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The important relationship between your lead wrist and the club face

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The most important part of any golf swing is the club face. You can do everything right in your golf swing, but get the club-face positioning wrong and you have a flawed swing. After all, the definition of a good swing is simply one that can control the club face, period. So the question we need to ask is simply this: What controls the club face?

Any discussion of the club face has to begin with the grip. A good grip is one that controls the face by being compatible with your swing. Does it match “your action?” Any teaching pro should begin there. I’ve helped a lot of golfers simply by having them hold the club a little differently. We could discuss grips all day and still not say enough about them, but for purposes of this article, I’ll leave it at this: see your pro and be sure your grip is functional for you.

Flat/Neutral Left Wrist Position

Dennis_Clark_Flat

The thing I’d like to explain this time is keeping your grip throughout your swing. For example, if you start with what I’ll call a neutral grip, your lead wrist (left for right-handed golfers) will be fairly flat, or perhaps slightly cupped if your grip is strong. If it stays that way throughout the swing, you’ll maintain the face angle. But if it cups, or dorsiflexes, you have just opened the face relative to its starting position. The same can be said of bowing your wrist, which closes the club face.

The lead wrist IS the club face in golf. I have seen more problems caused by cupping the wrist than almost any other swing flaw. As soon as the the wrist cups, you have opened the face, steepened your swing and added loft to the shot.

Cupped Left Wrist Position

Dennis_Clark_Cupped_Feat

Try this as soon as you can: get in front of a full length mirror with a golf club, move to the top of your swing, and observe the club face. Now simply cup (bend back, dorsiflex) the left wrist. Look at the club face now; it’s considerably more open than it was. Now start your downswing, and check the incline of the club. If the wrist is cupped, the club is pointing straight at the ground, and it is considerably more open than it was it address.

Bowing, or flexing the wrist has just the opposite effect. It is much more uncommon and, in my opinion, not as destructive because it slightly flattens plane and even de-lofts the face a bit — not a bad idea for most to initiate the downswing.

Bowed Left Wrist Position

Dennis_Clark_Bowed

The other position you’ll notice is this: when you cup the wrist, you have effectively moved the handle of the club well behind the face (lofted it). Do the same exercise you did a minute ago: stand up at address and simply cup your lead wrist. Where did the handle go in relation to the head? BEHIND IT! If this position does not change in the downswing, and for many it does NOT, you have little to no ability to hit DOWN on a golf ball. It would be a perfectly good position for a greenside bunker shot, but not a shot off the grass.

As many of you have heard me say so often on GolfWRX, if you want to make a change, you have to go practice something 180-degrees differently than you’re doing it now. Exaggeration is the key to change, rarely modification. So if you discover that you’re cupped at the top, or worst of all, coming down, and you want to square that face, you’ll need to practice serious flexion, or bowing of the lead wrist.  

Beacuse golf is such an individual game, some will actually cup the wrist or bow it to open or close the club face in their backswing. So when we discuss grip as a fundamental in the golf swing, it is just that. But if and only if you can maintain that position throughout your swing.

If you’re interested in my online swing analysis program, click here for more info, or contact me on Facebook.

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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

13 Comments

13 Comments

  1. Greg

    Aug 3, 2016 at 12:10 pm

    I’ve never believed in a flat wrist at the top is best. slightly cupped is IMHO is the best position. It’s a more powerful position. Just like hammering a nail.If i grab a hammer and begin nailing, my wrist is cupped,not flat. Its due to the natural hinging of the wrist. Just my 3 cents. There is no right or wrong way to do this. There are a thousand different ways to swing a golf club. We as a golfer must understand our own swing and learn from it.

