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Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Understanding Strong and Weak Grips

Yesterday I wrote about the wall slap drill. Today I'm going to show you why thinking of your grip as strong or weak -- as it is usually taught -- isn't necessarily helpful, and then I'll show you what you should be looking for in order to control the face of the club.

Here is a series of photos showing one way of understanding 'grip strength'. It's based as much on the lead hand as on the trail hand. The fade grip would be the weak one, the draw grip would be the strong one, and the neutral one is (of course) the middle ground. I don't find this series particularly helpful, simply because everything is exaggerated. The lead hands are turned much too strong, which results in some extreme trail hand positions. This instructor probably teaches that a strong grip is the best grip.

One way of understanding grips

For comparison, here is a series of photos based primarily on the trail hand -- and particularly the line formed between the thumb and forefinger of that hand. See the little white arrows drawn on the photos? The strong grip points toward the trail shoulder, the neutral grip points to the trail side of your face, and the weak grip points toward the lead shoulder. Some teachers would say the neutral grip points at your chin. The lead hand isn't as strong as in the previous photos because this is more of a middle ground approach.

But I have to say this: The arrows don't seem to accurately describe where that 'thumb line' is pointing. The neutral grip does point more toward the chin and the weak grip doesn't point nearly as far forward as the wording would lead you to believe.

Another way of understanding grips

But the facts are this: Neither of these approaches accurately describes a SQUARE grip. I feel safe saying that most teachers consider the neutral grip to be the square one, and that the other grips rotate the clubface. But none of these adequately describes how a square grip would actually look to the golfer using it.

Let's see if we can fix that little problem, using the wall slap drill. I've lined up the camera so the flat of the wall is perpendicular to the lens. The flat of my palm is pointing straight away from the lens, as you can tell by my fingers. But if you use the vertical line of the wall to divide my hand, both my thumb and the heel of my thumb are AHEAD of the flat of my palm.

The question becomes "If the clubface is square to my palm, where will my 'thumb line' point?"

Flat palm

If I squeeze my thumb against my forefinger, my 'thumb line' is pointed straight at my chin. I've raised my hand a bit in the next photo so it looks more like I'm holding a club. You may not be able to see my thumb from this angle -- I wasn't actually holding a club, so my thumb dropped a bit too low -- but it's pretty clear where the line is pointing. And if I was actually holding a club, that 'thumb line' would actually rotate a bit more to the left of the photo when my fingers curled around the club's handle.

Flat palm tilted up

But there's something we aren't taking into account. At impact, since our trail wrist is still flexed -- it doesn't straighten completely until after impact -- the club should be leaning forward just a bit. Now it gets really interesting, doesn't it? Because if the shaft is leaning forward, my wrist has to bend a bit and my 'thumb line' tilts forward.

Flat palm really tilted up

If in this case it's not totally clear to you, here's the same photo but with a black line showing the angle of my 'thumb line'. Compared to the earlier photos at the beginning of this post, this is a weak grip.

But it's not really weak. My palm is flat against the wall, just like the clubface would be. This is a square grip!

Direction of 'thumb line'

But there's more. If you're like me, when you take this grip and swing the club with a relaxed arm so your wrist can flex -- what most players would call 'creating lag' -- you'll tend to push the heel of your palm just a bit farther forward. If you look at the weak grip from the first two photos sequences, you'll see that the shaft is actually vertical and not leaning forward at all.

By the same token, if you were to use what most people call a strong grip, you'd actually be pointing your palm upward and swinging as if you were 'chopping' with the edge of your trail hand. Your tendency would be to open your hand even more as you swing, causing you to open the clubface and slice the ball -- even though you think you're using a strong grip.

Which means, as twisted as it may sound, that what most call a strong grip can actually lead to slicing while what most call a weak grip can be the easiest way to square the clubface... or even close it a bit, if you so desire.

Yeah, I know this goes against almost everything you've ever heard. But there's a reason most people -- even instructors -- say that golf is so hard to learn. Everything is hard when you don't accurately understand how things work.

If you need more help understanding this post, leave questions in the comment section below and I'll try to find some new ways to explain it, ways that might be clearer. But until you understand what your hands do when they square the clubface, you'll never become a good golfer.

And once you do understand, you'll start scoring better than a lot of players with better swings. Because this game isn't about the beauty of your swing...

It's about learning to get the most out of what you've got.

But then again, isn't that how life in general works?


  1. I see what you are saying, but this might be one of those things where different people feel/interpret different things different ways.

    I for one can really hook the ball by rotating my trail arm down and swinging normally. Slices o-plenty if my trail arm is too much on top. Keeping a strong right hand has become one of my primary swing thoughts. Also helps me keep my hands on the club without gripping too hard because they are so wrapped on it.

    1. I agree, Ryan -- different people will feel the swing differently. Many pros have played great golf while using extremely strong grips -- Rosie Jones and Paul Azinger come to mind. For other players, using extreme positions in their golf swings is how they create consistency. Lee Trevino is a great example of this, and it's the reason why so many instructors criticized his swing originally.

      But I'm not talking about extremes. Think about this for a moment. I wrote:

      "By the same token, if you were to use what most people call a strong grip, you'd actually be pointing your palm upward and swinging as if you were 'chopping' with the edge of your trail hand."

      You're referring to this quote from the post, right? But realize that most instructors who teach a strong grip would actually consider Azinger's strong grip far too extreme. His grip was so extreme that it would be almost impossible to open the clubface any further. But even Azinger says he had to consciously keep that wrist position until the ball was gone to hit it where he wanted.

      He had to do it consciously. It wouldn't happen on its own... not naturally.

      Look at your own comment: "I for one can really hook the ball by rotating my trail arm down and swinging normally." Hooking the ball, not squaring it, is the natural way to hit from a strong grip.

      Then you say "Slices o-plenty if my trail arm is too much on top." Why does this happen? Because you rotate your forearms open as you swing the club back, which is something I generally discourage because if you open the face on the way back, you have to rotate it closed on the way down if you have any hope of squaring it.

      The word instructors use for this open-close action is compensations. And most players try to eliminate compensations.

      Don't misunderstand me. Everybody is different, and some people can do this naturally because they have good eye/hand coordination and their minds can clearly visualize how much to rotate their forearms to create a square clubface. Some, like the late great Billy Casper, simply learn to play with a huge hook. And Casper is a great example that it's possible to play legendary golf that way -- after Nicklaus and Palmer, he won more than anybody during the 1960s.

      But one reason most players think golf is too hard is because they have to make compensations. When you do the wall slap drill, do you rotate your hand open on the way back and then rotate it closed on the way down? If you automatically do so and you can consistently hit the wall with the flat of your palm when you do it, then don't worry about what I wrote in this post at all because you're doing just fine without it.

      But I wrote this post for the vast majority of players for whom a strong grip creates the need for compensations. For them, it's not about how strong their grip is; they don't need to find just the right number of knuckles are visible on their lead hand at setup, or get their 'thumb line' pointed at just the right point on their shoulder. Those players just need to set up with a square clubface and swing the club back and through while maintaining that square position. And hopefully this post will help them learn to do that.

      Does this make sense to you? Because that's one of the basic beliefs I have: I don't care who says it -- even if it's me -- if somebody tells you that you should do something in your swing and that something doesn't help you, then ignore it and do what works for you.

      It's your golf swing, and nobody knows it better than you. Don't let anybody tell you any different.