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Top of the backswing: Cupped, bowed or flat?

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Should a golfer have a cupped, bowed, or flat left wrist position at the top of swing? The answer is it doesn’t matter.

Now that’s not 100 percent true, but I will explain why you shouldn’t be paying attention to the left wrist at the top of the swing (for a right handed golfer). If you look at the best players in the world, you will see some large variations in left wrist positions at the top of the swing. This is because they all have different grips. So you ask, “If we aren’t supposed to pay attention to the left wrist at the top of the swing, what are we supposed to be working toward?”

When we get into wrist conditions at the top of the swing, we can keep it simple by looking at the right wrist. In order to have a forward leaning shaft at impact and take a divot after the ball the right wrist must be bent backwards. If you want the right wrist bent backwards at impact, common sense would tell you that you want to create this backward bend in the right wrist in the backswing. If your right wrist is not bent at the top of the backswing it will be much harder to create this bend on the downswing, and even harder to do it consistently.  Let’s look at a couple tour players at the top of the swing at see where they differ and where they are similar.

        
[Above, from left to right: Nick Faldo (cupped), Tiger Woods (flat) and Dustin Johnson (bowed)]

If we look at these three swings we see players on every end of the spectrum; cupped, flat, and very bowed. While these three players look quite different at the top of the swing in many respects they all have a very similar amount of right wrist bend at the top of the swing. The stronger your left hand is in relation to your right hand the more cupped the left wrist will appear when your right wrist is bent backwards.  If your left hand is weaker than your right hand the left wrist will appear bowed when your right wrist is bent at the top of the swing.

For the majority of golfers who struggle to get shaft lean and slice the ball the left hand grip is weaker than the right hand. So when this right wrist bend is created, it makes the left wrist bowed which feels both awkward and wrong.  For many golfers, creating this right wrist bend will make the club face feel very closed, almost like it is facing the ground.  This is to be expected and is a good thing, because if the clubface is too open on the downswing you will never have forward shaft lean.

The secondary benefit of right wrist bend is it helps shallow out angle of attack and helps shallow out the plane angle making it easier to get path inside out for the average golfer. So in summary, the correct left wrist position at the top of the swing is whichever one that results from having your right wrist bent at the top of the swing. This will vary based on how you grip the club and for many will make the club feel more closed during the backswing.

As a drill I suggest hitting 3/4 punch shots where golfers focus on creating a bent right wrist in the backswing and then thumping the ground after the ball. Hopefully this leads to more solid contact and shorter putts.

Click here for more discussion in the “Instruction & Academy” forum. 

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I currently teach at Hidden Hills Country Club in Jacksonville, Fla. I began teaching golf in 2001 and have had PGA Tour teaching credentials since 2009. I have been lucky enough to work with players on the PGA, Web.com, LPGA and Symetra tours as well as top amateur and collegiate golfers, including multiple NCAA national champions. I've had two students in the last two years graduate from the Web.com Tour to the PGA Tour. I am constantly trying to push myself to learn as much as possible about golf and many other areas of life.

12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. Tom

    Nov 17, 2016 at 1:23 pm

    Yup, dump! Lol

  2. Jerry Noble

    Jan 7, 2016 at 9:58 pm

    If you are a bogey golfer then you have more problems than your wrist

  3. Sebastien

    May 20, 2015 at 3:54 am

    Ben Hogan was cupped at the top and then released it in transition to bowed, it takes ages to learn (3 months), Sergio Garcia is flat at the top and bows at transition also, bowing the wrist at some point in the downswing leads to an impact that is indescribable like Moe Norman’s feeling of greatness.P.S. that top picture is Ernie Ella. Regards.

    • ed

      May 24, 2015 at 12:24 pm

      Spot on. I recently just viewed a video of how Ben Hogan would basically manually bow his wrist at the peak of the back swing. I am trying to keep my wrist bowed from the get go (kind of like Dustin Johnson). At some point in order to create lag your wrist is going to have to bow. No way around it. I think the negative connotation from the bowing comes from golfer’s who do not leverage their forward momentum correctly which will eventually square the club face to the ball. Of course if your club is coming around faster than your body the club face will be angled inwards which creates a hook. It’s all about the timing. I used to cup my wrists when I first starting playing…and there are definitely no benefits at all to this. That will lead to scooping the ball in order to attempt to get the club face around.

