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Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Grip It to Rip It

Having talked about how to aim, it becomes important to talk about the grip. After all, aiming the clubface is vitally important, but if you don't have a sound grip, that enables you to return the clubface to its original position at impact without requiring contortions of some sort, you have defeated the whole purpose of aiming the club. The most common grips taught today are the Vardon, or overlapping grip and the interlocking grip favoured by Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. Most teachers also talk about the ten finger grip, but seldom recommend it unless it is to women, seniors or juniors, whose hands are smaller and weaker.

It is interesting that the two most popular grips are popular because they were favoured by giants of the game, who effortlessly produced clubhead speed and likely had or have powerful hands from striking countless balls. Both the interlocking and overlapping grips accomplish two things that are beneficial, if not essential, to striking a golf ball. The first thing is they both weaken the bottom hand on the grip. The second thing is they help both hands work together as a unit, not permitting the bottom hand, which is generally the player's dominant hand, from taking over and ruining the shot.

What is interesting about these popular grips, however, is that, if left to their own devices, likely no one would ever think to grip a club that way in order to strike a ball. Both grips are, quite frankly, unnatural, and must be learned and then practiced in order to become comfortable for the player. Once learned, however, I would never recommend anyone stop using either grip, provided they were hitting the ball solidly and were able to hit it straight. This, of course, tends to narrow the field somewhat, as the lion's share of recreational players are neither hitting it solidly, nor straight, so perhaps trying a more natural, ten-fingered grip would be advisable for them.

I have played with all three grips and find myself returning to the Vardon grip. While I find the ten finger, or natural, grip helps me hit the ball a bit more solidly and a tad farther, it also tends to allow me to produce some screaming hooks when my stronger, right hand is permitted to take over. Also, because I favour the Top Hand approach to golf, which I will talk about in some detail later, the Vardon grip works quite nicely and facilitates the Top Hand approach. As I improve upon my ability to use the Top Hand approach, I will probably return to the natural grip which I believe will serve me better as my hands get weaker.

Harvey Penick was passionate about the importance of a sound grip and said he could talk for hours about the grip. He had a great piece of advice about how to find your grip. He suggested taking a ruler and grip it as though you were going to use it to strike a golf ball with the face of the ruler, not the edge. If you try that, you will probably find you grip it with your palms facing each other and flat against the face of the ruler. If you grip a golf club the same way you are in business. All top players have their palms facing each other when they grip the club and the palms tend to match the clubface. Actually, if you were to clap your hands together on the club, then slide the lower hand down the handle, you have the ideal grip.

In terms of grip pressure, Bobby Jones, Sam Snead and Ben Hogan all stressed the importance of the club being gripped firmly by the last two or three fingers of the top, or left, hand for a right-handed player. Doing this helps prevent, among other things, over-swinging, and losing the club and having to resort to re-gripping from the top of the swing. 

As far as the right, or lower, hand is concerned, Ben Hogan taught that pressure should be applied to the grip primarily by the third and fourth fingers of the right hand. Bobby Jones felt the right hand should essentially just be along for the ride until the moment of truth; impact. Sam Snead felt it was important that the club be held lightly and in the fingers of the right hand and that it's use also be held in reserve until impact.

Snead and Bobby Jones favoured light grip pressure, except in the last three fingers of the top hand, to ensure that the wrists, arms, and shoulders remain relaxed and flexible. Hogan favoured a firm grip. Moe Norman favoured a firm, ten-fingered grip, where the club was held more in the palms of the hand, rather than the fingers. He also stressed left, or top, hand control of the club. All these great ball strikers stressed the fact that, for a right-handed player, the left hand must lead the swing and that the right hand should not be allowed to take over, or overpower, the left hand during the swing. 

The bottom line is you want a grip where your hands are comfortable and work as a unit. If you have to twist your hands around after you've taken your grip to get comfortable, you know your grip needs work. Your grip should be such that your hands just meld together, wrapping easily and comfortably around the grip. As far as how tightly you grip the club, to each their own. But try not to strangle the life out of the grip and don't hold the club so loosely that it feels sloppy. As in life, moderation is probably best. Find what's comfortable for you and allows you to square the clubface, then grip it and rip it.