The most intriguing grips in pro golf
(Photo by Martha Holmes/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images)
A substantial subsection of the golf canon is devoted to romanticizing Ben Hogan and his technique. And that includes his grip, which is shown in the photograph shown above for Life Magazine in 1947—before he weakened it to stop hooking and went on to dominate golf through the mid-1950s.
Even with all of the changes in equipment, clothing, agronomy and, most of all, the ball, how the best players hold the club has stayed mostly within a familiar set of parameters. "There has always been debate about grips—should you be weak, strong or in the middle," says top Arizona teacher Terry Rowles, who coaches Aaron Baddeley and Martin Trainer on the PGA Tour.
"But the span of grips has always been the same. Henry Cotton looks like Tiger Woods. The action item is how players match their grip with the way they release the club."
A stroll back through history reveals Arnold Palmer ("The Grip," Rowles calls him) with his weak right hand turned toward from the target, Johnny Miller with both of his hands set weak and Lee Trevino and David Duval (below), who both believed you couldn't grip it strong enough, or turned away from the target.
But some of the most interesting grips on tour today aren't just a straightforward "strong" or "weak," where both hands match each other and are turned to the same degree. "The reality is your hands don't have to be equally weak or equally strong," says Rowles. "They work independently, and not only is that OK, it's to be encouraged."
Rowles starts students off with an experiment: Make small, waist high swings with just the trail hand in a strong grip, neutral grip and weak grip. With one of them, the face will be the most stable—and won't either be shutting hard or staying open down by where the ball would be. That's the starting point to setting your own personal grip.
Below, Rowles and top Maryland teacher Wayne DeFrancesco weigh in on what they see as the most intriguing grips on the tour, and what makes them match what the player is trying to do with their swing. Before you go and copy Rory or DJ, be sure to take heed of the risks, says DeFrancesco.
"Anyone who is an experienced player should approach grip changes with caution," he says. "A small change can have major effects on just about everything you do. When you change the grip, you change the face's orientation, which means your old release pattern will change as well. And one thing that gets overlooked? Grip pressure is a big deal. Most people grip too loose. For a full swing, the grip needs to be firm."
Rowles: Rory's grip is so interesting because of the combination of strong-weak. It's as if he's twisting his hands toward each other. That makes his lead hand strong and his trail hand weak. His strong left hand matches up to his really fast hips. His right hand is slightly weaker, which suits him. His left hand promotes the power, while his right hand helps him hit it so straight. He's the best driver of the ball on the planet.
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DeFrancesco: The interlock of the right-hand pinky and left index finger is so interesting. This was Nicklaus' choice back when the vast majority of grips were overlapping. Not sure if Tiger picked this because of Jack, but I'd bet on it. I like how the face of the club matches the back of his left wrist. Neutral.
Rowles: Tiger at his best was like Rory is now—strong/weak. He went weak/weak under Haney and strong/strong with Sean Foley. He's now matched up again. He spent 15 years with somebody else's grip.
Rowles: Henrik is very similar to Rory, actually, with the hands twisted toward each other. It's a grip Pete Cowen favors. And like Rory, those are two guys who are amazing ball-strikers.
DeFrancesco: You can see how his wrist is cupped at the top, which makes him an 'open-face' player. An 'open-face' player tends to release the club through impact, while a 'shut-face' player needs to hold it off from releasing too much.
Rowles: That can be the difference between 'playing offense' and 'playing defense.'
DeFrancesco: An extraordinarily strong grip. You can tell by looking at the extension or cupping of the left wrist past impact with the face released to toe up. If the grip were no so strong, the face would be wide open.
Rowles: His grip is perfect for the way he plays, and he's never messed with it. He has always had amazing face control and is deadly with shorter clubs. Strong grip players tend to be great pitchers of the ball, because it matches an in-to-out path where you almost draw the ball. He knows that's how he has to make his money. He and his coach have built a system around that grip, and he's gotten an unbelievable amount out of his career.
DeFrancesco: Extremely weak grip with lots of wrist flexion, or bowing, at the top. Rahm maintains this wrist position into impact—seemingly a simple technique, something you're seeing more of these days from players like Spieth, Koepka, DJ and Collin Morikawa.
Rowles: Having a bowed left wrist is fashionable at the moment, but there's a reason why the wrist bows. In Rahm's case, he has a weak left-hand grip, which contributes to it. It's a great matchup for him, but it's not for everybody. It'd be poison for Rory and probably for you if you aren't super strong.
Rowles: He tends to have a weaker grip with both hands, like Johnny Miller had, and he has played very well with it in the past. It's interesting to see how it's evolving as he tries to strengthen it.