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Golf Today > Tuition > The Lost Fundamentals of Hogan


1. Introduction

2. The Grip

3. Optimum Swing Plane

4. Plane Shift

5. The Radial Ball Position

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The Grip

Every golfer should work on the basics of forming a good neutral grip. That way, he or she will find that all the other components of a sound set-up position fall into place.


The grip - the most fundamental of all Hogan's Fundamentals

As Hogan himself famously stated at the outset of his book, 'good golf begins with a good grip'. And for this, the first of my five articles exploring Hogan's ideas and beliefs, I am going to focus on the grip and the role it plays in facilitating a biometrically correct golf swing.

Hogan's recommendation that a golfer should adopt the the 'Overlapping' or Vardon grip (in which the little finger on the right hand overlaps the left forefinger, or nestles in the groove between forefinger and second finger) held a hidden truth; had it been fully understood, my belief is that many players of his and later generations might not have allowed themselves to use the alternative 'Interlocking' style of marrying the hands together.

The methods of Hogan regarding the grip were near perfect in their science and function. He stated them clearly and emphatically, yet their full meaning was often 'lost' on us. We have read them, used them and in most cases, misused them.

In The Modern Fundamentals of Golf, Hogan used no fewer than nineteen pages to impart the principles of the correct grip. Over these pages, I hope to re-examine and distil his meaning, and in so doing will reveal the first 'Lost Fundamental', which is the critical importance of a 'Short and Parallel' left thumb.

Hogan's preference

Hogan himself used the Vardon or Overlapping grip, still the most popular among tour players today. As I have illustrated here, his left thumb was angled slightly to the right of centre. The whole left thumb bone ran parallel to the shaft and rested on the thumb's pad.

If you have a copy of The Modern Fundamentals of Golf, check out the pictures on page 22. As Hogan explains, it is vital that the thumb pad takes the pressure; if the joint of the thumb rests on the handle it will extend too far down the grip - a 'long left thumb' - and likely to permit an overswing.

This fault will cause the golfer's glove to wear out under the joint and encourage the thumbnail to cut through the end of the glove.

Once you have the left hand and left thumb placed correctly on the grip, the right hand fits neatly into place. The groove in the palm of the right hand (under the fleshy pad at the base of the right thumb) will perfectly dovetail the left thumb. This enables the hands to become a snug unit.

If I only had five minutes in which to teach a budding golfer something guaranteed to help him or her develop a sound technique, it would be the 'Short & Parallel' left thumb.

To place the left hand on the club correctly demands a sense of posture and encourages a comfortably straight left arm as you set up to the ball. The palm of the right hand neatly fits the parallel left thumb, and the resulting 'neutral' grip sees to ot that the arms and shoulders fall nicely into line.

And what do you know?

If the shoulders are on line, it is only natural for the hips and the feet to be on line. Quite important, don't you think?

I regard the 'Short & Parallel' left thumb as the lynchpin of a sound Overlapping or Vardon grip and the cornerstone of a set-up routine that prepares the club, the arms and the body in a perfect relationship, ready to work together in producing a solid swing.

Placing the left hand; get a 'neat' left thumb

In his early days, Hogan's swing was overly long, almost John Daly-style. This was because his left thumb extended way too far down the handle, permitting his wrists to hinge excessively.

At the top of his backswing, the angle between the clubshaft and his left forearm could be as much as 135- to 140 degrees. A 'neat', 'neutral' left thumb restricts the wrist-hinge to just 90° or so, ideal in terms of creating a more compact backswing, as you see here with a driver.

As Hogan's swing evolved, his left thumb became much shorter, or 'neater' on the grip, and so did the length of his backswing, although it would still be longer than most of those we see out on tour today.

The dangers and the limitations of the deep Interlocking grip...

To understand what I mean by the 'dangers and limitations of the deep interlock', try this test: Start by holding a club with the Vardon grip, then revert to an interlocking grip, entwining the little finger of the right hand with the index finger of the left. If you can do this without the rest of your grip moving or changing, the result will be what I would term a 'shallow' interlock (inset above - the way to interlock with safety).

Now I want you to drive those interlocking fingers together, so they combine as deeply as possible, the web of each interlocking finger virtually touching. As a result of doing this it is almost certain that your left thumb will be forced to stretch down the grip, possibly dislodging the palm and fingers of the right hand. The left thumb is 'long' but without being too 'strong'. What are the implications of this?

