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The problem with a strong grip

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In my experience, the grip is the single biggest influencer on all golf swings. It controls the club face, the club face controls the flight of the golf ball, and the flight of the golf ball flight controls the swing. And like most other things that involve the golf swing, grips can be broken down into three types: strong, neutral and weak.

This article deals with a strong grip, which is currently a popular grip to teach in golf instruction. While it can be effective for some golfers, it is not a panacea. The problem with a strong grip is that it CAN open the club face. That sounds crazy, because most golfers think that a strong grip will help them close the club face, but here’s how it works.

Note: The first part of this story discusses the top hand in the grip, which is the left hand for right-handed golfers. The second part of the story discusses the lower hand, or the right hand for right-handed golfers. All references of left and right are written for right-handed golfers.

A lot of players who strengthen their grip create an extended, or “cupped,” left wrist position at the top of the swing. That’s because when you make the grip stronger, you extend or “cup” the left wrist from the start. In any case, a cupped left wrist at the top of the swing starts the club down steeply during the transition, which means that the club will be in a more vertical position as it moves toward the ball. That action actually OPENS the face.

Notice the accentuated "cup" in this golfer's left wrist.

Notice the accentuated “cup” in this golfer’s left wrist.

Yes, there are great players who cup the left wrist at the top of the swing and then move the right elbow forward enough in the downswing to lower the shaft back onto a functional plane — that’s exactly what Ben Hogan did — but I’m describing MOST golfers, and they don’t have Tour skills.

We know that when the center of mass of the club (a spot a few inches above the hosel) gets above the hand path, it is really difficult to square the face, and invariably this is what happens when the club starts down very steeply. From that position, there is a strong opening effect on the face, which defeats the purpose of the strong grip in the first place.  

It is true that the strong grip closes the face to the back of the top hand, but the action it promotes often causes the opposite effect. That is why I rarely strengthen grips for slicers who are slicing from being too steep. If you are trying to get the club to come in on a lower vertical swing plane, which means it will be flatter into the golf ball, I DO NOT recommend strengthening your grip if you’re slicing or hitting weak fades.

The other problem with a strong grip is that when the downswing starts down quite vertically, most golfers will react to that steep position in one of these ways:

  • Shortening the lead-arm radius (a.k.a. the chicken wing)
  • Raising the swing center (a.k.a. bailing out)
  • Reversing their weight shift (a.k.a. backing up)

Every one of those moves is the player’s way of trying to avoid hitting the ground too early. These “fat” shots are the tendency of golfers who get the shaft too vertical in the transition, which makes it very difficult to stay “in the shot.”

A strong left-hand grip can create a "blocking" motion at the bottom of the swing.

A strong left-hand grip can create a “blocking” action at the bottom of the swing.

Finally, if the stronger top-hand grip does succeed in creating a closed club face, it often creates a “blocking action” at the bottom of the swing. Golfers do this to keep shots from going left, and use a hanging-back motion to give the club face some loft so they can hit it higher. This is the classic move of a “shut-to-open” player, who usually suffers severe toe hits in the process.

I’m not suggesting that golfers can’t play with stronger grips: after all, some do it quite well. But if you’re slicing problem became more severe when you tried to strengthen your grip, I’m suggesting that the reasons above may be why. Regular readers of my articles know full well my definition of a good grip: One that squares the face! Different swings needs different grips and finding yours is one of the keys to better golf.

The Bottom Hand

Now for the bottom-hand grip on the club, which is the right hand for right-handed golfers. It is best in a fairly neutral position, with the “V” — which is formed by the right thumb and the index finger on the grip — pointed as far left as the chin and as far right as the right shoulder. Yes, there are always exceptions, but most players should stay in that range.

The "V" in this golfer's right-hand grip points between his chin and his right shoulder.

The “V” in this golfer’s right-hand grip points between his chin and his right shoulder.

One of the most obvious and immediate results of a bottom-hand grip that is too strong is a low, quick hook, also called a “quacker.” If you’re not getting the ball in the air very much and it’s diving low and to left, there’s a good chance that your right hand has turned too far under the club. A bottom-hand grip that is too strong is also easily the No. 1 cause of excessive club face rotation into impact.

There is much more to be said about the grip, but enough for now.

