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Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Good Hands

In his youth, Henry Cotton was a fanatical practiser. He laboured over his golf swing and his shortgame probably as much as any golfer ever has. There are stories of him, as a young man, having to be carried off the practice tee or green because he was so cramped up from hitting shots. And, after all this toiling to find the perfect golf swing, he finally came to believe that the real answer to playing good golf lies in your hands; the only thing that links you to the golf club.

Bobby Jones also believed that anyone with a decent set of hands can play good golf. They may not hit the ball prodigious distances with nothing more than a good set of hands, but they can hit it far enough to play well.

Modern teaching tends to ignore the importance of the hands in favour of swings generally based on the use of larger muscles. Many teachers have adopted the notion that, to gain consistency, it's much better to rely on a large-muscle swing than to rely on the "twitchy" muscles of the hands. It's a fine theory, but does this reliance on a swing governed by the big muscles produce the best golf for the average player? 

I have been a bit of a student of the golf swing myself. Nothing like Henry Cotton perhaps, but I have tried a variety of different swings. And what I've found is the truthfulness of the fact that the game ultimately boils down to feel and touch. And, like it or not, that feel is in our hands. Our hands ultimately control how and where the head of the club is applied to the golf ball. 

So, what's the best way to develop a good set of hands? Bob Toski believed it was by hitting short shots first. Learn to hit all sorts of solid chips, pitches, and putts, and solid full shots will likely follow. Harvey Penick said that the full swing was really just a long chip shot. I know that I've been playing much better, despite my back problems, when thinking of my full shots as simply longer chips or pitches. It helps my control; and it helps me not to over-swing. 

Most teachers want to teach a golf swing to their students. To a degree that is understandable, I suppose. Because how do you teach a golfer feel and touch? Short answer is, "You don't." Feel and touch comes only from hitting golf shots. And it's best to start to develop that feel and touch from the green back to the tee. The best players have all spent lots of time, usually beginning as kids, around the greens learning to get the ball in the hole--which is the name of the game. And the best players have always had the best hands. They are able to use their hands to manufacture shots of all sorts to deal with all sorts of situations.

So, take it from Henry Cotton, who literally wore himself out trying to develop the perfect swing. Get yourself a tire, or an impact bag, and whack it to develop strong hands and vital golf muscles. Learn to use your hands to control the clubhead and provide some zip to the hit. Your hands are your friend if you learn to use them properly. And remember, a good teacher can show you a good grip. But only you can develop the feel of a solid, crisp strike, and that feel is through your hands.

Radar and I were marvelling at Carl the Grinder the other day. At 74, he still hits it a mile, and he's deadly around the greens. When he swings, he sometimes looks more like a guy falling off a ladder than a golfer. But, as we both concluded, he's got a great pair of hands. It's all in the hands, not the shoulder turn, or a straight left arm, or a braced right knee, or...