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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

How Your Address Position Affects Impact

This post attempts to answer some questions Patrick (aka "Lefty") asked in the comments of the Hooking Out of Trouble post. All the diagrams are for a lefthander, so you righties out there will have to mentally "flip" them, the way lefties have to do most of the time!

Teachers generally teach one of two ways to address the ball. The shaft of the club is vertical in one and slanted toward the target in the other. It's ok to use either one as long as you understand how each one affects the way you swing and make contact with the ball. Here's a diagram of these two ways:

Two ways to address the ball

The Leaning Shaft
The second one in the diagram is the method I recommend most often on this blog because I believe it's simpler for most players. The reason is that it uses a stronger grip. Here's why:

Stand up and let your arms hang loosely by your side, and look at your hands. I'd be willing to bet that very few of you see your thumbs pointing straight ahead. Instead, they angle in toward a point somewhere in front of your belly button. This means your lead hand will naturally take a strong grip on the club. (By the same token, if your thumbs point straight forward, your natural golf grip is a neutral grip; and if your thumbs point outward, your natural golf grip is a weak grip. Not so difficult, is it?)

If you take that strong grip, it's natural to hold the club so its shaft forms a straight line with your lead forearm; that gives you the flat wrist look in the diagram. Since I recommend that you don't twist your forearms when you swing, this setup allows you to swing the club back, cock your wrists, and swing down through the ball. You'll hit it with your hands slightly ahead of the ball, which gives you that descending blow all teachers say you want to have... and you don't have to do any kind of manipulation with your hands to get it. To me, that's the simplest way to swing.

The Vertical Shaft
However, there's another approach that's based more on Ben Hogan's approach to golf. (Players used this position before Hogan, of course, but he's the one who standardized the technique.) In the Hogan swing, you use a neutral grip, which means you cup your lead wrist at setup. (Hogan used a weak grip to further reduce his tendency to flip his hands.) Of course, you can't hit the ball with a cupped wrist -- it'll cause mis-hits -- so you have to change your wrist position sometime during the swing. Most Hogan disciples call this pronation "supination." [Correction: I always get the two mixed up because each wrist does the opposite of the other. The lead wrist supinates while the trailing wrist pronates. The scan below shows the lead wrist supinating.] Here's a scan of the wrist motion as you hit the ball with this technique; the one with the dotted line under it is the position at impact:

How Hogan pronates the club when he hits the ball

The problem here is that teachers keep saying you have to rotate your forearms to make this motion. THAT IS WRONG. Hogan had a problem with duck hooks, caused by rotating his forearms too much, and he developed his swing in order to prevent that. In Five Lessons, which is the textbook for his rebuilt swing, he wrote -- in capital letters, no less:
The action of the arms is motivated by the movements of the body, and the hands consciously do nothing but maintain a firm grip on the club. (p82)
Hogan says the hands consciously do nothing. The wrists cock and uncock, and the club sets on plane, because your elbows bend and unbend during the swing. You don't make any twisting movements with your forearms at all. In fact, it's almost impossible to get into this position by twisting your arms at impact! Hogan designed it that way -- he was trying to stop twisting his forearms, remember?

So you may ask: Why then does it look like your forearms are twisting during the swing? That's a fair question, and I think that most teachers take it for granted that their students know the answer.

Look at those hand positions above. It sure looks like the forearms are turning. I mean, I can see the back of the hand on the right as it starts down, and the edge of the hand at impact, and the palm after impact. If the forearms aren't turning, how can this be?

It's because the upper body is turning as well. If you could see Hogan's chest, you'd see that it faced the right side in that first position, it faced you at impact, and it faced left after impact. The hands are in front of him all the way through the swing, something I've written about many times in this blog, and to him it looks as if the hands are always in the same position. You can demonstrate this to yourself by taking your address position in front of a mirror with your hands together and thumbs up. Then turn your body into your backswing but keep your thumbs pointing straight up; when you look in the mirror you'll see the back of your hand...

Do I really need to continue explaining this? It's obvious once you realize what's happening. What you see as the golfer is different from what onlookers see, which means that the onlookers aren't always correct about what you're actually doing.

Anyway, the next obvious question is: If your forearms aren't twisting, how does your lead hand get into this pronated position? I'm glad you asked.

If you take your "vertical shaft" setup and simply lean the shaft toward the target, you'll get this position. Do you recognize it? It's a bowed wrist -- the same position that Dustin Johnson gets into AT THE TOP OF HIS SWING. DJ's position is greatly exaggerated, of course -- you can look at Hogan's position in the swing sequence above and see that it's just a small bow -- but DJ has the principle correct. And please note that you don't have to rotate your forearms at all during your swing to get into this position at impact, since just leaning the club forward at address can create the same position.