If you’d like me to analyze your swing, go to my Facebook page or contact me (dennisclarkgolf@gmail.com) about my online swing analysis program.

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Dennis Clark is a PGA Master Professional. Clark has taught the game of golf for more than 30 years to golfers all across the country, and is recognized as one of the leading teachers in the country by all the major golf publications. He is also is a seven-time PGA award winner who has earned the following distinctions: -- Teacher of the Year, Philadelphia Section PGA -- Teacher of the Year, Golfers Journal -- Top Teacher in Pennsylvania, Golf Magazine -- Top Teacher in Mid Atlantic Region, Golf Digest -- Earned PGA Advanced Specialty certification in Teaching/Coaching Golf -- Achieved Master Professional Status (held by less than 2 percent of PGA members) -- PGA Merchandiser of the Year, Tri State Section PGA -- Golf Professional of the Year, Tri State Section PGA -- Presidents Plaque Award for Promotion and Growth of the Game of Golf -- Junior Golf Leader, Tri State section PGA -- Served on Tri State PGA Board of Directors. Clark is also former Director of Golf and Instruction at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort. He now directs his own school, The Dennis Clark Golf Academy at the JW Marriott Marco Island in Naples, Fla.. He can be reached at dennisclarkgolf@gmail.com

34 Comments

34 Comments

  1. miquel

    May 24, 2018 at 11:29 pm

    Thanks for the informative article. I am guilty of the strong right hand, and most of the faults you mention. I will work on the grip asap.

  2. Andy

    Sep 15, 2016 at 8:36 pm

    Totally agree with all of this. I’m a caddie and I’m constantly trying to fix peoples grips because they come in way too steep with a strong grip and hit the ball terribly inconsistently. I’ve tried to get my grip to dead neutral and to see 3 knuckles on my right hand. It has gotten me much more shallow and taken my hands out of the swing in turn allowing me to use more of my body in turn allowing me to gain more distance.

  3. Dennis Clark

    Aug 19, 2015 at 5:17 pm

    Yes it might help

  4. David

    Aug 18, 2015 at 6:43 pm

    Would a weaker grip, for someone who has a strong grip and steep, flatten the down swing at all?

  5. Ryan S

    Aug 18, 2015 at 2:37 pm

    Dennis, you mentioned a strong grip leading to too steep a downswing and potentially an abbreviated follow through (chickenwing). I believe this is my problem – any thoughts on how to remedy? I can’t seem to consistently follow through (almost to the point where i’m stuck inside and under the plane). Thanks in advance!

    • Dennis Clark

      Aug 19, 2015 at 5:20 pm

      the chicken wing is usually a reaction to something…it might be a steep transition or a very early release…id have to see it really

  6. Shawn Lavin

    Aug 17, 2015 at 10:04 am

    Dennis, can’t believe I stumbled upon this article. We were paired together in the PA Open years ago at Nemacolin. I think that my strong grip leads to crossing the line, then over the top in transition. But instead of staying over plane, i lay the shaft down, then use too much hand action to square it. Works most of the time, but in competition it can be unpredictable and ball flight gets lower.

  7. Fabian Lozano

    Aug 17, 2015 at 4:53 am

    The strong grip has jothing to do with low hooks. In fact with an stronger grip you can square the clubface earlier reducing ROC (Rate Of Closure) during impact zone resulting in straingther shots.

    Is a bad release that causes hooking by a clubface closing at impact. If you let your hands rolling or underflip then you can hit a low hook or high hook.

    But if you mantain a good release (left wrist supination-flexion / right wrist pronation- extension) Driving and Holding then you can hit straighter as ever.

    http://www.kelvinmiyahira.com/articles/articles-2/2011-articles/66-2011-09-pga-tour-grip-styles-part-2-continued

  8. Chuck

    Aug 15, 2015 at 6:47 pm

    Interesting stuff. I don’t have much of a comment on the substance, but I had a lesson recently with a nationally-known instructor; the head of instruction for one of the better-known golf schools in the world.

    And he worked on my grip right away, which I had always presumed was solid and book-neutral. He is definitely part of the new strong-grip thinking in golf instruction; such a thing really does exist. In my case, he thought it might help with me crossing the line at the top of the backswing, and it might get me back to a better position at impact. I like the teacher in question; he’s a genuinely good guy. But I am still mystfied by the (very!) strong grip insistence of some modern instructors.

