WHAT I WROTE IN 1974
How should the left hand be aligned at the top of the backswing? The safe position—and the one favored by most tour players—is with the back of the left hand, the wrist and the forearm on the same plane, forming a straight line (above, left). That's my ideal because it represents a square approach.
If I'm going to err, I prefer it to be toward the left wrist cupping (middle); that indicates an open clubface, allowing me to fully release the clubhead into the ball with my wrists. If my left wrist is bowed or arched (right), I'll hook or smother the ball if I release my wrists fully. Or I'm prone to block their release through impact, often causing the ball to miss right.
WHAT I THINK NOW
I love these illustrations because they're so clear. The bowed position looks like Arnold Palmer. On tour now, it might be Dustin Johnson or Graeme McDowell. The cupped position reminds me of Johnny Miller. Today it could be Fred Couples. Throughout my career, I was either square or slightly cupped with my left wrist. I didn't mind being a little cupped because your hands—and thumbs—are under the club, supporting it at the top. That allows you to keep the clubface square through impact longer. Miller was a great example of that. When you're bowed at the top and your hands are on the side of the grip, you need a flipping or blocking action—flash speed at impact—to square the clubface. That takes tremendous timing, which is difficult under pressure. These players can play great golf when their timing is on, but you generally don't want to rely on flash movement.
If you're supporting the club at the top, the chances of the clubhead being on the proper path with the face square through impact are much greater. That's what you want.
JACK NICKLAUS writes only for Golf Digest. In this series he looks back at his classic lessons published in the magazine.