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  5. heath

    Jan 22, 2014 at 8:56 am

    forget about what your wrist “looks” like at the top…i cup my wrist at the top and i hit it further than anyone at my club, it’s where all my power comes from, i also have no problem hitting a draw with a fairly neutral grip while doing it. this exercise of trying to unnaturally flatten your left wrist at the top of the swing so you can look good is a load of toss

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  7. Aaron Johnston

    May 30, 2013 at 9:08 pm

    I’m much more in favour of the flat left wrist simply because at the top of the backswing it looks more natural and you can focus on a flat left wrist easier thank a bent right wrist.

    To hit the ball solid, its all down to not hinging the wrists on the downswing along with keeping that shape you had at the top of the backswing, until you reach waist height and starting to rotate the forearms aiming for your left wrist to be facing the target line.

    Nice article, though I’m not sure about the right wrist drill.

  8. mike d

    Mar 26, 2013 at 10:54 am

    Brilliantly said dan…most address swing problems from the outside in. The game should be taught from the inside out, ground up.

  9. Sara

    Dec 11, 2012 at 5:07 pm

    Very nice, Dan!

  10. ben

    Nov 21, 2012 at 8:50 pm

    Whatever works for each individual, its the right way. To me the flat wrist to me is the most simple and gets the club on plane better and a better position at the top without compensations.

  11. David

    Nov 17, 2012 at 4:14 pm

    I’m sure this is all true. All I know is what works for me. If I don’t have my wrist flat, I’m hitting a bad shot.
    I’m not gonna’ work on it any more as I’m just a bogie golfer and kinda’ satisfied with that. If I were to be a 10 handicap golfer, maybe, but, I’m fat, dump and happy 🙂

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Instruction

The 3 different levels of golf practice

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“I would have practiced as hard, but I would have made my practice more meaningful. I would have worked more on my short game and putting. I would’ve done a lot more drills to make the practice more meaningful, and I would’ve added pressure to the practice as much as possible.” — Lee Westwood

Now here’s the rub. Practice is not monolithic! I approach practice as having three different, distinctive and separate curriculum and criteria.

  • Level 1: Basic
  • Level 2: Advanced
  • Level 3: Extreme

Basic Practice (Level 1) by definition is “repeated exercise in or performance of an activity or skill so as to acquire or maintain proficiency in it.” Basically, it’s doing the same thing over and over again to get better at it. My favorite skill that requires practice is the 76-yard “flighted wedge.” I do it, and I recommend it be done at every range practice session. Additionally, I identify and then practice as many different “skills” that are required to hit different golf shots. I have found that a non-pressurized environment is the best way to practice in a basic model.

It goes without saying that golf is not played in a pressure-free environment, so basic practice doesn’t help us play golf. The prime objective of Level 2 Practice (Advanced Training) is to take what you do in Basic Practice to the golf course.

First, create on-course situations that require you to hit the shots you have practiced. There should be rewards for demonstrations of competence, and there should be consequences for demonstrations of incompetence

“When you practice, try to find a situation to fit the shot you’re trying to practice.” — Ben Hogan

For example, a major problem is the unevenness of the lies you will encounter during play as opposed to the lies you used for your drills. From marginal to extreme, lies are difficult to replicate on the practice tee. So, play a round of golf and move the ball into the most undesirable lie that is very close to where you are.

Another example would be duplicating the creativity that is sometimes required during actual play. The prime example of that would be the sensation of “being in-between clubs.” I would suggest that you play an occasional round of golf using only half of your clubs. Take two wedges instead of four. Take only the “odd” or “even” numbered irons. Look at not taking the driver, or not taking all of your fairway clubs. I have not taken my putter, which forced me putt with my sand wedge!

A third example would be to play a round of golf and deliberately miss every green in regulation. Should your ball accidentally finish on the green in regulation just move it off into the rough, a bunker or whatever else could use the extra attention. You can create games where your opponent moves your ball off the green into something that would be advantageous to him.

