“Good golf begins with a good grip” – Ben Hogan (Golf Champion)
Virtually every golf instruction book that has ever been published has a chapter on holding the golf club correctly. Some books provide a detailed overview of the mechanics of the grip whilst others simply gloss over it.
In this article I’m going to share with you my thoughts on why it’s vitally important that you fully understand your grip and its influence on your clubface and clubhead in your golf swing.
What if I told you that the way you placed your hands on the golf club determined to a great extent how good a golfer you are, or will become?
You see it has less to do with the look of the grip and much more to do with the specific placement of the hands on the grip and the pressure you apply.
What do I mean when I say “the look of the grip?”…
A lot of golf instruction focuses on the way the hands look on the golf grip to your eyes. They will say that a “neutral” grip shows two knuckles on the left hand and a “weak” grip shows less than two knuckles. A “strong” grip shows more than two knuckles.
This type of information is very common in many golf instruction books.
Strong (S), neutral (N) and weak (W) grips as a concept don’t help you to understand “the hands to clubface” relationship. All the S-N-W concept does is explain that the left hand can rotate to the left or the right on the handle.
The “hands to clubface relationship” explains how the placement and pressure applied to the golf club influence clubface rotation, clubface rhythm and clubhead force.
These factors influence direction, distance and consistency. Is there anything more important?
THE TAPERED CYLINDER (AKA GOLF GRIP)
The hands are basically being applied to a tapered cylinder (golf grip) that has a weight extended off to the side of it. This tapered cylinder wants to rotate because of the position of the weight and its distance from the hands. This weight, called a clubhead has a built in clubface that is designed to strike a golf ball with absolutely no guarantee that it will make it go straight.
Thus the skill of the game is to control the amount of turn and roll of the tapered cylinder so that when a collision occurs with the golf ball, the clubface would be pointing straight to your desired target as the golf ball departs from the clubface.
Easier said than done right?
You see, holding the golf club so that it can perform the function of opening (turning) and closing (rolling) the correct amount is the main function of hand placement. Particularly the left hand’s placement.
How your hands look on the grip has very little to do with how your hands actually function during the golf stroke. Therefore careful placement of your hands so that they can turn and roll the correct amount for youis the key to controlling the direction of your golf shots.
And the amount of ‘squeeze pressure’ that you apply to the grip will have a significant effect on the turn and roll function as well. Some golf books suggest holding the golf club lightly whilst others suggest tight.
The trouble is that the words don’t describe the feeling very well. What is ‘light’ and what is ‘tight’? The level of squeeze pressure you apply, particularly in your left hand should be enough for the grip to not spin in your hand in the event that you hit a shot towards the toe end of the clubface. The clubhead will always try to spin out of control during the collision with the ball because of the inertia (resistance to move) of the golf ball.
LEFT HAND CONTROLS THE CLUBFACE
The placement of the left hand on the grip determines how much the cylinder can turn and roll during your stroke. There are four simple points of reference.
Top: The left thumb/hand is positioned on top of the grip at address
Side: The left thumb/hand is positioned somewhere on the side of the grip
Under: The left thumb/hand is positioned under the grip
Front: The left thumb/hand is positioned on the front side of the grip.
So every golfer has their left thumb/hand somewhere between the front side and rear side of the grip. Golfers who slice tend to have their left thumb/hand from front to top.
Golfers who hit straight have their left thumb/hand from top to side. Golfers who hook have a tendency to place their hands around the side of the grip.
HOW BEN HOGAN CONTROLLED HIS HOOK
All golfers curve the golf ball most of the time. Highly competent golfers can control the curvature so that they can use it to advantage. It is a myth to think that there are golfers who hit the golf ball straight most of the time, however if you control what happens at the very bottom of your golf swing you will strike the ball with very minimal curve which is the best all of us can hope for.
Two primary elements control curvature on the golf ball; the clubface direction at impact, and the path of the clubhead in relationship to your target as it strikes the golf ball.