    He mentioned to me; there are an increasing number of tour players going to stronger grips. I think he is right about that but I have no idea about how to quantify such a thing.

    • Dennis Clark

      Aug 15, 2015 at 10:08 pm

      Interesting comments Chuck…how r u hitting the ball with the new grip? I’m curious about stronger grip NOT crossing the line? It usually has the opposite effect.

  9. CT

    Aug 14, 2015 at 3:29 pm

    I have a question. My hands are on the smaller side and I notice that my right hand is always in a strong position because it does not sit well otherwise using the overlap grip. Anyway, I can grip my driver and hover the head above the ground, then let go with might right hand and the club twists a bit to the right (opening the face). I swing with an inside swing path and get hooks once in a while when I don’t turn hard through impact. I also block/push the ball once in a while, especially with my irons. I am not a steep angle of attack player, but I’m pretty sure I have some issues with my grip and release. Btw, a 10 finger grip allows my right hand to sit properly on the grip, but I cannot see myself playing with a baseball grip. Any thoughts?

    • Gubment Cheeze

      Aug 14, 2015 at 8:13 pm

      You just need a good swing thought
      I have/had the same problem
      my swing thought is to keep my index finger knuckle on my gloved hand pointing at 12 o’clock
      When I start under releasing again I think more towards 11 o’clock then or if your left handed 1 o’clock

      Maybe that helps

      • Gubment Cheeze

        Aug 14, 2015 at 8:15 pm

        You may need to do a little work on ball position also

    • Gubment Cheeze

      Aug 14, 2015 at 8:15 pm

      And work on more of a body release

    • Dennis Clark

      Aug 14, 2015 at 9:22 pm

      Butt diameter is the first thing you need to check. Small hands need thinner
      10 finger grip is perfectly OK. I HAVE A SCRATCH PLAYER USING IT.
      the face twisting open is a toe hit for sure.

  10. Robert

    Aug 14, 2015 at 12:43 pm

    This is interesting. I think if someones grip is weak, it’s ok to strengthen it. But I see your point. However, if someone had a strong grip, I would suggest that, at setup, they not cup their wrist like the example you have above.

    When I hit the ball my best it was with a very strong grip. However, I put a lot of shaft lean in at address so that I got rid of that awful cup wrist. That cupping can really hurt a swing.

    If you only strengthen your grip, but don’t adjust anything else, I agree that you will really make things worse. But if you adjust your wrist with the grip, you will hit low, piercing shots. And it actually becomes more difficult to hook the ball because it’s harder to flip your wrists over at impact.

    I’m not as strong as I used to be so I don’t do that anymore, but it was sweet to hit those low piercing shots back then. They were so consistent.

    • Dennis Clark

      Aug 14, 2015 at 9:07 pm

      Robert this is exactly correct. BUT…when you deloft you have effectively turned your 6 into a 5 iron AND the club goes much more inside and can get trapped behind the hands and can be laid off at the top. A lot of low hooks are the result of strong grip delofted to “appear” weaker. Also when you deloft significantly you have to careful of not aiming the face right and getting the golf ball too far back in the stanceI’ve never corrected anyone other than a quick fix with the deloft. But if it works for you, DO IT! A little is fine BTW. Thx

      • Robert

        Aug 14, 2015 at 11:25 pm

        Yeah, agreed. You shouldn’t do it without proper instruction on HOW to do it. I think we are on the same page here for sure. I’ve been playing for 27 years and every time I end up playing with someone that is new to the game I tell them, “You need to make sure you have a good grip and posture. Without those, it is impossible to have a consistently good swing. I’ve been playing for over 25 years and I STILL work on making sure my grip and posture are correct. And when they get off, I hit it bad.”

        I’ve seen too many people go get lessons and they work on the persons swing first instead of the grip and posture. With a bad grip and posture, if you hit a good shot, it’s luck. With a good grip and posture, it makes it hard to hit terrible shots.

  11. mo

    Aug 14, 2015 at 1:15 am

    That looks exactly like my grip and I definitely don’t have open face issues. My misses are pulls and hooks.

    • Andy

      Aug 14, 2015 at 2:37 pm

      Probably because the face is open and you snap it shut right at impact.

