Golf Fundamentals: Perfect your Grip

The answer to lower scores rests in your hands. The grip is a critical ingredient in the construction of your game. Hitting big slices into the woods, hooking into The Left Rough?  

Before you spend hours of time working on complex swing theories, it is probably time to take a long, hard look at the fundamentals of your swing.

And the most basic fundamental to dissect is the grip, which serves as the building block for every motion that occurs through impact and beyond.

Although many parts of a golfer's body are involved in making a powerful, repetitive swing, only the hands actually make contact with the club.

A fundamentally sound grip enables a golfer to feel the clubhead on full swings and produce the proper feel and touch on shots around the green. Understanding the different types of grips, what type of shots they can produce and what is essential to a good one, is a critical piece of any golfer's education.

Why the Correct Golf Grip is the Most Important Part of your Golf Swing

The grip is important because it serves as the conduit between the golfer and the golf club. Improper hand placement can inhibit a player's ability to properly release the golf club.

The hands must also be married in unison to work together throughout the golf swing. A golfer who has a problem with a strong right-to-left ball flight (a hook) or left-to-right flight (slice) would be wise to first look at his grip before changing other parts of his swing. According to one poll of top 100 teachers, 81 percent said they started with a player's grip when working with new students.

Face angle and club path are essential elements in a solid golf swing. The new ball flight laws tell us that face angle dictates where the ball starts and club path dictates the curve.  

The grip plays a significant role in both. If the club is manipulated into an open (aiming right) or shut (aiming left) position through a poor grip, then it will be extremely difficult for a player to consistently square the clubface at impact and produce a solid and accurate shot. 

Furthermore, putting the hands on the club incorrectly can also make a negative impact on the relative path (or direction) the club moves through the impact zone.

Creating a solid golf grip is the starting point for building a good all-around golf game. It will not only enable a golfer to hit longer, more accurate full shots but will also provide the proper clubface position to hit the delicate shots around the green which are imperative to shaving strokes off your score.

Styles of Grips

There are three basic styles of grips used by golfers.

Vardon Overlap Golf Grip

Vardon Overlap Golf Grip

Known as the overlapping, overlap, or Vardon grip, this is the most popular grip and used often by low-handicap or professional players. This was named after the famous golfer Harry Vardon who championed this grip.  

In this grip, for a righthanded golfer, the right pinkie rests on top of the left index finger. The ring finger on the right hand also touches the outside of the left index finger.  

Many pros use this grip, including legendary players such as Ben Hogan.  

A few things to keep in mind about the Overlap Grip:

  • This grip allows more freedom of hand movement, and more wrist hinge which can translate to more clubhead speed, delivering more power for some golfers.
  • Many have described this as the perfect grip because of the union it creates between the two hands. Successfully mastering the Vardon Overlap grip gives a player the ideal blend between power and control.
  • This is the grip that most instructors teach, but the Overlapping or Vardon grip can be difficult for those with weaker or smaller hands and fingers.

Interlocking Golf Grip

Interlock Golf Grip

Extremely popular as well, the great Jack Nicklaus - who has smallish hands and short fingers - used this grip throughout his career.  He didn’t do very well with this grip.  He was only able to win 18 major championships and is widely considered the greatest golfer to ever play the game!  

Another just so-so player named Tiger Woods, who modeled much of his game after the Golden Bear, also used an interlocking style.

In the interlock golf grip, the right pinkie (for a right-handed golfer) interlocks between the index finger and middle finger on the left hand. This forms a solid bond between the two hands as all 10 fingers remain in contact with the golf club during the golf swing.

Here's what to consider when thinking about using an Interlock Grip:

  • The hands will remain united throughout the swing, which most teachers agree is an essential component to building a successful golf swing.
  • Younger players or golfers who have small hands and don't possess as much physical strength can benefit from holding the club in this manner.
  • Certain players may sacrifice clubhead speed by using the interlocking grip rather than an overlapping grip.
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    Because fewer fingers come in contact with the club's handle, the golfer may sacrifice feel and touch that he or she could gain through overlapping.

