The Anatomy of Greatness
The single most important aspect of the golf swing happens well before impact—the gripping of the golf club. The hands are the only connection to the club, and nothing contributes more to the overall look of the swing and—more important—the quality of shots played than how they are placed. This is just as true at the highest levels of this game as it is for the beginner.
Among professionals there is a deep respect for grips. To a pro, a proper grip is not only considered functional, it’s regarded almost as a work of art. And while not every grip looks alike, the variety is mostly in how players link their hands together. Beyond the differences of interlocking, overlapping, or ten-finger style, the grips of most of the best players of all time have much in common.
Among amateurs there is often some confusion and much error when it comes to placing their hands on the club. I believe much of the problem is rooted in the most popular instruction book ever written.
Hogan’s weak preference.
On page 26 of Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf, Ben Hogan states that, when placing your left hand on the club, the V formed by the marriage of the index finger and the thumb (for a right-handed golfer) should point to the right eye. On page 28 he states that the V formed by the index finger and thumb of the right hand should point to the chin. In professional golf-speak, this is known as a weak grip. Hogan’s was one of the most beautiful the game has ever seen.
It was beautiful because Hogan could curl his right thumb backward from the joint as he pushed the joint into the side of the club and because this gave him the ability to push the inside of his thumb hard against his index finger. This connection gave a definite line, or V, which Hogan used as a guidepost for the grip, and he believed that V should be pointed at his chin. It was beautiful because he crooked his right index finger, which he called a trigger finger, back just enough to where he could push the top joint into the side of the grip and apply pressure and this cohesiveness, between index finger and thumb, gave his grip an almost unmatched symmetry.
The beautiful symmetry of Hogan’s grip.
No one had ever described the placing of the hands on the club in such a manner, but many amateurs took it as gospel because of what came to be known as the “Hogan mystique.”
Hands with V’s pointing to the right shoulder.
Ben Hogan was and still is one of the most compelling characters in the game of golf. That he was able to overcome such obstacles as a traumatic childhood (his father committed suicide when Ben was nine years old), diminutive size, and a near-fatal auto accident made him a heroic figure. His relentless, dig-it-out-of-the-dirt work ethic was universally admired. The Hogan mystique created a cult-like obsession with every facet of Hogan’s game, including his grip.
The problem was that Hogan’s grip didn’t work for everyone. It worked for him, in that it corrected the tendency to hit violent hooks that nearly drove him out of the game prematurely. But most amateurs have the opposite tendency—they slice the ball—and Hogan’s grip only exacerbates that fault.
Hogan’s necessary compensations.
Thanks to modern technology that allows us to measure, with great accuracy, what happens at every point in the swing, we know that at impact the hands are roughly five inches in front of where they were at address. Dr. Ralph Mann and Fred Griffin pointed this out over two decades ago based upon their computer-generated model of hundreds of professional golfers. In their book, Swing Like a Pro, they presented that a golfer should have a stronger grip, and that the V’s of both hands, and in particular the right hand, should be turned to the right. This is a considerably stronger position than Hogan’s.
With Hogan’s grip, the pushing of the hands forward at impact tends to open the clubface. Hogan corrected this by bowing his left wrist and supinating, or turning counterclockwise, both his left forearm and wrist.
As beautiful as Ben’s grip was, it was unique to him. The vast majority of great players have used a much stronger grip, and most amateurs should, too. A stronger grip is the grip of choice—the commonality among the best in the game—and the easiest path to improvement.
Jack Nicklaus’s left hand.
Mickey Wright’s left hand, partly in the fingers.
The Left Hand
In placing the left hand on the club, the grip should run diagonally from the lower part of the palm, specifically right on the thickest crease in your palm, known as the Line of Heart, across the top joint of your middle two fingers and lay on the middle joint of your index finger. Then the thumb is folded over and placed just to the right of the center of the club. The V formed by the thumb and index finger should point toward the right shoulder. If yours points toward your chin or right eye, keep turning it clockwise until it approximates the greats.
If one takes up the grip too much in the palm or with the thumb straight down the club, at the top of the swing the hand and thumb will likely not be in position to support the weight of the club and the stress of the transition. Hence, the club should be placed diagonally in the hand, with the thumb on the side of the shaft.
Bobby Jones’s perfect left hand placement.
The placement of the left hand has a very distinct purpose. The left hand provides the stability in the strike but the full range of motion should never be compromised. The tendency is to take up the grip completely in the palm, but this is disastrous, as the player will lose some range of motion in the wrist and security of the club at the top of the swing.
Holding the club too much in the fingers is the better mistake, as at least one’s mobility in the cocking and uncocking of the wrists will not be hindered. However, not enough of the left hand touches the club, so the tendency is to grip too tightly. The combination of a tight grip without enough connection points to the club will not support the blow of impact consistently.
The blend of having the club partly in the palm and partly in the fingers maintains control with the greatest amount of freedom and instinctively the right amount of pressure.
The placement of the thumb—not on top of the club, but just to the right of center—serves two very important purposes.
Byron Nelson’s perfect left hand placement.
Because the plane of the swing is inclined, if the thumb were placed on the top of the club at address, at the end of the backswing the thumb’s relative position would be on the left side of the club, where it is less likely to support its weight without increased tension. As a result, the pressure of the transition from backswing to downswing will have a tendency to limit the range of mobility in the hands. This will rob the player of a deeper set in the wrists, which is so important to accumulating power and will be discussed much later in this book in greater detail. At the top of the backswing it is better to have the left thumb underneath the shaft, where it is in a position to support the weight of the club. This is best done by having the thumb to the right of center at address.
Ben Hogan’s cupped compensation.
Ben Hogan overcame this problem by rolling his forearms and cupping his left wrist in an exaggerated way so that his left thumb was under the shaft at the top of the swing—in effect making his grip strong at the top, whereas it had previously been weak at the bottom.
Lastly, against the force of impact, having one’s left thumb on the side of the club allows one a brace to push against and offset the collision of club and ball, providing stability at the swing’s most violent point.
Nobody did this more obviously and stated it more clearly than Byron Nelson, who, in describing the position of the left thumb on the club in his book Winning Golf said, “the thumb of the left hand is closed on the shaft, a quarter of the way around.” Thus a position many of the greatest players of all time found through trial and error was the best way to put their left hand on the club.
The Right Hand
Though the placement of the right hand is less complicated than that of the left, it is nonetheless the source of a great deal of confusion. There are remarkable players with all manner of styles when it comes to linking their hands together, and even a few who didn’t at all. That choice has been entirely a personal preference and arrived at by experimentation.
The club should run from the base of the top joint of the little finger, diagonally across the ring and middle fingers and rest on the middle joint of the index finger. The thumb should be placed on the left side of the club. This grip is illustrated by Byron Nelson, who used it to win eleven straight PGA Tour events and establish the lowest Sunday scoring average in history.
Ten-finger grip, interlocking grip, mesh grip, baseball grip, overlapping grip, and double overlapping grip.