Level 2 Practice is conducted on the practice ground as well as on the course. What I do and recommend is to take each of the shots, skills and drills used in Level 1 and add some accountability to the range experience. I have my students and clients use a “Practice Book” to schedule activities and to keep track of improvement.

Author Note: I will send you a sample practice book page that many of my players actually use. Request it at edmyersgolf@gmail.com.

Please be advised that Level 2 Practice can feature games, wagering or other forms of friendly competitions because they should only activate the lesser emotions of irritation, annoyance, anticipation, anxiousness, joy, pleasure and disappointment. Dealing with these feelings in practice will help you recognize and deal with the minor stresses experienced by most recreational golfers.

Stress is the major cause of “CHOKING.”

Stress, by definition “is a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.” Stress can ruin our ability to perform when we experience the major emotions such as fear, anger, shame, humiliation, euphoria, ridicule, betrayal, doubt and/or disbelief.

Level 3 Practice (Extreme Preparation) is on-course training sessions best suited for very serious competitive golfers. The more a player is able to compete in a simulated or controlled environment that accurately replicates the actual “pressures” that produce the kind of stresses that can effect performance, the better the player will perform when stressed in actual tournaments or events. Please be advised that Extreme Practice DOES NOT feature games, gambling or “friendly” competitions. They don’t control the conditions of play sufficiently to replicate the type of pressure that would induce “stress.”

“Simulation, which  is a technique (not a technology) to replace and amplify real experiences with guided ones, often “immersive” in nature, that evoke or replicate substantial aspects of the real world in a fully interactive fashion.” For many years now, the medical profession has used simulations to train doctors, the military has used simulations to prepare troops for the realities of the battlefield and aviation has used simulators to train pilots. Simulating has the added benefits of being cost and time effective while producing verifiable results.

If it’s possible for airlines to replicate every possible scenario that a pilot could experience in the cockpit by using simulations, then why isn’t it possible to replicate situations, and subsequent emotional responses, that a competitive golfer could experience on the golf course? Let me give you an example of what I mean.

“I got nervous all the time, as nervous as the next guy. It’s just that I caught myself before it became destructive.” Jack Nicklaus

Recent events at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play gives us some evidence of the destructiveness of uncontrolled emotions. Justin Thomas said that he couldn’t get the thought out of his mind of becoming the No. 1-ranked player in the world should he defeat Bubba Watson in the semi-finals, which he failed to do.

“I haven’t had such a hard time not thinking about something so much,” Thomas said. “And that really sucked. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, to be perfectly honest.”

Then there was Ian Poulter being told that with his win over Louis Oosthuizen he had earned a spot in this years’ Masters tournament only to be told 10 minutes before his next match that he had not actually secured the coveted invitation. With elation, joy and satisfaction jerked away and replaced with disappointment, and possibly anger, the Englishman went out and got whipped by Kevin Kisner 8 & 6!

I concede that Justin Thomas’ and Ian Poulter’s situations were so unique that simulation-based practice and preparation techniques may not have been available to them, but now they both must know that their performance was effected negatively by mental stresses. And with that knowledge they may want to get tougher mentally. Level 3 Practice does that!

Not all that long ago, I was approached by a PGA Tour veteran for some on-course, one-on-one training. He was experiencing severe “choking” in pressurized short-game situations. So I took him out on the course and we replicated the exact shots he had problems with in the past. He demonstrated that he could perform each and every shot in a stress-free environment. We went into a “low-stress” training environment and his performance began to suffer. Then, at his urging to get “real,” we went into a “high-stress” practice mode and he melted down. Without going into details, he became so angry that not only couldn’t he hit golf shots, he tried to run me down with the golf cart as he retreated to the safety of his car.

Now, that’s not the end of the story. A few hours later, after some soul searching, he apologized for his lack of self-control and acknowledged that he had recognized the early signs of stress growing internally as we worked. We went back out onto the course and got back to work.

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Winning Ways: Here’s what it takes to become a winner in Junior Girls golf

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Every competitive golfer strives to win, and I want to help them achieve their goals. Recently, I wrote a story highlighting the statistics behind winning in junior boys golf, and how they can do it more often. Now, we set out to examine the data on winning in junior girls golf, and provide ways they can improve. The data is based on an analysis of tournament results from all events during the 2017 year from the Junior Tour of Northern California. We then asked stats guru, Peter Sanders, Founder of ShotByShot.com, to provide the stats related to the winning scoring numbers that we found. Finally, we discuss ways that juniors can practice building skills and work towards becoming tournament winners.