    • dennis clark

      Aug 3, 2016 at 12:20 pm

      no question the hinging (cocking) and unhinging is easier and more powerful when cupped (dorsiflex) And a slightly stronger than neutral grip has the hand in this position. But…the problem occurs with the face. its easier to cock the wrist if its cupped but it DOES have an opening effect on the face AND begin the downswing too steeply. Fine line like most things. My swing cups too much coming down and I fight right because of it. Thx

  2. Bobalu

    Aug 3, 2016 at 10:08 am

    Good article Dennis…however, I really wish that we could transition to more GolfWRX instruction videos rather than written articles. For swing instruction it is so much easier to learn motion, position, and exaggeration moves by video. Written golf magazine instruction articles are now supplementing with direct links to video using apps. GolfWRX on a computer is perfect for direct audio-video learning, and I would think that this is much more effective way to learn for most golfers. Some articles are still perfect for the written media- reviews, golf stories, image rich pieces, etc, but swing instruction is just tailor made for video. My 2 cents.

    • Dennis Clark

      Aug 3, 2016 at 11:51 am

      I agree. good idea Bobalu, and I think we are doing some of that. I may do that for this one…

  3. sprcoop

    Aug 2, 2016 at 11:50 am

    Dennis, I have found that going to the top cupped, then consciously bowing in the transition flattens the club and keeps my swing/transition dynamic. I tried jut setting the wrist bowed at the top and maintaining but lost the feel in transition and was unsure of face angle at impact and became inconsistent. Bowing in transition seems easier to maintain face angle through the hitting area. I know it sounds like it would be more consistent to just bow at the top and keep it that way (that was my thinking) but it didn’t work out that way for me. Any thoughts on going from cupped to bowed in transition?

    • Dennis Clark

      Aug 2, 2016 at 2:56 pm

      Well i think what you’re doing is great. Bowing in transition, does “re-plane” the swing and is ideal. If that is working, definitely stay with it. The opposite of that is what causes most problems….

    • Conor

      Aug 4, 2016 at 3:36 pm

      I think this is similar to what Hogan preached. I try to have a bowed wrist at impact in order to press the ball a little more. For me, that was probably the most important lesson in Hogan’s book. It can lead to hooking the ball, if you get too handsy, but it’s much better than leaving club face open and shooting it right.

  4. Not Scratch

    Aug 2, 2016 at 11:32 am

    Yes having no gap in the v’s. Instead of putting my right thumb and index finger over touching like so many do I tried to place it the other way to create a wrist angle at address. Seems to work but I hope to find a better way

  5. Bill Wood

    Aug 2, 2016 at 11:02 am

    Dennis – I understand that. But how do we get there. What excercise can we do. Many thanks.

    • Dennis clark

      Aug 2, 2016 at 11:37 am

      SKLZ Smart glove is fairly effecive. Making backswings cross handed is another way to feel a flatter wrist. I also like a headcover tucked under right arm pit IF a flying elbow is causing the wrist to cup.

    • Dennis Clark

      Aug 2, 2016 at 2:57 pm

      i don’t like to recommend drills sight unseen, but if you send me a video, I’ll take a look at it…

  6. Not Scratch

    Aug 2, 2016 at 10:47 am

    Thanks you for this great stuff. How important are the v’s in the golf grip. Also I have been trying to keep v’s on both hands tight so I can hold my right wrist angle. Does this make sense. Any tips for holding the right wrist bent

    • Dennis Clark

      Aug 2, 2016 at 10:55 am

      well everyone’s Vs are slightly different, stronger, weaker grips etc. Right wrist bend is significant for hitting down on the golf ball and controlling the face. You do not want to lose the angle of the right wrist too soon OR too late. By “Tight”you mean no gap between index knuckle and thumb?

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Champ or choker? 5 ways to keep from being the latter

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Golf can be a lonely game. Rarely in sports are you more on an island while battling fears, doubts, and inner demons in the effort not to choke — especially on the biggest stages. But even if we’ve never been a champ, or played in a major championship, we’ve all been there, battling those same demons, and that’s why most of us can relate so well with some of golf’s most infamous chokes.

The pinnacle of these ignoble events was likely on the final hole at Carnoustie, in the ‘99 British Open, when Jean Van de Velde gave up a three-shot lead in a tragic comedy of bad shots (and even worse judgment), a scene that saw him take off his shoes and socks and wade deep into the Barry Burn before finally coming to his senses. Van de Velde ultimately lost in a playoff to Paul Lawrie, earning his place in golfing infamy, but when it comes to choking away victory on the biggest stage, he certainly wasn’t alone.

