your wrists cocked, slowly change direction and turn until your hands reach waist-high in your followthrough. Again, it is vitally important that you make sure the club shaft is perpendicular to the ground when you reach that waist-high position. In fact, it will feel as if the shaft points straight up all the way through this drill.
  5. Return to your setup position and uncock your wrists. This will put you back into your original start position. Repeat several times.
Alright, let's talk about that perpendicular shaft position throughout the swing. Why point the shaft straight up when you're swinging on a plane? Shouldn't the shaft be "on plane" instead?

Here's where we get confused over what we think we're doing and what we feel we're doing. There are physical laws at work in the golf swing that happen automatically. When you swing the club back at your regular speed, the weight of the club is automatically slung along a plane, which means the shaft automatically slants onto the plane, In addition, the bending of our elbow on the backswing further shapes that plane. That's how it works provided we don't interfere. But when we consciously twist our forearms, we do interfere and we cause the shaft to slant too much.

That's what Dex and Doc -- and probably many of you -- are doing during your swings. What this drill teaches you is what a neutral, unmanipulated forearm move feels like. With your forearms relaxed and in this position, the natural forces in the golf swing act automatically. Anything that happens naturally tends to happen more consistently, and that's what we're after.

Here's one other thing you'll notice when you try this: You can't point the butt of the shaft (and therefore the heel of your hand) toward the ball as you "swing" into the impact position. That's because you have to rotate your forearms to make that move. Instead, this move will feel more like you're throwing a Frisbee, with the back of your hand moving toward the target. Focus on that feel; in this position, the back of your hand faces the same direction as the face of the club. You can know the clubface position because of your hand position. This is an important concept, and I want you to feel it clearly.

I know you all probably have more questions, like how this translates to a normal grip or how this "Frisbee feel" can possibly work in a normal swing. By the time we're done you'll be doing this with your normal grip and you'll be able to feel the hinging and unhinging action for yourself, but I'm going to ask you to trust me for now. This is the shortest route to success I know, and I'll try to answer your questions as we go along. For now, just work with this first stage of the drill and focus on that vertical shaft position at the two halfway points. It's going to pay dividends in the next few days.


  1. Hello, there. I've been a long-time lurker, but these last two posts have hit particularly close to home. I have been fighting the exact same problem as doc from the day i started playing golf (almost exactly 2 years ago). the chickenwing through impact, resulting in pushes with short clubs, push slices with longer clubs, and the occasional pull hook when i really get into compensation mode. mixed through it all is a tendency to hit everything fat. I can hit it fairly far (~180 with a 6-iron) and sometime straight, but the inconsistency kills me BIG TIME.

    Anyway, when I saw the pictures of doc getting into the same positions I see myself getting in on video, and a solution refusing to be found, I'm paying a lot of attention right now. Just wanted to let you know you have an rapt audience on this one. :)

    Also wanted to share something I found yesterday that is also resonating pretty strong with my issues:

    I think my chickenwing is coming from my left hip (I am left handed, so right hip with doc) getting in the way of my left elbow (right for doc) as I drive the swing with my hips, as all good hoganites preach. The above video, suggesting adding a hint of a "sit into your lead leg at the transition" to drop the arms in front of the hips, rather than leaving them behind, feels like it might get me over this hump. I've only been to the range once since viewing, but the simple adjustment feels like I'm able to deliver the club without having to navigate around the left hip....which might just be the keylog I've been looking for.

    Thought I'd share. You have a great site here; it's part of my morning ritual. Thank you for all your work.

  2. Thanks for the kind words, ehren. I'm always glad when the site helps!

    Brian's video certainly covers some of the same ground. I've written quite a bit about "getting stuck" and "keeping your hands in front of you," both of which he addresses. But I think you may be getting a bit over-technical. Here, re-read this section from yesterday's post:

    "As you can see clearly in the 2nd still, Doc has a 'chicken wing' followthrough. That's because his lifted elbow at the top of his backswing causes him to make what feels like a powerful move to him -- he pulls the club through impact with his left tricep and lat. By comparison, Dex's left elbow is still near his side and he's standing more erect. That's what some teachers call 'staying connected.'"

    It's the pulling action that causes the chicken wing, and you can do that whether you squat on the downswing or just lean backward too much. To fix that chicken wing, you've certainly got to change how you start down from the top, but it's your upper body that needs the change rather than your legs. Let me give you a quick drill aimed specifically at the chicken wing.

    I assume you know how to throw a Frisbee although since you're left-handed you probably throw it with your left hand. I want you to practice throwing it with your right hand, which will use your golf swing technique.

    Set up for your golf swing but hold the Frisbee in your right hand instead of the golf club. Make a full shoulder turn with your right arm pretty straight, mimicking your golf swing, then make your "swing" and throw the Frisbee. It'll feel really different from your regular swing simply because your right elbow will have to point down toward the ground to make a good throw. If you chicken wing it, you won't get a good flight out of it.

    Once you get the hang of it, try to duplicate the feel using a golf club. I bet it'll solve your problem.

    BTW, doing this will also help your lower body action. I've never seen anybody throw a Frisbee well if they slide their hips too far forward. I'm not even sure it's possible to throw a Frisbee that way.