In this article I’m focusing on clubface angle and how we can gain control of it.
The great golfer Ben Hogan struggled early in his career with a hook that made it harder for him to become a competitive professional golfer. Whenever he got himself into a position to finish in the money, the hook would rare its ugly head and send him packing his bag to the next tournament with a few less coins in his pocket.
Eventually he worked out that a change in the placement of his left hand on the grip would reduce the amount of hook curvature his swing could produce. Basically he discovered that if he placed his left thumb/hand more on top of the grip he could hit it as hard as he wanted without it viciously curving to the left.
This change had a huge impact on his career because the golf confidence he gained allowed him to become arguably the most dominant golfer on the tour in his day.
BEN HOGAN WROTE TWO VERY DIFFERENT GOLF BOOKS
Ben Hogan wrote two golf books on his approach to the game. His first book “Power Golf” was published in 1948. In the chapter ‘The Evolution of the Hogan Grip’ he say’s this about his left thumb/hand.
“In folding the left thumb around the club the thumb of my left hand is slightly on the right side of the shaft. Looking down on my left hand I can see the first three hand-knuckle joints. Also note that my left hand is well over the shaft. The V formed between the index finger and the thumb points approximately over my right shoulder.”
By the time his second (and most popular) book was published “5 Lessons – The Modern Fundamentals of Golf” published in 1953, his left hand grip had moved much more on top of the grip. In the chapter entitled “The Grip” Mr Hogan describes in great detail how he applies his hands to the golf grip. He mentions his change in thinking when he say’s “When a golfer has completed his left-hand grip, the V formed by the thumb and forefinger should point to his right eye.“
Unfortunately this best selling golf book which is considered a classic in sports literature was purchased by thousands of amateur golfers who for the most part would have benefited much more from his lesser known book ‘Power Golf.’ Why? Because his suggestion to point the ‘V’ over the right shoulder would produce straighter curvature on their golf shots, instead of big slices, which is what happened to many golfers applying his advice of pointing the ‘V’ to the right eye.
WHAT YOU NEED TO DO TO CONTROL ‘TURN AND ROLL’
Try this test for me. Hold your 7 iron in your left hand with your left thumb directly on top of the grip in the ‘red zone’ Hold it out in front of you so that it is parallel with the ground. To make it easy to do this rest the head on the back of a chair or something similar.
Now simply turn the clubhead clockwise to the point where it is uncomfortable to turn it any further. Now roll it the other way until you cannot roll it any further.
TURN IT MORE THAN YOU CAN ROLL IT
When I do this test I can turn my clubhead clockwise to almost 2 o’clock, and when I roll it I can reach 11 o’clock comfortably. Now more turn than roll (’2 to 11?) is fine if you want to hit slice shots, but it is not helpful if you want shots with a draw or even a hook shape. This combination suited Ben Hogan because he couldn’t roll his clubhead closed enough to produce the hook shot.
ROLL IT MORE THAN YOU CAN TURN IT
When I apply my left thumb in between the top and the side (green zone) I can turn my clubhead to about 1 o’clock and roll it to about 10 o’clock. So in other words I can roll it more than I can turn it. This is the favored position of many competent strikers of the golf ball. Because the clubface can roll more than it can turn, it is far easier to achieve a ‘squarer’ impact and decidedly straighter ball flight.
NO TURN FULL ROLL
Finally you can place your left thumb/hand in the blue zone and when I tested this position I couldn’t turn my left hand at all, but I had the most complete roll of all the colours. So my turn was to 12 o’clock and my roll went to 9 o’clock. For any golfer with a severe slice this is the place to start with your left hand position.
You should test this out for yourself and see what results you get. If you tend to slice, you might find that you slice less if your left hand is in the blue zone. If you hook too much more your left hand towards the red zone and test the results.
Always remember that the your left hand controls the clubface, so learning the correct left hand position for your golf swing will definitely improve the direction of your golf shots leading to more golf confidence and consistently more satisfying golf shots.