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The Pros and Cons of High vs Low Hands at the Top



As a full-time golf instructor for the last 27 years, I have seen a many swing theories come and go, but one thing has come full circle: hand position at the top of the swing.

When I was first starting out, golf was just coming out of the high-hands phase; from the Jack Nicklaus era and into the more-rounded swings of the Nick Faldo-era. And most recently, Brandel Chamblee has been a very sound advocate of teaching higher hands to the players of today, citing examples of Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson and Jason Day.

Here’s the Tweet that ignited the feud between him and Jason Dufner (a flat-swinger).

Personally, I have no issues with either swing method, but as always there are pros and cons for each depending on your level of coordination and handicap level. In this article, I would like to address these issues.

Here are the two basic hand positions we’re discussing as shown by my assistant: Higher Hands (more upright) and Lower Hands (flatter).

Now, as I’ve stated already, you can play well from both positions but it all depends on what you want as the player.

High Hands: Pros and Cons

• Club stays in the air longer and tends to produce more clubhead speed
• Players tend to stay more centered over the ball with higher hands
• Tends to produce higher trajectories and more spin
• Harder to control the club at the top and maintain the width of the arms
• Good for rear-knee straightening players
• Can cause a reverse weight shift if not controlled
• Easy to “fake” the shoulder turn and just lift the arms to the top
• Higher handicap players tend to come over-the-top from this position
• Harder on the back during the follow through
• Works well with taller players
• Feels more free and less restricted (think Payne Stewart)

Low Hands: Pros and Cons

• Players tend to have more arm width and lean over the right leg with this
position at the top
• The more rounded swing tends to be better with the longer clubs off the
ground for higher-handicap players
• More control from this position due to the lower clubhead speed
produced in general
• Works well with flexed rear knees and level hip turn players
• Easier to come from the inside for most players
• The club can easily get stuck going back or coming down since it is
already in a more rounded position
• Works well with shorter players, but requires more flexibility
• Easier to return the rear elbow and clubshaft through the ball effectively
• Can lead to an overly in-to-out path for better players
• Tougher on the shorter clubs

Now obviously you must choose for yourself which position works best for your game and what feels better to you. Enjoy the ride as there are no wrong answers!

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Tom F. Stickney II is the Director of Instruction at Combine Performance in Scottsdale, Arizona. He is a Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher, and has been honored as a Golf Digest Best Teacher and a Golf Tips Top-25 Instructor. Tom is also a Trackman University Master/Partner, a distinction held by less than 60 people in the world.



  1. SK

    Feb 6, 2018 at 7:38 pm

    High Hands: “Works well with taller players”.
    Low Hands: “Works well with shorter players, but requires more flexibility”.
    Both these observations fall into what was written in the golf swing book:
    The LAWs of the Golf Swing – Body Type Your Golf Swing and Master Your Game — Adams, Tomasi, Suttie
    The authors not only match golf swing mechanics with golfer’s body types, but also relate golf shaft loading profiles to body physique and technique.
    The LAWs acronym for Leverage/Arc/Width matches physique to technique PLUS a hybrid mix of body types.
    The LAWs book provides great detail into the physique/technique match-up. The authors claim that 2 out of 3 golfers are mismatched to their swing attempts.

  2. Sid

    Feb 6, 2018 at 12:05 pm

    Very insightful article that relates body physique to hand and plane positioning.
    In an old golf instruction book I read that tall golfers are better with their short irons due to their steep swing plane while shorter golfers were better with their long irons and flatter swing.
    I’m tall and I can confirm this pattern for tall golfers. My short game from 170 yards in is rather good while I struggle with my longer clubs particularly the driver. Curiously, my 4/5/7/9 fairways are good but not the 3-wood. Go figure.

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Your Body Is Your Most Important Piece Of Equipment; It’s Time For An Upgrade



Clubs, balls, shoes, mental training, lessons. Golfers are always searching for the next thing that is going to transform their game. If a product has promise, golfers are like addicts; they must have it… regardless of the price. What’s usually ignored, however, is the most important piece of equipment for all golfers: their body, and how their physical conditioning pertains to golf.

Everything becomes easier by getting in better “golf shape.” You will likely hit the ball farther, have better energy and focus, fewer aches and pains, improved ability to actually implement swing changes and the durability to practice more.

When trying to improve your physical conditioning for golf, it would shortsighted not to mention the following requirements:

  1. Discipline: There will be times you don’t want to train, but should.
  2. Patience: Small, incremental progress adds up to big improvement over time.
  3. A Path: Make sure you use your time and effort efficiently by having a training plan that matches your goals.

If you can adopt these principles, I am confident you will be very happy with the return — even more so than the latest driver, putter or practice aid.

I like to compare having a well functioning body to a painter’s blank canvas. By ensuring you have adequate coordination, motor control, mobility, stability, strength and speed, you have the basic tools necessary for a high-performance golf swing. Of course, you will still need to develop a functional technique and specific skill level that matches your goals. On the flip side, if you are deficient in these areas, you are like a dirty canvas; your options are limited and you will need to make compensations to achieve anything close to the desired outcome. In simpler terms, movements that are universally desirable in the golf swing may be very difficult or impossible for you based on your current physical state.

