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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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Clement: Smash your fairway woods!

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This video is chock full of fairway wood wisdom that will allow you to understand several things including why a low spinning 5-wood would go much farther and what to focus on feel wise and sound wise with the SOLE of the club through the turf and ground. At least four solid nuggets throughout this video that will be sure to sharpen your fairway woods and hybrids!

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The Wedge Guy: Chipping away strokes

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I’ve always admired golfers who can really chip the ball well. Through my years in golf, I have seen players of all handicaps who are excellent chippers, and all tour professionals are masters of chipping it close. But for such a simple little stroke and challenge, chipping seems to be a part of the game that eludes many of us.

A good short game just cannot be achieved without a commitment to both learning and practicing. In watching the best chippers, it seems that their technique or chipping “stroke” is very similar to their putting stroke in style, form and pace. I think that’s because both chipping and putting are primarily “feel” shots. Yes, technique is important, but I’ve seen good chippers with all kinds of form and fundamentals.

This brings to mind two of my golf buddies who are both good chippers of the ball while employing totally different styles, but each one closely resembles their individual putting style. One uses a more stiff-wristed technique and quicker pace and tempo — just like his putting. The other, who is a doctor with a delicate touch, uses a more rhythmical pace not dissimilar from his syrupy smooth putting stroke.

Now let’s talk about techniques.

I personally prefer to use two different chipping techniques, depending on the chip I am facing. If I simply have to carry a few feet of collar and then get the ball rolling, I’ll choose a mid-iron or short iron, depending on the balance of carry and roll, and grip down on the club so that I can essentially “putt” the ball with the club I’ve chosen.

In employing this technique, however, realize that the club you are “putting” with weighs much less than your putter, so you want to grip the club much lighter to make the club feel heavier. It takes just a little practice to see what different clubs will do with this putt/chip technique.

On chips where the ball has to be carried more than just a few feet, I prefer a chipping technique that is more like a short pitching swing. I position the ball back of center of my stance to ensure clean contact and set up more like a short pitch shot. I usually hit this kind of chip with one of my wedges, depending on the balance of carry and roll needed to get the ball to the hole.

On that note, I read the green and pick an exact spot where I want the ball to land, and from there until impact, I forget the hole location and focus my “aim” on that spot. Your eyes guide your swing speed on chips and short pitch shots, and if you return your eyes to the hole, you are “programming” your body to fly the ball to the hole.

So, while sizing up the shot, I find a very distinct spot on the green where I think the ball needs to land to roll out with the club/trajectory I envision. From that point on, my complete focus is on that spot, NOT the hole. That loads my brain with the input it needs to tap into my eye/hand coordination. I think many golfers chip long too often because they focus on the hole, rather than where the shot needs to land, so their “wiring” imparts too much power. Just my thinking there.

One of my favorite drills for practicing chipping like this is to take a bucket/bag of balls to the end of the range where no one is hitting, and practice chipping to different spots – divots, pieces of turf, etc. – at various ranges, from 2-3 feet out to 20-30. I do this with different wedges and practice achieving different trajectories, just to load my memory banks with the feel of hitting to a spot with different clubs. Then, when I face a chip on the course, I’m prepared.

I’m totally convinced the majority of recreational golfers can make the quickest and biggest improvement in our scoring if we will just dedicate the time to learn good chipping technique and to practicing that technique with a purpose.

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