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Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Hand Position Drill, Part 4

Today's the payoff for all the time you took learning this hand position drill.

First, just so you have all the links:
Today we'll finish it all up and show you how it works in your regular swing.

As I've been saying all along, we have a tendency to overdo things during our swing and interfere with things that should happen naturally. We want to hold the club with a relaxed grip so the muscles can react to the swinging action of the club, but we try to help the club too much. The drill is designed to focus on the moves you should make so you don't interfere, to make your swing happen as naturally as possible.

Of course, once I separated those moves from the normal act of swinging they didn't make much sense, did they? Now that we know what the moves are and how to do them in order, I can better explain how they work.

During the drill we held the club so the shaft pointed straight up in the air all the way through the swinging motion. This is to teach us how those relaxed forearms move when we don't consciously twist them. The swinging weight of the club, along with the bending of our joints and turning of our body, will cause them to turn only what is necessary for the club to follow its plane during the swing. We're letting the swinging of the club determine the plane, not our twisting muscles.

We used a neutral grip during the drill, and many players will feel comfortable with it and use that grip during their swing. (That's how Carl taught me, in fact.) If you go back to an early series I did on the deadhanded approach shot (it's listed on the "Some Useful Post Series" page), you'll find that I did some of these movements there. In the second post I included this drawing:

Neutral grip

and another drawing showing how that position looked at the top of the backswing. But many, maybe most of you will not be comfortable with a neutral grip; you'll tend to leave the clubface open at impact. No problem, just use a stronger grip.

In fact, in the third post I included a drawing that showed how a strong grip looked when you cocked your wrists at address:

Strong grip

and another drawing showing how that position looked at the top of the backswing. The club shaft is almost the same position at the top because the stronger grip puts the club pretty much on plane from the very start of the swing. This should show you that your wrists are going to cock on plane when you get to the top of your normal swing; you don't have to twist them to get them on plane.

The one-piece takeaway we used for the first move in the drill keeps your arms straight because you're turning your shoulders. This does two things: The turn gives you power for your downswing and puts your hands on plane. Your wrists will still be in nearly the same position as your setup (they do most of their cocking in the top half of the backswing), and the bending of your elbow when you pivot your arms upward causes them to finish cocking. The momentum from that motion will smooth out that "bend in the plane" we had when we paused halfway up, and it pulls our hips around a bit too.

The wrist cock you get at the top when you change direction is what makes sense of the downswing moves. The club is still trying to go back when you start down, so it resists your body's efforts to change direction. Your hands and arms swing farther back than we did in our drill; that provides the tension between your hips and shoulders.

Your lower body starts the downswing simply by putting both feet flat on the ground, which causes enough weight shift to get you going. Your shoulders lag a bit -- that's why I had you hold them steady during the drill -- and the club's backward momentum helps hold them there, but your hands and arms start to drop (it's only 3 to 6 inches) -- which we also did during the drill -- when your feet replant themselves. This little drop helps you keep your hands in front of you. If you start turning your shoulders before your hands drop, it causes you to lean backward a bit and that throws your whole downswing off.

At this point you want to feel as if you are backhanding the ball. That's how you keep from flipping your wrists at impact -- you simply feel as if they are square all the way down. This way, the club naturally squares up; if you try to flip them, sometimes you'll do it too much and sometimes not enough. This will also keep your elbow pointed down toward the ground, so you won't chicken wing the finish.

With your elbow close to your side like that, the club's speed will help pull you through to the finish. That will ensure that you don't stop too soon and flip the club (causing a duckhook) or pull your arms low across your body (causing a pull). Finally, we mirrored the top of the backswing so you'd get used to finishing on the same plane you started on.

Whew! That's a lot of stuff. But it all comes basically from eliminating the unnecessary forearm rotation so many of us have in our swings because we try to "help" the club go where it wants to go all on its own.

I recommend using the full drill from Saturday's post every once in a while to help you keep these things clear in your head. But once you have a handle on it, you can do a short version as a practice swing. Just use step 10 from the drill, which is just the full swing in slo-mo, but use your regular grip and hold the club normally. Make the drill slowly, stopping at each pause with the club in its actual position, then make the swing at full speed and try to feel your hands at the same positions. It'll help your aim and you'll hit the ball more solidly. It may even add some distance since you'll stop working against yourself during the swing.

As for you, Dex, I suppose this sounds really complicated... but it isn't. The trickiest part for you will be learning not to twist your forearms. But once you get it, you'll get it quickly and you'll see a quantum leap in your ballstriking.

Just remember to think about your hand position. It should feel as if they are in basically the same position they were at setup, no matter where they are in the swing. Think about holding a full glass of water. You can hold it at waist level, raise it to your mouth, move it to the side to avoid it getting bumped by someone... but it always feels like it's upright, and you do it without even thinking about it most of the time. That's what you're after with your club.

All you have to learn is how to stop "spilling" your club shaft on your backswing. ;-)


  1. Hey Mike,

    Any drills to get rid of my dreaded "chicken wing"??>. I've figured it out with my woods and hybrid but now it has crept into my iron play.

    By the way, Kudos on Dex's progress. He has scored under 80 4 times now (3 in the last 4 rounds he's played)

    Now I gotta get my game tight

    Anthony aka. The Doctor

  2. Hi Doc!

    I mentioned it in the post but didn't state it as a drill per se. Look at the 4th full paragraph under the last picture -- the one that starts "At this point you want to feel as if you are backhanding the ball."

    To use it as a drill, just think about slapping something with the back of your hand. You might think of throwing a Frisbee, or making a tennis backhand, or just sweeping a lot of junk off your desk. ;-)

    When you get to the top of your backswing and start down, think about backhanding the ball. If you do, you'll automatically keep your elbow close to your side as you turn through to your finish.

    If you find it's hard to do, you're probably sliding your hips too much when you start your downswing. Think about moving your left hip back away from the ball (when you backhand it, that is) instead of sliding toward the target.

    Chicken-winging simply means that you're pulling down with your lat muscle instead of making that backhand motion. And if you're using your lat that much, it usually means you're leaning backward during your downswing. Thinking about backhanding the ball should help you stay more erect through impact and stop the chicken wing.

    And if you can talk somebody into tossing a Frisbee around, that will help too. The upper body coil and "flinging" backhand motion are almost identical to what you're trying to do in the golf swing. You can try the tennis backhand too if you prefer.