Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Golfing Zen #7 - Laws and Tendencies

With this essay, I’m entering a difficult and demanding world, as I’ve promised to disclose the true fundamentals of the golf swing.

I know what I’ve promised, but I’m going to draw this out… partly to tease you, to draw you in, but, moreover, I’ll be taking this slowly and carefully because it is such an important topic.

So, this essay will deal with tendencies, instead of with true fundamentals. That is, I’ll give you some things that fall in the category of generally good ideas, as opposed to fundamental and undeniable truths or laws.

And, further, I’m going to do this within the context of golf’s cornerstones, the principles with which almost every golf instructional begins: grip, stance, posture, and alignment. What I’ll be suggesting is that these hallowed subjects do not involve irrefutable laws, but are instead only relative guidelines.

Let’s take them one at a time:

The Grip:

Consider this: Most people overlap, but Nicklaus interlocks and Greg Norman uses a hybrid grip where his right-hand little finger lies between his left first and second fingers, all ten fingers on the grip. One pro from the 1970’s, Charlie Owen, even used a cross-handed grip. Trevino uses a weak grip, while Paul Azinger’s is hyper-strong. Most say the grip is in the fingers, while Moe Norman’s is in the palm.

Obviously, the grip is not a fundamental, not a law. It, like many another aspects of the swing, lies in the area of personal preference, a tendency:

  • Interlocking, overlapping, cross-handed, ten finger baseball grip… the choice is yours! But, overlapping is the tendency.

  • Weak grip or strong grip… your choice, again. The tendency… put your hands on the grip naturally, without twist towards either weak or strong. Set the club down with its leading edge square to the target line, let your arms hang freely, and put your lead hand (left, for right-handers) on the club naturally, without any twist. The off-hand then goes palm-to-palm with the lead hand.

Stance and Posture

Here again, the evidence is mixed. You can find great pros with wide and narrow stances, and you can find players that stand very upright — close to the ball — and also those who stand far away and reach out for the ball. As with the grip, all you can really see are tendencies:

  • Stand neither wide nor narrow — as it feels to you. Stand naturally, as you would if you wanted to be free to move quickly and naturally in any direction, as though you were poised to catch a ball. Also, you’ll need to anticipate your top-of-the-backswing position: weight mostly on your right (or rear leg and with your back turned to the target. An ultra-wide stance will block you from achieving that, while a too-narrow stance will be unstable and loose.

  • Stand neither erect nor bent over — as it feels to you. Flex your knees slightly, and center your weight over your arches, neither back on your heels or over on your toes. Bend forward comfortably from the hip. To keep your weight centered, your butt moves backward with the bend. Your back, however, does not "slump," but remains comfortably straight. Be ready to move gracefully.

  • Stand neither close nor far from the ball. Position yourself to the ball so your arms hang freely, with your hands under your chin.


Once again, we’ll find no absolutes here. Most experts are aligned square to the target. That is… their feet, hips, and shoulders are parallel to the target line (which translates to aligned left of the actual target). But, Sam Snead stood slightly closed and actually came over the top to compensate, while Trevino aligned himself open and left, so that he could hit a pronounced fade. Amateurs divide into two camps: one half have their body pointed directly at the target (which means their club is facing to the right) and the other half aim left in expectation of the slice they’re sure to hit.

The “good idea” is to follow the general tendency of aligning parallel to the target line: square with the target, as that will make it easier to swing along the target line and will require fewer compensations on our part.

Please note: I’m not suggesting that you can be careless about these points. I’m only saying that you are free to find your own best answers to these questions.

For more on how to do that… check out our next podcast!


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