    And don't forget to work on the one-arm takeaway drill I linked to in the last post. You're probably bending your right elbow too soon in your backswing as well. If you bend your elbow too soon, it encourages that pulling motion that causes your chicken wing. Dex told me that drill got rid of his over-the-top move in one day, although he had to practice some to get consistent with it. Some habits are just harder to break.

    Let me know if it helps. I leave the comments on all the posts open, and I'm notified whenever anybody leaves a comment, so you can just leave me a message on this post.

  3. ehren tried to post this but had a Blogger problem (I have them sometimes too), so he emailed it to me and I'm posting it for any of you keeping up with this thread:
    Thank you very much, and I will absolutely give it some work.

    One of the things that has been most frustrating is that my lead arm seems to be able to get things done correctly when left to its own devices. One-armed swings work well (or, as well as swinging a club with one arm can be expected, anyway), and I pitch fairly well. It's when that back arm and a full shoulder turn are involved that things go wonky and I feel like I need to pull the club head through impact.

    I didn't really care for the drill that youtube video used, with the rod-through-the-pants thing. What was revelationary to me was that the arm/hand/club assembly needs to stay in front not only of my torso, but my hips as well. A bit of a mental game-changer literally from the top down, there.

    I'm gonna go throw some frisbees for a bit, and will let you know how things go. :)

    Once again, much appreciate your work and your advice.

  4. Hmmm... when you make your backswing and your hands are waist-high, is your left elbow bent? (For those of you following this, remember that ehren is a leftie.) If so, I think I know what's happening, especially with that Hogan-style hip drive. If you check Five Lessons (see page 70), you'll see that he was very particular about that one-piece takeaway.

    Many people don't realize that Hogan originally had a horrible problem with duck-hooking. He called them "the terror of the fieldmice." So when he rebuilt his swing, he designed it to prevent that. If he made the swing properly, he could hit the ball anywhere he wanted... but if he messed up, he wanted that ball to push to the right. In addition, he used a very weak grip so that even if he flipped his hands (trying to "save the shot") the worst that would happen was a slight draw.

    I doubt that you're using a weak grip, so I'm going to assume it's a typical slightly strong one. Here's what I think is happening, based on the little you've told me:

    The bent left elbow gets the club too far behind you on the backswing, and your hip drive causes you to lean backward a little (that's Hogan's design). The combination puts you so far out of position that you uncock a little early (that makes you hit it fat and leave the face open) and you have to muscle the club around (the end result of that move is your chicken wing).

    As for that pull hook... I'm guessing that when you go into "compensation mode" you fling your left hand at the ball in an effort to square the clubface, right? When you do, you throw the club out across your target line; it's almost like an over-the-top move.

    As bad as it all sounds, you really aren't in that bad a shape. Your primary problem is caused by sliding your hips too far forward when you drive them; Hogan drove them more around. (For reference, see Five Lessons, page 90: "To begin the downswing, TURN YOUR HIPS BACK TO THE LEFT [right, in your case]. THERE MUST BE ENOUGH LATERAL MOVEMENT [that is, the slide} TO TRANSFER THE WEIGHT TO THE LEFT SIDE [right, in your case]." In the same paragraph, he describes this lateral movement as only a "trifle" more than the backswing movement.)

    This hand position drill we're building over the next few posts will help you keep your hips more under you and your hands more in front of you. It should work fine with a Hogan-style swing.

    And keep working with the Frisbee -- in fact, try throwing it hard and pay attention to how your hips move. I think you'll find that it's basically the same hip motion without the exaggerated forward slide. If you can duplicate the feel of the "Frisbee hip movement" when you make a golf swing, a lot of your problems may vanish on their own.

  5. ehren's still having some trouble with Blogger (since I haven't today, I figure it's something temporary elsewhere on the Net), so I'm posting his comment and then my response.
    Hip high, the left (rear) elbow is just starting to bend. I think I do a fairly good job keeping everything wide going back. Too wide, maybe. In any case, I don't think I've gotten myself into too much trouble by the time I've gotten to the top. It's the way down, I think, where things get messy.

    I discovered that I don't own a frisbee. !!! I'm throwing hockey pucks frisbee-style into the net, instead. While that really is nice for finding and using a rhythm moving through the swing, I'm not sure what to do with the left (rear) hand while the right (front) moves through. Once they are connected on the club, the left hand not knowing how to get where it needs to go is kind of throwing the right hand's expertise out the window.

    Then again, I've found that when working on my golf swing, I tend to fixate on the pucks will keep flying. Looking forward to tomorrow's installment.
    And here's my response:

    The left elbow should be really quiet on the way down. It just rides along, adding support to the right arm and not really doing much until it reaches waist-high. At that point, you straighten your left elbow and that causes your wrist to uncock.

    For the sake of your "puck flinging" practice, just hold your left hand behind your back. Or you can try holding your right wrist with your left hand during the throw. It will give a reasonable (if imperfect) feel for how the left arm moves during the downswing and how much "slide" you should get.

    * * * * * * *

    And just for the record, folks, I suspect we'll be hearing more from ehren in the next week or so. He doesn't want to interrupt what I'm doing with Dex and Doc, but he and I will be talking and he will be posting more on this thread.

    At least, he will if Blogger cooperates...

  6. @ehren-Please don't feel like you are interrupting. When you ask questions, I am able to learn from what Mike has for you. So by all means, please keep posting. I've always said that most of my learning comes from the interaction I have with Mike in the comment section, so even though he my not be talking to me directly, I can still put it to use.