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The Basics: Grip
Golf’s fundamentals begin with your grip
Any good player will tell you, the start of a new season is a time for refocusing on fundamentals. Be it a low-handicap amateur, a PGA teaching professional or a touring pro playing for millions week in and week out — they all will focus on the basics when coming back from a long layoff.
Posture, alignment, tempo, ball position. Fundamentals are the foundation upon which your swing is built, and if they’re not solid, you won’t be either.
Perhaps the most important of these fundamentals is the grip. The hands are the only point of contact between you and the club; they control everything. It’s also not impossible to play quality golf with a strange grip.
Paul Azinger is fond of telling the story of how Nick Faldo describes him as having a “homemade grip with a hatchet swing.” And Azinger won a PGA Championship. But you’re certainly increasing your degree of difficulty if you don’t take the time to learn a fundamentally sound way to hold the club.
Thankfully, it’s also a comparatively easy thing to get right. The biggest mistake most amateurs make with their grip is holding the club too much in the palm of their left hands, as if it were a baseball bat. Baseball is a fine game, and a sport I love dearly, but the baseball swing is an act of controlled violence, a heavy chunk of maple or ash wielded with brute force. Golf clubs are lighter, more precise. The golf swing an act of tempo, rhythm, and control.
That’s a responsibility you want to give to the finer motor controls of the fingers.
Start by aligning the butt-end of the club along your glove hand on the bottom third of your pinkie finger, below the knuckle but above the palm. This will set up everything else about the grip. If you have the club positioned well in your pinkie, there’s no way to end up with a palmy, baseball-style grip.
Close your hand comfortably around the club. If you take your stance and address a ball from this position, you should see roughly one and a half to two knuckles on the top of your glove hand, with the “V” formed by the line between your thumb and forefinger pointing towards your right shoulder (left shoulder for lefties).
If you’re a beginner, you’ll probably want to rotate your glove hand a little more so that you see somewhere between two and a half and three knuckles. This is referred to as a “strong” grip, helping you close your clubface at impact and produce a left-to-right (or right-to-left for southpaws) drawing ball flight that results in more distance.
Lower handicappers will generally stay with a neutral grip, or in some cases go with a one-knuckle or “less-weak” grip to help produce a fading left-to-right (right-to-left for southpaws) ball flight for more control.
Once you’ve got your glove hand situated well on the club, place your non-glove hand on the club, making sure to once again keep the club running along your fingers and out of the palm. Your non-glove thumb should wrap comfortably over your glove-hand thumb, the “V’s” between thumb and forefinger running parallel to each other and, again, pointing at your right shoulder (left shoulder for lefties).
Your non-glove pinkie finger can connect with the glove hand in a number of ways. I prefer what’s called the “interlocking” grip (See Tiger Woods above.), where the index finger of the glove hand and the pinkie finger of the non-glove hand wrap around each other, firmly connecting the hands in a unified hold. Both Woods and Jack Nicklaus use the interlocking grip.
There is also the “10-finger” or “baseball-style” grip, in which the hands aren’t connected at all, with each finger resting consecutively along the club.
The most popular grip, however, is the “overlapping” or “Vardon” grip, named after British golf legend Harry Vardon, who popularized it. Here the pinkie on the non-glove hand rests on top of the glove-hand index finger. Most players prefer this grip because it allows for a feeling of unity with the hands, but still keeps the glove hand in charge and allowing for crisper contact at impact.
There is no wrong choice when it comes to deciding between each of these styles, however. Go with whichever option feels the most comfortable and gives you the most control of your golf ball.
Finally, perhaps the most important part of having a good grip is maintaining light-grip pressure. You want to be able to hold the club securely, but keep your hands loose and free-flowing in order to avoid tension. Tension in your hands will lead to tension throughout your golf swing, sapping your clubhead speed, destroying your tempo and inevitably sending your ball far off-target.
Relax your hands and it will relax every other part of your game, allowing you to play your best.
A fundamentally sound grip is an easy thing to overlook, but it is the root cause of countless other problems in the golf swing.
Take the time at the beginning of a season to ensure that your grip and other fundamentals are rock-solid, and you can dive into the summer fully ready to play your best and attack the course.