That unpleasant sensation when you hit a shot of the bottom, toe or heel of the club? That's vibration letting you know you missed the sweet spot.
Technically, any contact made off the sweet spot – the point on the clubface directly in line with the center of gravity – will cause the clubhead to twist or vibrate. Miss by just a fraction and you'll feel little if any effect. Miss by a wide margin and it will be immediately obvious.
Of course, there's other evidence of a mishit, namely, shots that fly shorter and often with less accuracy than those hit flush. Sweet spot contact transfers maximum energy from club to ball and imparts no sidespin. (Any curvature on a sweet spot hit results from the clubface being open or closed relative to the swing path.) The farther away from the sweet spot contact is made, the more energy is lost.
Many clubs dampen the effects of mishits. For example, off-center contact with a high-MOI (moment of inertia), game-improvement club will deliver less of a shock on off-center contact than a similar strike with a traditional, blade-style iron. Less vibration feels better, but makes it more difficult to tell exactly where on the face you struck the ball – and what caused the miss.
Cause and Cure - Vibration After Impacting Ball
As a golfer, you know the feeling. You make contact with the ball, you look up to see where it is going - and suddenly you feel a sharp stinging sensation in your hands. What happened? Why do some of your shots have to hurt so badly? It all comes down to vibration. That stinging pain that you feel in your hands is caused by vibration that is coming up through the shaft of the club and into your hands. While most people don't think of golf as a game that can inflict pain, those people likely have never hit a 3-iron thin on a cold morning.
So, if vibration is the root cause of this pain that you feel in your hands from time to time, the obvious solution to the problem is to prevent the club from vibrating so much after you hit the ball. How do you do that? By making clean contact. If you hit the ball cleanly, with contact occurring in the middle of the club face, you should have no trouble at all with excess vibration. In fact, the experience of hitting the ball on the sweet spot will be exactly the opposite of what you experience when you miss-hit a shot - a well-struck shot feel solid and stable at impact, with no pain in your hands whatsoever. Many golfers live for the feeling of catching the ball perfectly on the sweet spot, as it is one of the most rewarding feelings in the game - and perhaps in all of sports.
You can think of vibration after impacting the ball as 'evidence' that something has gone wrong at impact. The feedback that you receive in the form of vibration will tell you that you have made a mistake at some point in the swing - and it will then be your job to figure out what that mistake was, and how to correct it. You should always be trying to collect as much information as possible about your swing during any round, as it is critically important to make good adjustments on the fly if you hope to shoot low scores. By knowing what it means when you feel vibration in your hands, and then also knowing what changes need to be made in response, you will be a better player.
Ideally, you wouldn't hit any shots during the course of a round that would cause your hands to vibrate dramatically. Of course, that really isn't an attainable goal, but you should be working toward minimizing the number of times that you have to deal with this uncomfortable feeling. In addition to the pain that is felt in your hands, shots that vibrate through the club tend to have poor outcomes, so your scores should come down quickly if you are able to make solid contact on a regular basis.
All of the instruction contained below is based on a right handed golfer. If you happen to play left handed, please reverse the directions as necessary.
Making Clean Contact
Avoiding that dreaded vibration in the club and your hands after impact is as simple as hitting the ball cleanly. Make solid, clean contact at the bottom of the swing and you won't have to worry about vibration any longer. Of course, as every golfer knows, it is a significant challenge to make solid contact on most of your shots. Hitting the ball cleanly is the biggest challenge in the game - if you can take big steps forward on this point, you are going to become a dramatically better player in short order.
With that in mind, the list below contains a number of tips that you can use to work toward the goal of improving your ball striking.
- Focus on your balance. You may already know that balance is a key component to making good golf swings, but that point needs to be reinforced here because it relates specifically to making solid contact. Players who are able to stay nicely balanced have a much better chance to hit the ball cleanly than players who are moving from side to side during the swing. If you can maintain your center of gravity nicely from the time you start the swing until the moment of impact, it will be far easier to catch the ball cleanly at the bottom. The next time you watch golf on television, pay specific attention to how well the players are balanced as they hit their shots. Rather than moving all around from one side to the other, the average professional golfer remains stable and steady throughout the swing. This is a model that you should copy. Work on taking as much of the movement out of your swing as possible so that you are left with a motion that is balanced, easy to repeat, and reliable from the first shot to the last.
- Get your hands in front of the ball at impact. This is a point that many amateur golfers are unfamiliar with, but it is extremely important in your quest for solid ball striking. To catch the ball cleanly on a regular basis, you need to make sure that your hands are getting past the ball at impact. On the way down, your hands should be leading the way with the club head trailing well behind. Then, as your hands arrive over the ball, the 'lag' that you have saved up will be used, and the club head will begin to speed toward impact. The result is a powerful strike that has your hands slightly in front of the ball when contact is made. Work on mastering this concept on the driving range with short, soft shots before working your way up into powerful swings.
- Swing under control. One of the common mistakes made by the average golfer is swinging too hard in an effort to generate more power. While it is nice to hit the ball as far as possible, that distance isn't going to do you any good if you aren't making clean contact. In fact, swinging softer will actually enable you to hit the ball farther in many instances, assuming you are able to catch the ball on the sweet spot as a result. Keep your backswing compact to promote good balance and a nice rhythm, and trust the quality of your impact with the ball to generate all the distance you need.
- Practice regularly. This might seem like an obvious tip, but many golfers fail to practice on a regular basis - instead choosing to head out onto the course every chance they get. It is always tempting to go out and play, but often a focused practice session will be the better way to spend your time. You can hit dozens of shots in a short period of time on the range - something that just won't happen on the course. The repetition of hitting ball after ball on the range will naturally improve your ability to find the sweet spot. Try to squeeze in a weekly visit to the range and you will find that your ball striking gradually improves over time.
