Before I became a professional golfer, I was a computer engineer and before that I went to college to be a pharmacist.
Little did I know at the time that the pharmaceutical courses I took covering physics, anatomy, physiology, kinesiology, etc., would serve me well in my golf career as far as understanding things like angular momentum, pendular motion, coil springs, lever types, joint functions, etc.
In this article I want to spend a little time going over six actions of the wrists and forearms and then discussing how those actions can affect the golf club.
Medically speaking, the six actions are pronation versus supination, radial deviation versus ulnar deviation and palmar flexion versus dorsiflexion.
Now for the big questions — what do those actions mean in simpler terms, what effect do they have on the golf club and what are some pros and cons of one versus another?
Supination is the rotation of the hand and forearm (not to be confused with rotating from the shoulder socket) so the palm faces upward. The mnemonic I use to remember this one is to rotate the palm up to hold soup in it.
Pronation is the opposite rotation of the hand and forearm (also not to be confused with rotating from the shoulder socket) so the palm faces downward. This action would pour the soup out of the palm.
In golf terms, these are often expressed by telling someone to roll the wrists over through impact.
Another analogy that you may have come across that has the same rolling effect is to shake someone’s hand on the backswing (which rolls the club open) and then to do the same on the opposite side of the through swing (which rolls the club back over).
Pronation and supination are very commonly taught. One reason why some instructors teach these hand actions is that they say speed can be added to the club head. While it can be argued that this is true in that the toe of the club would be moving faster through the hitting zone than the heel, hitting the ball consistently straight becomes much more difficult because the club face is constantly pointing to a different spot when you pronate and supinate.
Also, the extra club head speed may not even correlate to more ball speed. Despite impact happening in approximately 1/2000th of a second, that’s still enough time for a club with a high rate of rotation to have a glancing impact blow (the center of gravity of the club probably wouldn’t be driving directly through the center of gravity of the ball) and adversely affect the shot.
That being said, there are no doubt many PGA Tour players that use this type of hand action through the impact area. However, most that do it have likely been doing it for a long time and they also practice and play more than the majority of people. Rolling can work, but it’s also a type of action that I would consider to be high maintenance and these type of players can be streaky.
If you are struggling to hit the ball straight and have unpredictable and inconsistent curvature, I would look to minimize the amount of rotation you are using in your swing, especially through the hitting area.
Be careful when looking at club-face rotation in your swing to not confuse it with the club-face rotation that can come from the ball and socket joints in your shoulders. In my observation, that has a tendency to happen in the back swing from people that pull their lead arm well across their chest and conversely when the trailing arm gets pulled well across the chest in to the follow through.
On the flip side of wrist rolling, perhaps you have also heard of counter-rotating the club on the back swing. This action wouldn’t have the same level of directional problems with the club face as rolling and I would definitely advocate it to my students over rolling. However, it is still a level of manipulation that may or may not be worth doing.
Ulnar and radial deviation are also fairly common. Ulnar deviation is a bending of the wrist toward the pinky. I remember ulnar deviation by thinking that the pinky is under the thumb when I grip the club.
Radial deviation is the opposite bending of the wrist towards the thumb.
Golf-wise, you may hear of radial deviation referred to as cocking and ulnar deviation as uncocking.
These hand actions are often used together with pronating and supinating. For example, someone might say:
“Rotate the club open on the way back and cock it upwards on the back swing. On the way down, uncock the club, roll it over through impact, and re-cock it in the follow through.”
That’s all four actions being used.
Using radial and ulnar deviation by themselves aren’t all that bad. For one thing, there aren’t the directional and timing problems that come with the wrist rolling of pronation and supination. But personally, assuming a neutral grip position at setup, for some reason I find radial deviation difficult to conceptualize and I lose sense of where the club is in the back swing. However, with a stronger grip (where I turn my lead hand clockwise around the grip as per my vantage point), radial deviation with my lead hand in the back swing works great for me.
Lastly, palmar flexion is a bending of the palm towards the forearm or inside of the wrist. I think of this one as flex the palm.
Conversely, dorsiflexion is the bending of the back of the hand towards the forearm away from the inside of the wrist.
Palmar flexion is sometimes referred to in golf as having a bowed wrist, where as dorsiflexion would be having a cupped wrist.
A related taboo golf term for these hand actions through impact would be flipping. Although, in many cases I don’t think flipping is so much a problem with the hand and wrist action as it is an inactive lower body. If you look closely at swings of various Tour players and golfers like Graeme McDowell, Dustin Johnson, Vijay Singh or Mike Austin you’ll see some hit, slap or flip in all of their swings as they move through the hitting area. It’s just that they’re not stalling with their lower bodies.
I would characterize players that flip as golfers who might generate more spin and who could be high-ball hitters depending on some other variables.