Here's the key: You have to get into this pronated position either at the top of the downswing or just as you start down. From there you simply finish your swing without any further change to your wrist position; you just hang on to the club. It's the turning motion of your whole body that creates the appearance that your forearms are rotating during the swing. It's much easier than it sounds, although I think it takes a lot more forearm strength than the slanted shaft swing does.

You can practice this position by addressing the ball, leaning the shaft forward to create the bow in your wrist, then just making short waist-high swings back and forth. (That's what Hogan suggests on pages 82-83 of his book.) It won't take long to get the hang of it. Hogan says to keep both elbows close to your side when you do it, so you'll have to rotate your body or you just won't be able to do it.

Oh, and one last thing. I suspect one reason some people believe the forearms rotate at impact is because, if you keep your lead elbow close to your side as Hogan suggests, your lead elbow will bend quickly at or just after impact. When it does, your lead forearm will move upward suddenly -- it's very noticeable -- and that makes it feel as if your trailing arm has flipped over a bit. It really hasn't; if it did, the clubface would suddenly close and you'd get the very duck hook that Hogan designed this swing to prevent.

If You Get the Two Swings Crossed...
Patrick also had a few other questions that we can try and answer now.

If you use the vertical shaft setup with its neutral grip, but you hit the ball from the more natural slanted shaft position, the clubface will be open. That's because a clubface that's square with a neutral grip will open if you turn your hands to the stronger position without regripping the club. Try it -- take the vertical shaft / neutral grip and then, without regripping the club, change to the slanted shaft / strong grip setup. The face will open right up.

By the same token, if you setup with the strong grip and then move the shaft to the vertical position, the clubface will close. That's why you need to settle on one type of swing and stick with it -- if you set up for one but hit from the other position, you'll never be able to predict your ball flight.

Since I don't have video of your swing it's hard to tell exactly what's causing the other problems, but here's a couple of things to check:
  1. There's a problem with your legwork. This sounds likely because you said your lower body stops turning so your hands can catch up. Your slice could be caused by leaning backward when you start your downswing, or pushing your hips too far forward to start the downswing, or reverse pivoting. The pull could be caused by straightening your trailing leg rather than keeping it flexed and getting a full turn with your hips. Start with Hogan's half-swing drill and then stretch it out so your hands are going to shoulder height. If at any point during this you feel strain or pain in your lower back, that identifies a slice problem; if you lose your balance and fall forward, that's a pull problem. Neither of these is very hard to fix.
  2. Your elbows are moving in opposite directions. If your trailing elbow stays close to your side but your lead elbow doesn't, you'll tend to push the ball. If your lead elbow stays close to your side but your trailing elbow doesn't, you'll tend to pull the ball. Again, try the half-swing drill and focus on keeping both elbows close to your side. If the ball goes straight, this could be the problem. But check the legwork first; if your legwork is bad, you won't be able to hit the ball straight period.
We haven't talked enough for me to learn the pattern of your misses yet, which would tell us a lot. But if you work with the things in this post -- so we know for sure that you're not mixing swings -- that should help us narrow down the likely causes considerably.


  1. Mike,
    Thanks. Great drill and good information. I can see that I need more work, which is always good.

    I'll let you know in a month or so how I'm improving.


  2. Glad I could help, Patrick. Just remember these two key thoughts:

    1) Don't mix the two styles. If you decide on the slant shaft setup, don't worry about bowing your wrist; the slant will do the job. If you decide on the vertical shaft setup, bow your wrist at the top or as you start down and then don't worry about twisting your forearms.

    2) Let your body do the work. If you turn your body through the swing, you'll keep your hands in front of you. That should let you square up the clubface, no matter which method you choose. It should also eliminate the worst of your curving shots.

    Now that you know what works together and what doesn't, I suspect you'll be pleased with your progress. I'll be waiting to hear how it goes!

  3. i'm work for as translator.may i ask more about Ben Hogan wrist. In Five Lessons Book. He only concern about cock wrist. but i read on some website, they say cupping wrist is Ben Hogan's secret. What is difference?. Thanks you.

  4. Hi, GV. Different people have different answers to that question. There is no agreement about what Hogan's secret was. But it seems to me that Hogan's cupped wrist at the top of the swing and his bowed wrist at impact are part of the same move -- that is, Hogan wanted his wrists to be squaring up the clubface as he came down into the impact position.

    One thing we do know is that Hogan fought a duck hook most of his career. (He called it "the terror of the field mice.") He twisted his forearms a lot when he swung, and in his book he taught other players not to twist them.

    I think most players do best when they try to keep their wrists flat at the top of the swing and then concentrate on squaring the clubface at impact. That is a simpler move but it gives the same bowed wrist position at impact.