10 Finger Golf Grip

10 Finger Baseball Golf Grip

Also known as the baseball grip, because all 10 fingers are on the golf club. It's similar to the way most people hold a baseball or softball bat.

Current PGA Tour member Scott Piercy uses the 10-finger grip and former PGA Champion Bob Rosburg and LPGA star Beth Daniel also used a version of the 10-finger as did legendary Canadian professional Moe Norman, who is considered one of the best ballstrikers ever.

The baseball grip is actually called the Moe Norman grip in some circles.  Each finger is on the club, with the hands resting side-by side. The right thumb rests down the shaft from the left thumb for a right-handed golfer.  

Here's the good and bad of the baseball grip:

  • The freedom created in this grip can lead to greater wrist hinge or wrist cock, which can in turn lead to higher clubhead speed, produced by whipping the club through the impact zone.
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    It's a more natural feeling for many golfers, since many people have swung a baseball or softball bat using this method at some point.
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    Losing control can be the tradeoff for gaining clubhead speed for many golfers who use the 10-finger grip.
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    Because it's rare on any of the professional tours, it can be challenging to find a pro's grip to use as a model for your own.

Before you get hung up on what style of grip is best for you.  Let me say that the performance advantages between the three styles are very subtle. 

If you are a beginner, it is more important for you to use the grip that you feel most comfortable with.  The other elements of the grip that I will discuss influences the power and shape of your shots much more than grip style.

Grip Strength

No, I’m not talking about how tight you are holding the club in your hands.  Just because you have clamped down on that driver like it owes you money does not mean you have a strong grip. 

By grip strength, I’m talking about the position of your hands relative to the grip of the club. 

To better understand the terminology related to grip strength, it's best to look at the three varieties of grip strength common in all golfers.

Neutral Golf Grip

Neutral Golf Grip

First of all, when a golfer puts his hands on the golf club, he forms a "V shape" between his left forefinger and left thumb as well as between his right forefinger and right thumb.

Ideally, these Vs are pointing in the same direction, forming a married position between the hands which can deliver a consistent strike to the golf ball.

Neutral Left Hand Grip

In a neutral grip, both Vs are pointing approximately to the right ear (on a right-handed player).

  1. It gives golfers a good foundation on which to build a repeatable swing.
  2. The player who can develop a sound, neutral grip should not have to make many compensations during his golf swing.
  3. Sometimes, weaker or less physically developed players may struggle to generate clubhead speed and or square the clubface through impact when using a neutral grip.

Strong Golf Grip

Strong Golf Grip

In a 'strong grip' the two Vs formed between the thumb and forefinger would point more toward the player's right shoulder. The knuckles on the right hand are turned underneath the shaft while three knuckles on the left hand are visible to the golfer at address. 

Strong Left Hand Grip

A few things to keep in mind about a strong grip:

  1. This grip is most often used by players who prefer to draw the golf ball.
  2. Because the hands are manipulated farther right than in a neutral grip, squaring the golf club consistently can be difficult and it's not uncommon for golfers who use a strong grip to fight a hook or overly right-to-left ball flight.

 A golfer can also play a fade from a strong grip position, simply by controlling the clubface and swing path with body rotation.  It's just a little bit harder to play a fade.  David Duval rose to No. 1 in the World around the turn of the century, employing a strong grip and a fast body to hit powerful, fully released fades, which curved slightly from left-to-right.

Weak Golf Grip

Weak Golf Grip

In a weak grip, the golfer's right hand is turned on top of the golf club, so that the V actually points left of center, toward his left ear or beyond.

This grip is often used by players who want to hit a fade.  This grip can promote an outside-to-inside swing path and left-to-right (fade) ballflight

Weak Left Hand Grip

Often, golfers who use a weak grip will have more face rotation through impact than will a player with a strong grip.