Like ulnar and radial deviation, it’s also nice that palmar and dorsiflexion don’t have the directional problems associated with the club face as when pronating and supinating. Some might argue that palmar and dorsiflexion will cause trajectory problems, but I don’t think this is always the case assuming you swing in a pendular fashion. If you don’t try to over-control the pendulum, gravity can take care of getting the club face back to the same place every time. Besides, on average, there is more of a full-swing problem with directional ball flight control than distance control. Palmar and dorsiflexion can be a good choice for having directional control.
Assuming that each of the six actions has a neutral position, that’s 27 different combinations per wrist/forearm not counting the degrees of variation between all of the positions.
Depending on where you start your wrists and hands at setup, there are certainly a lot of different things you can do throughout the entirety of the swing, each with their own pros and cons.
This may be a lot to take in, so here are a few final summary comments and general suggestions that you might consider, at least for the part of the swing when the club is coming through the hitting zone.
- Excessive rolling through impact can be inconsistent for controlling shot curvature. Sometimes rollers will try to play only a draw or only a fade because they will likely have the most difficult time controlling the accuracy and precision of their shot curvature. Not that there’s anything wrong with it, but certain swing styles and teaching methods have come about that focus more on hitting only a draw or only a fade versus learning to hit straight.
- Despite the taboo term, a flipping action can give you more spin, shot height and pop on the ball presuming your lower body isn’t stalling and possibly some other variables. Mike Austin, the man who hit a Guinness World Record 515-yard drive in the U.S. National Senior Open, is a good example of this. Austin hit the ball really far, high and was all carry. Unfortunately, he wasn’t a good putter (he three-putted for bogey on the par-4 he hit the 515-yard drive) but that’s another story.
- Going from a cupped-lead hand position at the top of your back swing and bowing through impact will probably spin the ball the least (some guys do it well but I have a hard time doing this).
- Having a non-wrist action can be good for pitching or where you need consistency and control of direction and trajectory but not power. Steve Stricker uses a little bit of rotation during his swings and pitches, which I wouldn’t advocate, but other than that he’s a pretty good example of the success of relatively passive hands and wrists.
A Jedi Mind Trick For Improved Target Awareness
I think all golfers, at some point in their life playing the game of golf, has gotten stuck, or become frozen over the golf ball. Why? They’re trying to remember which of the 23 different swing thoughts they used for the day performed the best.
The disheartening reality: none of us are going to perform well on a consistent basis with our thoughts being so internally driven. Swing thoughts force our awareness inward. Is the shaft in the correct position? Am I making a proper pressure shift? Was that a reverse pivot? Close that club face! Regardless of the technique you are trying to manage or modify, these kinds of questions make you acquire sensations internally.
To complicate things further, we are taught to look at the golf ball, not the target, while hitting our golf shot. And yet instinctively, in almost all other skills of making a ball or object finish towards a target (throwing a ball or frisbee, kicking a soccer ball, skipping a rock across water, shooting a basket ball) our awareness is not on the ball or the motion itself, but rather the ultimate target.
So, can we develop a skill that allows us to still keep our eye on the ball, like the game of golf encourages, but have awareness of our target, like so many other target sports demand? Yes, the answer is (third rate Yoda Speak), and the skill can easily be yours.
Here’s where this gets fun. You already have learned this skill set, but under different conditions. Perhaps this example resonates with you. Did you ever play hide-and-seek as a child? Remember how you used to close your eyes and count to 10? During those 10 seconds of having your eyes closed, weren’t you using all of your senses externally, trying to track where your friends were going to hide? Weren’t you, just like a bloodhound, able to go directly to a few of the less skillful hiders’ hiding places and locate them?
Or how about this example. When you are driving down your own local multilane highway, aren’t you aware of all the cars around you while keeping your eyes firmly on the road in front of you? Reconnecting, recognizing and/or developing these skills that all of us already use is the first step in knowing you’re not too far away from doing this with your golf game.
Here’s what I want you to do. Grab a putter and place your golf ball 3 feet away from the hole on a straight putt. Aim your putter, and then look at the hole. As you bring your eyes back to the golf ball, maintain part of your awareness back at the hole. Each successive time your eyes leave your golf ball and head back to the hole, your eyes will be able to confirm your target. It hasn’t moved; it’s still in the same location; your confidence builds.
When you know for certain that your external awareness of the target is locked in while still looking at your golf ball, step up and execute your putt.
The wonderful beauty of this skill set is that you now have the best of both worlds. You are still looking at the golf ball, which gives you a better chance of striking the golf ball solidly… AND you are now target aware just like you are when you are throwing an object at a target.
As always, acquire this skill set from a close target with a slower, smaller motion. If you don’t execute properly, you have a better chance of making the proper corrective assessment from a slower, smaller motion and closer target. As you become more proficient with this skill, allow the target to get farther away and try to add more speed with a larger range of motion.
