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Sunday, December 4, 2011

More on Full Swing Putting Strokes

It's uncommon for the pros to use their full swing grips when they putt. When Tiger did so Friday he was inundated with questions, during which we learned that Steve Stricker does the same.

In yesterday's post I tried to explain why Tiger's interlocking grip helped reduce wrist action, not increase it as some analysts suggested. Since we now know that Stricker uses his regular Vardon grip when he putts, I decided to go into this in more detail. Some of you may think my views are something I created out of my imagination, but they aren't.

Let me take you briefly into the teachings of Ben Hogan. This will help you better understand what's happening.

First, let's make sure we understand the grips involved. This photo comes from and shows the three most common full swing grips. The last two are the ones we'll focus on in this post.

The three most common full swing grips

You also need to understand that Tiger likes to hit his putts with his right hand, while Stricker prefers to feel his left hand is in control. Tiger mentioned both of these facts during his press conference Friday.

Now let's bring Hogan into the mix. In his book Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf Hogan wrote about the importance of a proper grip. This quote refers to the right (trailing) hand -- remember, Hogan is right-handed --  but it applies equally well to the left (lead) hand. He says that a major part of creating a proper grip involves:
...subduing the natural tendency of the right forefinger and thumb to take charge. If they do, they'll ruin you. The "pincer fingers," the forefinger and thumb, are wonderful for performing countless tasks in daily living such as opening doors and picking up coffee cups, but they are no good at all in helping you build a good grip and a good swing. The explanation behind this is that the muscles of the right forefinger and thumb connect with the very powerful set of muscles that run along the outside of the right arm and elbow to the right shoulder. If you work the tips of the thumb and forefinger together and apply any considerable amount of pressure, you automatically activate those muscles of the right arm and shoulder -- and those are not the muscles you want to use in the golf swing. Using them is what breeds so many golfers who never swing with both hands working together, who lurch back and then lurch into the ball, all right arm and right shoulder and all wrong." (pp 24-25, emphasis mine)
Hogan says that the two middle fingers of the right hand are the "pressure" fingers in the grip. He also stresses that the last three fingers of the left hand should apply pressure -- again, not the thumb and forefinger.

Why is gripping with the thumb and forefinger so bad in the full swing? Because they minimize wrist action, which is necessary to generate power. After stressing a left-hand (lead) grip that doesn't interfere with the left wrist, Hogan specifically points out that the right (trailing) hand will then "take over" if you "pinch" the club with the right thumb and forefinger.

But that's in a full swing. What happens when this knowledge is transferred to a putting grip?

Well, if the trailing hand "takes over" in the putting grip, the lead wrist will likely cup at impact. (I talked about that in yesterday's post. That cupping is the problem.) In a full swing we need for the lead wrist to remain flexible so it can create power, but in a putting stroke we don't need power. Because of that, in our putting stroke we'd like the lead wrist to be a bit firmer. Are you with me so far?

The easiest way to do this is to lightly "pinch" the club with the thumb and forefinger of the trailing hand. And the key word here is lightly. Rather than focusing the grip in the last three fingers of the trailing hand, all we have to do is grip evenly with all five fingers. That allows us to use a very light grip that still firms up the wrist.

Now let's see how this works for each player. We'll start with Steve Stricker.

In a traditional reverse-overlap putting grip (in case you missed it, there was a picture in yesterday's post) all of the fingers of the trailing hand are on the club but only three from the lead hand -- notably, that means the lead forefinger is off the club. Since Stricker prefers to control the club with his lead (left) hand, it makes sense that he would want to reverse that -- which is just what his full swing Vardon grip does! With the forefinger of his lead hand now on the club, that wrist automatically firms up while the trailing hand's grip (which is now only three fingers) is lessened. His trailing hand doesn't have to grip the club at all. He can just lay it along the club's handle and push lightly. Such a light grip allows for a good sense of touch.

But Tiger prefers to control the club with his trailing (right) hand, so it's no surprise that he's used the reverse-overlap grip for years. Now that he's experimenting a bit, he could certainly use a Vardon grip like Stricks... but it would feel more like his lead hand was in control. So he compromised and tried his interlocking grip, which feels very familiar. It took his trailing hand pinky finger off the club but, since it interlocks with his lead hand, his trailing hand grip feels just as solid. And while his lead hand grip feels roughly the same -- there are still only three fingers on the club -- the interlocked forefinger helps firm up his trailing wrist slightly. It's not a huge change, but it's enough to keep him from cupping his wrist when he strokes the putt.

So that's the more technical explanation of yesterday's post. And if you're thinking ahead and wondering if that means the ten-finger grip -- the third grip in the photo above -- would reduce wrist movement even more because both forefingers and thumbs are on the club, you're absolutely correct. I wrote about that in Ruthless Putting over two years ago, and it's just as true now. And a split grip -- separating the hands slightly -- firms the wrists up even more.

I hope this helps you struggling putters out there. Just look how quickly it helped Tiger!


  1. Mike, is it me or do you have right hand, trailing hand, left hand, leading hand all mixed up in this post? "But Tiger prefers to control the club with his lead (right) hand,....." among other mix ups in this post. Check this out and let me know if I am reading this wrong????

  2. I did indeed get those mixed up, Ron. This is why I generally prefer to use only lead and trailing to designate the hands. In this case, I tried to match my terminology with the normal right/left terms Tiger used and got twisted up. (I think somehow right and lead got mixed up in my brain.)

    At any rate, they should be straightened out now. Let me know if I missed any.