  1. This grip could help a golfer neutralize an extreme inside-out swing path.  Anybody who needs emergency hooking medicine should see a doctor first, then try a weak grip.
  2. Over the generations, there haven't been many great players who used a weak grip. The trend among low handicap and professional golfers in recent years has actually been toward a stronger grip, which can allow them to hit their irons longer distances than players who use a weak or neutral grip.
  3. Generating clubhead speed and the requisite power to excavate shots from out of the rough can be extremely difficult for golfers who have a weak grip.

How tight should I grip the club?

Okay, now I am talking about the Darth Vadar choke-hold you have on that driver.  Relax, giving yourself a hemorrhoid because you are gripping the club that hard is not going to help you get 10 extra yards.

Grip pressure is the how tightly or loosely you apply your hands to the golf club. An extremely common mistake many amateur or beginning golfers make is to grip the golf club too tightly.

An overall tight grip pressure can creates unnecessary and harmful tension which can spread through the forearms, into the shoulders, neck and back. The cumulative effect can lead to a un-natural swing tempo, robbed of fluidity and plagued by tension.

It's important to grip the club with the correct amount of tension and to apply the pressure in the proper areas. Many great players and teachers have shared their thoughts on grip pressure over the years.

If you’ve ever been to the driving range, I’m sure you’ve come across the one guy that walks around giving un-solicited golf tips to anyone who will listen. His favorite advice is “keep your eye on the ball”.  But his second favorite is Sam Snead’s advice on grip pressure.  Sam advised golfers to "hold the club like it was a baby bird."  

Unfortunately, that’s not exactly going to help.  You see, Sam Snead had outrageously strong hands so the feeling in his hands would be much different when compared to the average golfer.  

Unless your day job is professional body building or logging, you might want to hold the club just a little bit tighter.

The Pro's Advice on Grip Pressure

The noted instructor Butch Harmon, who has worked with Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Ricky Fowler and Dustin Johnson, believes the perfect grip pressure is somewhere between 5 and 7 on a scale of 1-to-10 for the average player.

Shots out of the rough or from a buried lie in a bunker may require the grip pressure in the 7 range.

In his book, Five Lessons, the great Ben Hogan described the grip in this fashion. In the left hand apply the pressure on the pad of the hand and the index finger. On the right hand, pressure with the two middle fingers. The right thumb and forefinger are simply placeholders.

Years later, Jack Nicklaus described his feelings on grip pressure in his highly popular book, Golf My Way: On the left hand pressure with the last two fingers, pressing the shaft into the palm. On the right hand, pressure primarily with the middle two fingers. And most important, maintain consistent pressure throughout the golf swing in both hands.

Should I use a Long Thumb or Short Thumb Grip?

Another important piece of the golf grip is the position of the left thumb on the club.  

  • The long thumb (see below left) means the thumb runs vertically down the shaft, and becomes separated from the other four fingers on that hand.
  • The short thumb (see below right) describes when the thumb goes down the right side of the shaft and ends up in a position just beyond the forefinger on that hand.

The position of the thumb can have a direct impact on a golfer's clubhead speed and control of the shaft at the top of the backswing.

Long Left Thumb Golf Grip
Short Left Thumb Golf Grip

It is generally understood that the long left thumb increases range of motion while the short thumb restricts range of motion.  

  • If you have an extremely long swing, you will want to experiment with a short left thumb.  
  • If you are looking to lengthen your swing, you will want to experiment with a long left thumb.  

Of course, everyone wants more distance.  However, sometimes having control of your weapon leads to a better strike and thereby more distance.  So don’t dismiss the short left thumb.

I have used both a long left thumb and short left thumb throughout my golfing life.  Sometimes changing from a short to a long or vice versa is just what you need to break out of a slump.

Like anything in golf, it's fine to experiment with different grip and hand positions while practicing or working on your game around the house.

Hit a few practice balls while tweaking your grip position and find the perfect pairing that works best for your swing and desired ball flight.