So give learning this skill set a go. I don’t think there is anything more valuable in playing the game of golf than keeping your “athlete” attached to the target. Become proficient at developing this awareness and you can tell all your friends that the primary reason your scores are getting lower and you’re getting deeper into their wallets is because of Jedi Mind tricks. Good luck!
6 things to consider before aiming at the flagstick
One of the most impactful improvements you can make for your game is to hit more greens; you’ll have more birdie opportunities and will avoid bogeys more often. In fact, hitting more greens is the key to golfing success, in my opinion… more so than anything else.
However, there is a misconception among players when it comes to hitting approach shots. When people think “greens,” they tend to only think about the flagstick, when the pin may be the last thing you should be looking at. Obviously, we’d like to stick it on every shot, but shooting at the pin at the wrong time can cost you more pain than gain.
So I’d like to give you a few rules for hitting greens and aiming at the flagstick.
1) Avoid Sucker Pins
I want you to think about Hole No. 12 at Augusta and when the pin is on the far right side of the green… you know, the Sunday pin. Where do the pros try and aim? The center of the green! That’s because the right pin is by all means a sucker pin. If they miss the shot just a touch, they’re in the water, in the bunker, or left with an impossible up-and-down.
Sucker pins are the ones at the extreme sides of the green complex, and especially the ones that go against your normal shot pattern.
So go back to No. 12 with a far right pin, and say your natural shot shape is right-to-left. Would you really aim out over the water and move it towards the pin? That would be a terrible idea! It’s a center of the green shot all day, even for those who work it left-to-right. Learn to recognize sucker pins, and you won’t short side yourself ever again.
2) Are You a Good Bunker Player?
A “sucker pin,” or just a difficult hole location, is often tucked behind a bunker. Therefore, you should ask yourself, “am I a good bunker player?” Because if you are not, then you should never aim at a pin stuck behind one. If I wanted to shoot at pins all day, I’d make sure I was the best lob wedge player around. If you are not a short-game wizard, then you will have a serious problem attacking pins all round.
For those who lack confidence in their short game, or simply are not skilled on all the shots, it’s a good idea to hit to the fat part of the green most of the time. You must find ways to work around your weaknesses, and hitting “away” from the pin isn’t a bad thing, it’s a smart thing for your game.
3) Hitting the Correct Shelf
I want you to imagine a pin placed on top of a shelf. What things would you consider in order to attack this type of pin? You should answer: shot trajectory, type of golf ball, your landing angle with the club you’re hitting, the green conditions, and the consequences of your miss. This is where people really struggle as they forget to take into account these factors.
If you don’t consider what you can and cannot do with the shot at hand, you will miss greens, especially when aiming at a pin on a shelf. Sometimes, you will simply have to aim at the wrong level of the green in order to not bring the big number into play. Remember, if you aim for a top shelf and miss, you will leave yourself with an even more difficult pitch shot back onto that same shelf you just missed.
4) Know your Carry Distances
In my opinion, there is no excuse these days to not know your carry distances down to the last yard. Back when I was growing up, I had to go to a flat hole and chart these distances as best I could by the ball marks on the green. Now, I just spend an hour on Trackman.
My question to you is if you don’t know how far you carry the ball, how could you possibly shoot at a pin with any type of confidence? If you cannot determine what specific number you carry the ball, and how the ball will react on the green, then you should hit the ball in the center of the green. However, if the conditions are soft and you know your yardages, then the green becomes a dart board. My advice: spend some time this off-season getting to know your distances, and you’ll have more “green lights” come Spring.
5) When do you have the Green Light?
Do you really know when it’s OK to aim at the pin? Here are some questions to ask yourself that will help:
- How are you hitting the ball that day?
- How is your yardage control?
- What is the slope of the green doing to help or hinder your ball on the green?
- Do you have a backstop behind the pin?
It’s thoughts such as these that will help you to determine if you should hit at the pin or not. Remember, hitting at the pin (for amateurs) does not happen too often per nine holes of golf. You must leave your ego in the car and make the best decisions based on what information you have at that time. Simple mistakes on your approach shot can easily lead to bogeys and doubles.
6) When is Any Part of the Green Considered a Success?
There are some times when you have a terrible angle, or you’re in the rough/a fairway bunker. These are times when you must accept “anywhere on the green.”
Left in these situations, some players immediatly think to try and pull off the “miracle” shot, and wonder why they compound mistakes during a round. Learn to recognize if you should be happy with anywhere on the green, or the best place to miss the ball for the easiest up and down.
Think of Ben Hogan at Augusta on No. 11; he said that if you see him on that green in regulation then you know he missed the shot. He decided that short right was better than even trying to hit the green… sometimes you must do this too. But for now analyze your situation and make the best choice possible. When in doubt, eliminate the big numbers!
Is There An Ideal Backswing?
In this video, I talk about the backswing and look into optimal positions. I also discuss the positives and negatives of different backswing positions.
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