The Winning Scores

In 2017 the Junior Tour of Northern California held 26 tournaments with 850+ members. According to our data collection based on information available on the website, the average girl’s tournament course measured 6145 yards. The average winning score for girls was 146 (36 holes), or 73 per round. Ten of the 22 tournaments where won with scores of 144 or better and the low 36 holes total was a whopping 133! In the data collection we also collected the average 10th place scores girls. The average 10th place score for girls was 159 or 79.5.

The Winning Stats

We provided the numbers to statistics expert Peter Sanders. Peter’s company has been providing Strokes Gained analysis for golfers for the last 29 years. Peter is the founder of ShotByShot.com, a website that provides golfers at all levels with Strokes Gained analysis, pinpoints specific strengths and weaknesses and highlights improvement priorities. Since the launch of ShotByShot.com in 2005, Peter has collected over 317,000 rounds. Accordingly, Peter has agreed to share the numbers, below, for a typical female player who averages 73. There are two important points to consider when reviewing these statistics:

  1. In order to have a complete picture of the puzzle that is golf, one must consider the ERRORS, or lack thereof, that play such an important role in scoring at every level. Even the 650+ PGA Tour stats ignore these important miscues. Shot By Shot has included them in their analysis from the beginning and they are highlighted in the infographics below.
  2. The data provided represents only tournament rounds. As such it will primarily represent the high school and college programs that use ShotbyShot.com

Infographics Created by Alexis Bennett

The Winning Preparation

Junior girls are encouraged to use these stats as a benchmark against their own performance to determine where they might need to improve against the “typical 73 player.” After identifying gaps in their game, they can then create practice plans to help improve. For example, a junior might notice they have more 3-putts than the model. To improve, they could work put more time into practice, as well as playing games on the golf course like draw-back and 2-putt.

  • Drawback is a game where after your first putt, you draw the second putt one putter length away from the hole. This often changes a shorter putt (> 2 feet) to a putt of between 3.5 – 5 feet. This putts significantly more pressure on your putting.
  • You may also play Two-Putt, a game where when you reach the green, you (or your playing competitor) tosses the ball away from the hole. You must 2-putt from that spot to move to the next hole (even if it takes a couple attempts!).

Others reading this article might find that they don’t hit enough greens. Improving this area will require more consistent strikes, which may require further technical development and block practice, as well as working on the golf course. To start, I would recommend that every junior implement the yardage rule. The yardage rule works like this; figure out the distance to the very back of the green. For example, this number may be 157. Then figure out what club ALWAYS flies 157, which might be 6-iron. Then choose 7-iron for the shot. This way your best shot will not fly the green, your average shot will likely be in the middle of the green and your less-than-perfect shot will hopefully end up on the front of the green.

During practice rounds, play competitive games with yourself to sharpen your ability to hit greens. For example, if you normally hit 7 greens per round, in practice your goal might be 9. You would track your results over a month and then see your progress.

Beyond building individual skills, like hitting greens or working on putting, junior golfers need times to play competitive rounds on their home golf courses. Ideally, these rounds are played against other people with similar skills and done under tournament like conditions with consequences (loser buys winner a coke or cleans their golf clubs). Playing hundreds of rounds at your home golf course under these conditions gives you a unique opportunity to sharpen your game, learn your tendencies and build skills such as endurance and mental toughness. Most importantly, it teaches you to win and shoot under par!

Please also keep in mind building these skills may take months (or even years). In my own personal experience, when I set out to improve my birdies per round, it took nearly 4 months and 75+ rounds and significant practice to begin to see a change. Depending on your schedule and access to resources like a golf course and instructor, some changes might take a year or more. Regardless, don’t ever worry; building a solid foundation in golf will always lead to rewards!

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PNF Drills: How To Turn Onto The Golf Ball

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In this video, I share a great drill to help you turn onto the ball. This will help you rotate through impact.

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