In the 1966 U.S. Open at Olympic Club, Arnold Palmer lost a seven-shot lead to Billy Casper on the final nine holes. Ed Sneed blew a five-shot lead on the final day of the ’79 Masters that was a three-shot lead with three to play by missing very short putts on each of the last three holes. Greg Norman’s infamous collapse at the 1996 Masters should be counted as well, when he threw away a six-shot lead with an atrocious 78 on the final day, allowing Nick Faldo to win.

And the champions of this generation haven’t proven immune either. Rory McIlroy coughed up a four-shot lead on the final day at Augusta in the 2011 Masters, ultimately carding an 80. And Dustin Johnson has a hat trick of tight-collar escapades in majors, losing the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach by shooting a final-round 78 after starting with a three-shot lead, and the 2010 PGA by committing a rules violation when he had the lead on the final hole, and the 2015 U.S. Open to Jordan Spieth when he three-putted the final hole from just 15 feet. And speaking of Spieth, his final round collapse at Amen Corner on the back nine at the 2016 Masters, when he gave up a five-shot lead by going bogey-bogey-quadruple-bogey after putting two balls in the water at the dreaded 12th, is how that year’s event will forever be remembered.

Now golfers aren’t alone when it comes to choking. Athletes in nearly every sport fear it, suffer from it, and work their entire careers to avoid being associated with it. It wouldn’t be too far a stretch to say that a large percentage of athletes would rather be known as a cheat, a thief, and a liar before being known as a choker. Our sports culture reveres the clutch athlete, the player who can handle the biggest moments on the biggest stage and rise to the occasion time and again. And possibly because most of us can’t, we look up to those who can handle those pressure-packed situations like almost no other. And we cast aspersions upon those who can’t, labeling some who’ve done it even once as chokers, and those who have a habit of self-sabotage as choke artists. We are fascinated by those who can succeed in the spotlight, and, as sports fans, frustrated by those who wither when the lights are brightest. And the awareness of this is so pervasive that avoiding having to wear the choker label can arguably be in and of itself the greatest pressure.

As a result of this preoccupation with choking, scientists have studied it quite a bit. And some are finally beginning to identify its causes and how to avoid it. And while it sounds like a gross oversimplification, much of this study seems to conclude that choking ultimately comes down to simply this… Thinking too much. When athletes get nervous about their performance they stop doing whatever it is they do instinctively and essentially fall into the trap of trying not to make mistakes. They begin to desperately try and control whatever the necessary motions they need to make to a higher degree than normal and, in the process, the fluidity of those motions is lost along with their grace and talent.

Now that’s a layman’s description of what happens, but let’s use putting to explain what’s going on a little more scientifically. When people first learn to putt, they have numerous things to consider. They need to assess the break of the green, what line they will use, and at what speed they will need to roll the ball in order for it follow their intended path. They must also ensure their stroke is not only straight enough to send the ball upon the intended line, but the right size so that it rolls it at the intended speed. For a new golfer, this is more than challenging enough to require the majority of their focus and attention, and at first this necessary. By focusing on their stroke mechanics, as well as the other necessary elements they are trying accomplish, they can avoid mistakes and make better putts.

Once they’ve played for a while, though, and possess the requisite skill to putt, everything changes. Analyzing the stroke at this point is wasted mental energy as the brain almost automatically computes the necessary break and speed needed for a successful putt. Complex learned motor skills like putting are controlled by the cerebellum, and trying to consciously control these skills shifts control to the slower, more deliberate prefrontal cortex, causing a performance drop. If you look at the brain waves of athletes during performance, those of beginners tend to have erratic dips and spikes as well as wildly inconsistent rhythm, the neural signature of a mind engaging in conscious thought. By contrast, expert athletes’ minds look almost eerily serene, showcasing a mental tranquility that ignores disruption or interruption from the outside world, highlighting the fact that in optimal performance those who succeed essentially don’t think, they just do.

