Arnold Palmer famously told of his father setting his hands on the club when he was learning the game, and told him never to change that grip. And Arnold never did. Arnie, though, had the hands of a blacksmith and probably would have excelled with just about any grip he chose. Gripping the club is not the sexiest of topics but it may be the most important in the quest to succeed at this game. For the hands are, obviously, the only parts of your body that actually contact the club, and so have more to do with control the club than anything else. That’s important since a golf club is a rather heavy implement, and you’re farther away from the ball than in most other sports. So how to grip a golf club?
From tee to green, there are three ways to grip a club, and all are viable depending mostly on the size of your hands. For small hands, the interlocking grip may be best. It’s the one Nicklaus used throughout his career, and he didn’t do too badly with it. It’s effective at unifying the hands which is a fundamental for a good grip. You want the hands to be working together in the daunting task of controlling this fast moving implement. This grip interlocks the forefinger of the dominant hand with the little finger of the non dominant hand. The most pressure is exerted by the last three fingers of the non dominant hand. This, by the way, is one of the things that makes golf particularly difficult: The non dominant hand is assigned the task of holding on to the club during a swing that travels anywhere from 70 to 110 mph and hitting a round, solid stationary object, the ball. You might want to get yourself a hand exerciser and strengthen those last three fingers of your weaker hand. Then for average sized hands, the overlapping or Vardon grip is advised. This places the little finger of your dominant hand on top of (or in the groove between your forefinger and your middle finger) the forefinger of your non dominant hand. The idea here is to place more fingers of your weak hand on the club for more control. And lastly, there’s the baseball or ten finger grip which places all fingers on the grip. It’s a good one for kids or beginners who’ve been used to playing baseball before learning to play golf. For the first two, the thumb of the non dominant hand fits neatly into the palm of the strong hand.
Having chosen the one for you (and it is your choice) there are three ways to position the grip: strong, weak, or neutral, each on a spectrum. The changes are affected by rotating each accordingly. For the strong position, you rotate the hands clockwise until you can see three to four knuckles of your non dominant hand, with the thumb invisibly tucked into the other hand’s palm, as you look down from address. This position fosters a draw or hook since at impact the hands can more easily turn over, imparting a right to left spin on the ball (left to right for a lefty). In the neutral position, you see one and a half to two knuckles which encourages a straight ball flight. And in the weak position, you would see one to one and a half knuckles which encourages a fade or slice. In all three, the thumb stays tucked into the palm of the dominant hand.
So the basic grip stays constant for all tee to green situations, but the position of the grip can change according to what the shot requires. So if you have a dogleg left off the tee, a stronger grip may be preferable. Of if you’re stymied by a tree for your approach and the green is to the right, a weaker grip would help you curve the ball to the right, around the tree, to better find or be closer to the green. Your foot position at address is also a factor as a fade would require you align yourself left of target and a draw to the right of final target. I know, it’s a bit complicated, but that’s golf for you.
For all the permutations and combinations though, what’s critical is your grip pressure. Yes, you want to hold firmly with the last three fingers of your non dominant hand, but not too firmly, for too tight a grip might force you to let go at impact, a position where you need to be in complete control. Sam Snead once recommended you hold the club as if you were holding a baby bird; and I would say that’s right for most of your fingers. But you need to tighten the last three fingers some for two reasons: One is to maintain control at the top of your backswing where the weight of the club at that point puts pressure on those fingers to let go of the grip; and the other is, as I’ve mentioned, keeping control in the impact zone. So the way you determine if your grip is tight enough is at the top of your backswing. Does your grip separate at that point or does your non dominant hand hold the club in place?
As I’ve mentioned, strong hands are an asset in golf. So if you’re watching TV or driving a car, get yourself a hand exerciser and pump up that non-dom hand. Gyms have devices for this as well. Sorry if the above has been a bit tedious for some of you, but even for the experienced player, the grip needs to be examined if the swing is going awry or if you’re wanting to take your game to the next level and begin working the ball more.
By the way, one of the golf books on my shelf is John Daly’s Grip It and Rip It. John has considerable strength and flexibility in his hands and wrists enabling him to bring the club far past parallel at the top of his backswing without losing the integrity of his swing (OK, John does sometimes lose that integrity, but he’s also won two majors). Partly because of his effective grip, he’s able to keep control of the club throughout and achieve great distances. And this is common to many PGA touring pros.
At the Workday Charity event this past weekend, I haven’t seen that kind of clutch play since Tiger Woods hit a wedge from deep rough on the 72nd hole at Torrey Pines, then sank a breaking 12-foot putt to send the ’08 U.S. Open to a playoff with Rocco. Twenty-three year old Collin Morikawa approached the 17th hole at Muirfield Village down two strokes to a bulldog of a competitor who has already won twice this year, Justin Thomas. Morikawa proceeded to hit an exceptional approach shot, playing the slope perfectly, to settle about 10 feet from the hole. He then coolly sank the putt for a bird to pull within one of JT. Game on. On the 18th he blistered a drive down the middle, while Thomas pushed his into a fairway bunker, making bogey to Collin’s par. Tied and off to sudden death. On the first hole, JT sank an amazing breaking 50-footer for bird, letting out a yell I’ve never heard from him before. Game over, right? Wrong. Clutchmeister CM followed by lipping in a 24-footer for bird to tie. A couple more playoff holes later and JT was badly stymied behind a tree on his drive, and it was curtains. Collin Morikawa won his second PGA tournament. Watch this kid. He’s got all the shots plus Tiger’s ability to concentrate under enormous pressure. It was an absolute pleasure to watch him play.
This week, it’s the Memorial, hosted by Jack at this same course in Dublin, Ohio. Finally, Tiger returns… and all the top guns as well. Enjoy the action. Who’s my pick? I just don’t know. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the PGA tour so deep in talent. But as a longshot, I’ll go with Harold Varner III.