  12. James Saylor

    Aug 13, 2015 at 10:07 pm

    Nice article. But make no mistake a stronger grip can help some golfers

  13. Jeff*

    Aug 13, 2015 at 8:58 pm

    Dennis, would you write an article called, what it means to play with a “shut face,” especially if DJ is gonna contend in another major, I’d really like a better understanding of that term.

  14. Dennis Clark

    Aug 13, 2015 at 8:38 pm

    Id have to know your ball flight, skill level and shot tendencies.

  15. Joe D

    Aug 13, 2015 at 8:11 pm

    Wow…you described me to a T. Although I am left handed it obviously makes sense. One thought though, my left hand, which is dominant….just doesn’t feel right in the neutral position. It feels weak.
    I feel more power with my left hand(lower hand) under the club slightly. Any suggestions for the downswing with this grip? Thanks Dennis.

  16. Dennis Clark

    Aug 13, 2015 at 6:21 pm

    make no mistake a stronger grip can help some golfers. What Im saying here is that if you fight steep in your swing, stronger may not be the way to go. Who it can help is some players who play slightly from outside or players who “lag” the club late into impact. Thx

  17. new-spanishfly

    Aug 13, 2015 at 5:05 pm

    Wonderful iteems from you, man. I’ve understand your stuff prior
    tto and you’re just extremey fantastic. I really like what you
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    stating andd the way in which in which you are saying it.
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  18. Jim Jaworski

    Aug 13, 2015 at 4:45 pm

    This is a very interesting article since I recently changed my neutral grip to a stronger grip at the advice of my teaching pro. I was fading and slicing my shots previously. I still hit some big push fades and slices with this grip.
    My big issue is a sore left pinky finger after making this grip change. Any thoughts on that?

    • JP

      Aug 14, 2015 at 4:29 am

      try bigger grips. helped my friend. just too much movement in the hands.

  19. Hawk

    Aug 13, 2015 at 12:57 pm

    I always like reading grip articles but they always miss a piece and that is the clubface when gripping the club. I have used a strong grip, looked exactly like that in the picture. However; I had a closed face when gripping the club. At address it looked square, and the result was slightly more forward shaft lean. I had 0 issues with keeping it straight and never had an issue with the face opening, only because I griped the club with a closed face already.

  20. Dennis Clark

    Aug 13, 2015 at 12:08 pm

    it really has to start with a flat left wrist, and a lower body drive at the golf ball. hitting balls on a side hill is great drill…

  21. Bill S

    Aug 13, 2015 at 11:32 am

    Very clever article! In the past years, my grip have become imperceptibly stronger and stronger, months after months. And then I had to deal with with left cupped wrist at the top which caused me big issues. Finally, wanted to work to have a flatter wrist at the top, I came to conclusion that I should go with a weaker grip and it’s much better.

  22. JustTrying2BAwesome

    Aug 13, 2015 at 10:33 am

    Great article! This really hits home in my complete inability to square the face. I’ve tried everything, including a stronger than strong grip, without success. I know one of my (probably many) problems is I can’t get the club head in the slot or below my hand path in the downswing. It’s always above the hand plane (is that a term???). I just can’t see in my minds eye how a club face can be on or below the hand plane, still create lag, and square at impact. Thinking about those effects in the swing I imagine a club face can ONLY be wide open, almost parallel to the target line. If I can’t envision it, it’ll never happen.

    Do you have any drills or suggestions on how to keep the path of the club head on or below the plane of the hands through the downswing?

  23. Greg V

    Aug 13, 2015 at 10:14 am

    Interesting article. I never associated my slightly vertical downswing with a cupped left wrist.

    Good stuff, Dennis.

  24. Alex T

    Aug 13, 2015 at 9:17 am

    Excellent article! I always thought of my grip as one contiguous thing, but actually seeing it broken down into a right and left hand grip has made me realise that, yes I have a strong left hand and yes I have a cupped left wrist, but actually my bad shots are caused by my right hand being too strong (quackers, as per the article). Often on a tee box if I feel less than confident over the ball or that I want to hit it a bit harder I’ll inadvertently strengthen my right hand, not because of any swing intent but because I feel more comfortable that way, and that’s causing the duck hook. One more habit to ditch, I guess. Fantastic article Dennis!

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