Earlier, I mentioned the term “appropriate training,” and now I am going to discuss one of the ways to identify what this means for you as a golfer trying to use physical training to support a better golf game. The TPI (Titleist Performance Institute) Movement Screen is a great start for everyone. It is a combination of 16 exercises that are used to assess your current movement capabilities, identify limitations and provide you with your “Body-Swing” connection. The “Body-Swing” connection is a term coined by TPI that illustrates the link between physical deficiencies and potential swing tendencies based on its “Big 12” model. The Big 12 swing characteristics that TPI has identified are as follows:

  1. S-Posture
  2. C-Posture
  3. Loss of Posture
  4. Flat Shoulder Plane
  5. Early Extension
  6. Over The Top
  7. Sway
  8. Slide
  9. Hanging Back
  10. Reverse Spine Angle
  11. Casting
  12. Chicken Winging

It’s important to note these as tendencies rather than flaws, as great ball strikers have demonstrated some of them. When done excessively, they make high functioning swings more difficult and may make potential injury more likely. Rather than going through all 16 screening exercises (which would be a very long read), I have selected five that I feel provide a lot of useful information. They can often broadly differentiate the playing level of golfers.

1. Static Setup Posture

There is a lot of debate in golf instruction about what is the correct way to assume posture for the golf swing. Some prefer more rounded shoulders akin to what was common in years gone by: Jack and Arnie being good examples. Others prefer a more extended thoracic spine (less curved upper back): Rory McIlroy and Adam Scott are good examples. I’m not a golf instructor and clearly both types can hit great golf shots. I am more concerned with the lumbar spine (the lower back, which doesn’t seem to get as much attention when the setup is being discussed).

Note the difference between the spinal curvatures of Jack and Rory. I’m OK with either as long as the lower back is in a biomechanically sound position (explained in video).

An overly extended or arched lower back (which I demonstrate in the video) creates too large a space between the alignment rod and my lower back. This is a common issue I see, and it can lead to a lack of pelvis rotation, a lack of power due to the inability to effectively use the glutes and abdominal muscles and lower back discomfort. Cueing a slight posterior tilt (tucking the tailbone underneath you) often makes a noticeable difference in pelvis mobility, power, and comfort.

 2. Pelvic Rotation

Pelvic rotation is essential for X-factor stretch, the ability to increase the amount of separation between the pelvis and torso during transition (moving from the backswing into the downswing). This is often referred to as starting the downswing with the lower body/hips (while the torso is still rotating away from the target or is paused at the end of the backswing). It is critical for effective sequencing and power production. Increasing the separation between your pelvis and torso on the downswing increases what is known as the “stretch-shortening cycle” of your trunk and torso muscles, which is like adding more stretch to an elastic band and then releasing it. If you cannot separate pelvic rotation and torso rotation, it will be extremely difficult to be a good golfer.

In the video below, watch how Rickie Fowler’s pelvis rotates toward the target independently of his torso. This increases the elastic energy stored in his muscles and tendons, allowing for big power production.

 3. Lower Quarter Rotation

The Lower Quarter Rotation Test shares some similarities to the Pelvic Rotation Test, but one key difference is that it doesn’t require nearly as much motor control. Many people fail the pelvic rotation test not because of a mobility limitation, but because they can’t control the different segments of the their body and perform the action they want (motor control issue). The Lower Quarter Rotation Test, on the other hand, does not require anywhere near as much control and therefore looks more directly at the internal and external rotation mobility of the lower body. People who struggle with this test are more likely to sway, slide and have reverse spine angle.

DJ Top of backswing.jpg

I’m confident Dustin Johnson would do OK on the Lower Quarter Rotation test. Look at how well he can turn into his right hip.

 4. Seated Thoracic Rotation

This one usually resonates with golfers, as “getting a full shoulder turn” is something that golf media and players like to talk to about regularly. I think most people understand the concept of a sufficient shoulder turn being important for creating power. Restricted thoracic spine rotation can stem from a few different causes. A common one is excessive thoracic flexion (rounder upper back). To test this for yourself: 1) try the test in the video hunched over and 2) with your spine as long as possible. You should notice you can rotate farther when you sit extended.

5. 90/90 External Shoulder Rotation  

Many popular golf instruction pages on social media talk about the importance of shallowing the shaft in transition and trail arm external shoulder rotation. I understand the reasoning for this in terms of swing technique, but something that needs to be taken into consideration is whether golfers actually have the ability to externally rotate their shoulders. This is often not the case. Two interesting trends I have noticed with golfers and external shoulder rotation:

  1. A larger percentage of U.S. golfers compared to Irish golfers (the two countries I have worked in) tend to have much more trail arm external rotation available. This is mainly due to throwing baseballs and footballs in their youth, which doesn’t happen in Ireland.
  2. Shoulder external rotation, shoulder flexion, and thoracic extension really seem to reduce as golfers get older compared to other movements. Please take note of this and put some exercises into your routine that promote mobility and stability in the thoracic spine and scapula, as these are the foundation for sound shoulder mechanics. Thoracic extensions on a foam roller, relaxed hanging from a pull-up bar and wall slides with external rotation are some exercises I like to use.
MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Toronto Blue Jays

I think this pitcher would have enough external shoulder rotation in his golf swing.

I hope this article gave you some more understanding of how learning about your body and then working on its limitations might be beneficial for your golf game. If you have questions about the TPI Movement Screen or are interested in an online evaluation, please feel free to e-mail me.

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Let’s Talk Gear: Frequency and Shaft CPM



When it comes to fine tuning a golf shaft and matching clubs within a set, frequency and CPM play a critical role in build quality and making sure what you were fit for is what gets built for you.

This video explains the purpose of a frequency machine, as well as how the information it gives us relates to both building and fitting your clubs.

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How to Deliver the Club Better With Your Trail Arm



The vast majority of golfers want to be consistent. The reality is that they are… the consistency they have just doesn’t produce the outcome they want.

In this video, I share a simple drill that will improve the way you deliver the club with your trail arm and give you a more consistent delivery from the inside to promote more consistent outcomes.

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19th Hole