What is the Proper Golf Grip?

The proper grip is the grip that matches your swing, body style, clubface rotation, forearm speed and strength. But the right grip isn't the same for everyone.

There are many ways and methods to hit good golf shots.

As mentioned earlier, David Duval ascended to the top ranking in golf using a very strong grip in the late 1990s and early 2000s. On the other hand, Jose Maria Olazabal became a Ryder Cup star and Masters champion with an unusually weak grip in his left hand. Both players found a grip that matched their swing early in their careers and owned and understood every position of that grip.

Golfers who seek more distance or have issues hitting a slice would be wise to shift their left hand to the right in a stronger position, where three knuckles are showing. This could cause shots to head low and left at first, but that will be a welcome change for anyone who is tired of chasing a high, weak slice.

On the other hand, some golfers fight a hard hook and their ball normally goes left.  If you are one of these golfers, you will want to rotate your hands to the left in a weaker position.

The bottom line is this: there is no perfect golf grip.  

Tinker with your grip until your hands are in a position where they can help square the club face consistently.  

Never lose sight of ball flight, as it's truly the most important aspect of any adjustment to swing, grip, alignment or posture. The ball will always reveal what alterations or adjustments the player must make.

What is the right grip for a beginner?

In general, a beginner is going to benefit from a slightly stronger grip and also one - either 10-finger or interlocking - that enables them to generate clubhead speed until their technique develops.

Scan the grips of the PGA Tour and you'll find most in the area between neutral and strong. Whichever style or grip strength a player prefers, maintaining the correct amount of grip pressure throughout the golf swing is a necessary ingredient.

Hold the club firmly, but do not create unnecessary tension, and maintain that firm pressure from setup-to-takeaway-to-transition-to-finish.

Emergency Grip Help:  How do I know if I have a terrible grip?

You’re playing terrible and losing new Pro V1 Golf Balls at a rapid pace.  Before you snap that nice new driver over your knee, let's look at your grip.  

Sometimes a few adjustments to your grip can stop the bleeding.  Here are a few obvious points to observe about your golf grip:

Simple Grip Checklist

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    The number of knuckles that are visible on your left hand (2-3 is satisfactory, anything else demands attention).
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    If the right hand is turned completely underneath the club and pointing toward the sky, it needs to be shifted closer to a neutral position.
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    Where the club rests in your hand. It shouldn't be overly dominated by the palm or by the fingers.
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    Too much space in between the fingers and thumb in each hand, which can lead to instability.
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    The amount of wear-and-tear on your golf gloves. If the club is moving around in your hand during the swing, it will cause the club to wear holes in the palm and the thumb on the left hand.
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    How's your Grip Pressure?  If your grip pressure is too light, the hands will become separated during the swing and you will lose control of the golf club. If your grip pressure is too tight, you will not be able to complete the swing with a full follow through.

The next time that guy at the range tells you to “keep your head down”, please share these golf grip tips with him.

How to Change your Grip

Okay, so you’ve read this article and you’ve determined that you want to use a different grip.  

Let me give you fair warning, the first time you use this new grip it will feel even stranger than parting your hair on the opposite side.  

The best way to change your grip is to keep a club in your office, your living room, bathroom, wherever you spend a lot of time.  Every time you are in that room, hold that club with your new grip for 10 – 15 minutes at a time.  

Within 2 weeks, your new grip will feel natural and your old grip will feel alien.  But the point is, changing grips takes a few weeks.  Don’t give up after a couple of days.

The Bottom Line

If you're struggling with your game or unhappy with your ballstriking in general, look at your grip first.  

Understanding the fundamentals of a solid grip, the way your hands react during the swing and relate to the club face, along with the common flaws and easy fixes to a grip, can only help you improve and become more consistent as a ballstriker.

There are many ways to put your hands on the club. What's essential is finding the right grip that both feels comfortable to you and squares the clubface at impact.

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