How many times have you been told to relax your grip, your arms or your entire body to better your golf shots?Everyone has, most often by a well-meaning playing partner hoping to pull you from the depths of a horrible round. However, such misguided advice can wreak havoc on your swing. Most golfers would be better served by tightening up their swings rather than making them looser or, to coin a phrase, more fluid. The next time a tournament airs on TV, check out Ernie Els or my old college teammate David Toms. When golfers of this caliber swing the club, their motion is undeniably fluid. However, professional swings are anything but loose, indicated by these three common swing traits:
_Ê The hands never come off the club
_Ê The left arm doesn’t fold and the elbows never split apart in the backswing
_Ê The upper body turns significantly more than the lower body in the backswing
Grip solidity, arm structure and backswing coil are difficult to create in a swing that’s overly loose or relaxed. These are elements of a tight-knit, yet well-oiled motion. Here’s how to achieve such a swing.
What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the words grip pressure? For most, the words conjure up phrases such as hold the club like you’re holding a small bird or grab the handle like a tube of toothpaste or any number of sayings handed down from generation to generation to relay the idea that you can’t hold the club too tightly.
While it’s true that you should never put a death grip on the handle, it’s important to grip the club strongly enough to pass what I like to call the Hogan Test. Ben Hogan could hit shot after shot after shot without ever taking his hands off the club or changing his grip. Most recreational players have at least one grip change during every swing, let alone between swings. This is hardly the recipe for solid and consistent shotmaking.
The in-swing regrip phenomenon occurs because the lesser-skilled player’s hands are too loose, and they fail to achieve adequate pressure in three key areas of the grip: in the last three fingers of the left hand, the lifeline of the right hand and the right forefinger. If you can maintain adequate pressure here, you’ll be able to pass the Hogan Test. The Shoelace Drill should help you develop constant grip pressure in the three key areas.
Run a shoelace in between the butt of the grip and the last three fingers of your left hand. Continue it up and over your left thumb and then to the right side of the shaft where your right forefinger rests. You should feel a constant pressure that will hold the shoestring in between the last three fingers of your left hand and the club, between the lifeline of your right hand and your left thumb, and between your right forefinger and the shaft. Maintain that pressure throughout the swing.
Arm pressure is perhaps one of the most misunderstood—or at least, worst applied—concepts in golf. Many of my students complain that they hit the ball too much with their arms and don’t use enough legs and hips. While this may well be the correct diagnosis, the common solution—relaxing the arms—causes more harm than good. When recreational golfers choose to relax their arms, more often than not their arms turn into limp noodles and their elbows execute undue folding and unfolding. Obviously, this is too loose, too slack. And too much slack leads to too much slap and robs your swing of power.
To keep your arms from going limp and, more importantly, your elbows from folding too much on the backswing and straightening too early in the downswing, use the Tac-Tic and Ball drills. Note: If you choose to tighten up your backswing structure, make sure to work on this from address to the top. A straight left arm at the top isn’t something that simply happens. A straight left arm begins at address and is maintained throughout the backswing.
The Elbow Tac-Tic training aid is a great learning tool, as it gives audio feedback when you excessively fold your arms in the backswing. With the Elbow Tac-Tic properly in place, make your normal backswing move. If your elbows lose their correct structure (above, left), the Tac-Tic will produce a clicking noise. Repeat your swing until you can properly hinge to the top without hearing the Tac-Tic click.
Here’s an easy drill to keep your upper body from becoming too loose. Place a small ball between your elbows at address, making your elbow width the same as the diameter of the ball. This width shouldn’t increase as you swing to the top. Therefore, as you execute your backswing, your elbows should hold the ball in place. If the ball drops, then your elbows split apart, introducing a slack element to your motion. It’s not impossible to hit good golf shots if your elbows don’t maintain their width, but it’s certainly a more complicated task. Nevertheless, maintaining proper elbow width is key to developing a tight, well-structured swing.
Now that you’ve tightened up your grip and arms, it’s time to get to the meat of the matter: tightening up what’s going to propel those hands, arms and club powerfully and efficiently through the golf ball.
If you analyze the swings of the world’s best golfers, you’ll discover a key trend: The hips are more open than the shoulders at the point of impact. This is a critical feature of quality swings, and one you should strive to create in your own. One way to build this fantastic move into your swing is to work on creating your very own upper body/lower body differential or, specifically, creating as large a differential as possible.
To do so, practice turning your shoulders in your backswing without turning your hips. Such a pivot creates a nice, tight backswing coil and tons of potential energy. Depending on your flexibility, you should be able to create a large differential between the amounts of upper body and lower body turn. If you can maintain your max differential to the top of the backswing and then maintain or increase that differential as you start the downswing all the way through impact, you’ll be primed for greatness. To do so, your lower body needs to initiate and lead your upper body in the downswing. In fact, your lower body should start moving targetward even before your clubhead reaches the top. This is a difficult move to master, but if you concentrate solely on creating and maintaining upper body/lower body differential from takeaway to impact, your ballstriking will improve dramatically.
For those golfers who regrip, bend the arms incorrectly and don’t pivot properly, you’ll never achieve good, consistent contact without tightening up your body and swing. However, the one thing you shouldn’t tighten is your mind! If you’re accustomed to hitting less-than-spectacular shots, it’s easy to become mentally tight. But if you tighten up your swing, you’ll gain consistency and be able to control the flight of your golf ball. Once that’s accomplished, your mind can and will relax!
PGA professional and Senior Instruction Editor Chuck Winstead is the Director of Instruction at the University Club in Baton Rouge, La., and English Turn Golf & Country Club in New Orleans, La.