Well, this type of 'long' left thumb forces the shaft of the club to leave the line of the left forearm at almost 90 degrees! When Hogan used the Vardon grip, albeit a little strongly, the shaft naturally flowed from his hands and forearms towards the ball at address.

Tiger uses a deep interlocking grip, and, as a result, the shaft wants to point above the ball. Think about it: how many times have we seen Jack and Tiger waggle the clubhead above the ball at address?

They also both share a tendency to hover the clubhead above the ball as they stare down the target. Because of the deep interlocking grip, both men instinctively allow the shaft of the club to leave the forearms at an angle that rests above the ball. So, to reiterate, we can identify two subtle yet highly significant flaws in the interlocking grip:

1. The interlocking grip encourages the left thumb to extend 'long' down the clubshaft.

2. The interlocking grip changes the angle between the shaft and the left forearm at address (and at the top of the backswing).

As you can see opposite, the implications of the deep interlock, and the way it affects the shaft angle and the wrists and forearms at the set-up, are clear in the first move away from the ball. The clubface remains a little 'shut', or hooded, as the club moves those first crucial few feet (very Tiger-esque).

As a consequence, the forearm rotation that should occur very mildly in the takeaway is stifled. The clubface will, likely as not, end up being 'shut' at the top of the backswing, forcing the golfer to re-route the club in the downswing to keep loft on the clubface at impact.

This extremely subtle fault might not cause you too many problems with, say, a 3-wood, which has sufficient loft to get you out of trouble. But a driver simply won't tolerate the compensations; at best you would probably tend to fade your tee shots - but my guess is that you would also fight hitting those destructive pulls and blocks. Remind you of anyone?

Over the page, let me leave you this issue with some positives to work into your own game: as you get used to the feel of a neutral Overlapping or Vardon grip, so you can perfect your set-up position and the first move away from the ball - the initial links in the chain-reaction that is a solid swing.

The technical superiority of the Overlapping or Vardon grip

Players who use an interlocking grip, I believe, sacrifice the fundamental safety of Hogan's example, for the interlocking grip is biomechanically flawed when compared to the Vardon (and indeed Baseball) grip.

This might seem a ludicrous claim to make when the two greatest players of the modern era - namely Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods - have made history with the interlocking grip.

However, Nicklaus is on record as saying that the one and only thing he would change about his technique, with the benefit of hindsight, would be his grip. And Tiger's knee surgery (not to mention his on-going battle to keep the ball in play off the tee) can, in my opinion, be explained by his use of the deep interlock (but more on that next issue).

Ben Hogan strove to swing the club in his most effective swing plane; he understood that the forearms had to 'roll' gently and gradually through 90 degrees during the backswing. This, of course, meant that the clubface would also roll mildly through 90 degrees through the course of the backswing (ideally, the clubface would then arrive parallel to his swing plane at the top of the backswing).

The shut or hooded takeaway created by the deep interlocking grip invariably causes the clubface to be shut or facing skywards at the top of the backswing. Hogan was shut at the top in the early part of his career (because his left thumb was too long at address). His search for perfection led him to play with a neat, more neutral left thumb in later years. And that's what I advise you to do.

Legend has it that the earliest moulded training grips were that of the great man himself. It would make sense, for if you have ever used a club with such a grip three things would strike you: (1) The left thumb is 'neat', not stretched down the shaft; (2) The left thumb is parallel to the shaft (and NOT diagonal!) and (3) the left thumb is a touch too 'strong' - i.e. placed more to the right of centre than perfect.

Well, I don't know if it is true but I'd like to think it was! We may not be able to walk in Ben Hogan's footsteps but it would be great if we could at least copy his handprints on the handle of the club. As I mentioned at the outset, in writing The Modern Fundamentals of Golf, Hogan placed tremendous emphasis on how to hold the club. My advice to every aspiring golfer out there is take the great man's advice, and put your trust in the Vardon grip.

To summarise the key points:

- A correctly positioned left hand, with a neat, parallel left thumb, sets the left arm in the perfect attitude at the set-up

- The right hand 'fits' the left as it joins the grip, the hands and arms relaxed, free of excess tension, the shaft of the club at the natural angle

- With each of the elbows pointing at their respective hipbones (as Hogan identified), the relationship of the club, the hands, arms and shoulders is such that the player is in a perfect attitude, primed to make a repeating swing.

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