This is why studies show that experienced golfers who are forced to think about technique hit significantly worse shots. Once our technique is embedded we instead want to rely on the automatic brain. Conscious thought essentially erases years of practice, and this is what often happens when athletes start to choke. They begin to second-guess their skill, and the part of the brain that monitors their behavior begins to interfere with the types of actions that are normally made without thinking. Before long, performance spirals, as failures mount and increasing doubt about the ability to perform begin to rise.

So why are golfers so much more apt to choke than other athletes? Well, unlike most reactionary sports, we’ve unfortunately got a lot of available time to engage in all that unnecessary thinking. This means we have a proverbial minefield of potential mind-traps out there waiting for us to step on. But it doesn’t have to be that way. If we take cues from the available research, we can devise habits, routines, and strategies to help short-circuit the choking phenomenon, and potentially avoid becoming another Van de Velde the next time the chips are down.

  1. Practice Desired Outcome Focus – It’s essentially impossible (and a bad habit) to try and not do something. Telling yourself not to hit it left in the hazard, or to stay away from the bunker right is a really bad idea, and there are studies backing that up. Shift your focus instead to what your desired outcome is.
  2. Practice Positive Visualization – Positive visualization is a great tactic to use to avoid choking. Get in the habit of mentally rehearsing a positive image of the skill you want to perform, or better yet, a successful image of the shot you want to make like a high fade towards the tallest pine at the corner of the dogleg.
  3. Practice Implicit Learning – This is learning through observation, rather than the step-by-step instruction manual approach, and its practitioners have been observed in studies to be much less susceptible to choking than their overly analytical counterparts.
  4. Practice a Pre-Shot Routine – Players who have a disciplined performance routine that allows them to become engrossed in the process, shifting their mind away from too much outcome thinking, have also proven to be much less susceptible to choking.
  5. Embrace Distraction – Athletes asked to listen to sounds or words unrelated to the actions they are performing rarely show the type of drop-off in performance in high pressure situations than those who are actually focused on what they are doing. So, next time listen close to all those birds chirping, partners yakking, or clubs jangling with a welcoming ear, instead of an instinctive complaint.

While these practices can really help you start understanding what to do if you want to become an actual champ, learning a few lessons from the foibles of some of those would-be champs can be helpful as well. When Palmer melted down in ’66, it was because he got over-confident and began firing at pins in an attempt to break Ben Hogan’s Open scoring record. As things started to unravel, though, he got tight, surly, and uncharacteristically dour in the effort to get things under control.

When Norman’s bid for his first green jacket began to fall apart like the proverbial cheap suit, he too got tight, making one uncharacteristically poor decision (and swing) after another in attempt to get things under control. When Rory McIlroy collapsed, he approached the entire day of the final round differently then he did typically, thinking he needed to be more serious and stoic in his quest to nail down his first ever major and it backfired.

And for Van de Velde, the succession of agonizingly poor decisions, beginning essentially on the 18th tee of the final hole, was actually his attempt to not do anything different when common sense dictated he should have. When asked about it in an interview fifteen years later he said,

“What do you want me to say? I should have played it differently? I believe that…with what I do and the way that I do it, day in, day out… that I played it correctly. I hope that people learned that it’s a game and there’s bigger things in life. Winning with grace is pretty easy. Losing with it is a lot harder.”

Quite a profound statement form someone nearly unequally qualified in the game to make it. Bravo Jean. You may not have ended up a champ, but you certainly won’t find me calling you a choker.

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WATCH: How slow-motion training can lead to more power and consistency

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Eddie Fernandes has made big changes to his swing (and his power and consistency have gone up) by mastering the key moves in slow motion before he speeds them up. Everyone should use this kind of slow motion training to make real changes to their swing!

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WATCH: What you really need to know to control the direction of your shots

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In this video, Top-100 Teacher Tom Stickney shows you how to better control the direction of your shots by understanding how both the club face and swing path determine where your ball goes.

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