- Swing with confidence. A lack of confidence can kill an otherwise solid golf swing. If you have any doubts in your mind as to your ability to hit a solid shot, that doubt will be manifested in your performance. For better or worse, you need to be fully committed to each swing you make - after all, once the swing is started, there is nothing more you can do to 'save' or 'fix' the shot anyway. Trust your swing, accelerate through impact, and be confident that you are going to succeed.
It really boils down to the basics when you are trying to improve your ball striking. If you would like to avoid the unpleasant vibrations that come along with miss-hitting some of your shots, work on the points included on the list above to sharpen your performance. None of these points are going to instantly turn you into the world's best ball striker - rather, you will need to steadily work on all of these tips until your game rounds into form.
While it is clean ball striking that is ultimately going to help you avoid the vibrations that can leave you with stinging hands, the equipment you choose to use plays a role in this equation as well. Specifically, your choice of irons is going to impact how frequently you have to deal with the vibration from impact coming up the shaft. Drivers and fairway woods have large enough heads to mostly dissipate any vibration, so you should have to worry about this problem when swinging those clubs. This is a problem that is almost exclusively limited to iron shots, so think carefully about this issue before you purchase your next set.
There are two different points to consider when picking out iron sets, at least as far as vibration is concerned. You will want to think about both the design of the club heads in your iron set as well as the types of shafts that you are placing in those heads. In general, there are two options within each of these categories - blades and cavity backs for the heads, and steel or graphite for the shafts. You can combine these options in any way you want, such as blades with graphite shafts, cavity backs with steel shafts, etc. While vibration is certainly not the only point that you need to keep in mind when thinking of how you are going to construct your iron set, it is something that should at least be considered.
On the club head side of the issue, it is cavity back heads that are going to minimize vibration as compared to blades. When you use cavity back irons, that design is going to 'soak up' some of the vibration at impact, meaning less of the shaking will be passed on through to your hands. Not only will that allow you to avoid the uncomfortable experience of having your hands sting after a shot, but the results of those miss-hit shots will be better as well. So, with that in mind, why doesn't everyone use cavity back clubs? It comes down to feel. Better golfers appreciate the feel that is provided by blade irons, even if that means they have to deal with some added vibration from time to time. If you are a low handicap player who already makes good contact on most of your shots, you may want to consider blades despite the risk of stinging your hands on occassion. However, the average golfer who shoots in the mid-80's or higher during most rounds will likely want to pick cavity backs for the forgiveness and reduced vibration that they offer.
Moving on to the shafts that you should put in your irons, graphite is the choice that is going to cut down on vibration as compared to steel. When you use steel shafts, you are going to feel just about everything that happens at impact as those vibrations and sensations climb immediately up the shaft. Graphite does a great job of dampening those feelings, much in the same way that cavity back iron heads take some of the feel out of the shot. Experienced, accomplished golfers will usually not appreciate that characteristic, but it is a great thing for the beginning golfer (or for the player who is struggling to find consistent ball striking). If reducing vibration is one of the points that is at the top of your shopping list, graphite shafts should certainly be a strong consideration.
As should be obvious by this point, the ideal combination for players who would like to avoid feeling the vibration that can sometimes come after impact should assemble a set of cavity back irons with graphite shafts. Designing your iron set in that fashion will provide the ultimate configuration for forgiveness, meaning you can all but forget about having to deal with stinging hands after a poorly hit shot. This sort of set does not guarantee that you are going to hit great shots time after time, but it will 'insulate' you from what is going on down at impact. If you improve your ball striking skills down the line and wish to move up into steel shafts or even blade heads, that will always be a possibility in the future. For now, however, combining graphite with cavity backs heads is a great pick for the beginning golfer or the high handicap player.
The ability to make adjustments 'on the fly' during a round of golf is often what separates the low handicap players from their high handicap counterparts. Even good golfers hit poor shots, but those players tend to make quick adjustments in order to avoid making the same mistake over and over again. For example, a player who is consistent hitting their putts too hard on the first few holes will need to dial down their speed in order to putt well for the rest of the day. Without making that adjustment, the putts will add up and the score will be ugly by the end of the round.
As it relates to vibration from impact, you need to adjust to this issue in order to get your ball striking back on track as soon as possible. With very few exceptions, you will be feeling vibration because you are hitting the ball thin (hitting the ball 'thin' means you are making contact too low on the face). So, naturally, to stop the vibration from occurring, you need to move your contact point up into the middle of the face. If you can avoid hitting the ball thin, you can avoid the vibration problem and your game will be better for it.
The first place to look for problems in your swing when you are hitting the ball thin is your head. If your head is moving early - looking up to see where the ball is going before you have actually made contact - you will always be at risk of hitting the ball thin. Good ball strikers are able to control head movement all the way through impact and beyond, and you need to work on doing the same. Keep your eyes down on the ball until it leaves the face of the club to make sure that your head isn't pulling the rest of your body up out of the swing.
If it doesn't seem to be head movement that is causing you to make thin contact, it is likely an early release of your hands through the hitting area. As was mentioned earlier, you need to hold your lag nicely on the way down toward the ball if you wish to achieve a powerful, clean strike. Unfortunately, many amateur golfers give away their lag prior to the bottom of the swing, and a number of problems can arise as a result - including the issue of hitting the ball thin. Practice pulling the club down toward impact with the back of your left hand leading the way in order to make good contact frequently. As long as your right hand doesn't get involved too early, you should be able to hold the angle and wait until the perfect moment to release the swing and strike the ball.
Playing in Cold Weather
It never feels good to have your hands stung by vibration coming up through the shaft of your club, but it is particularly painful when it happens on a cold day. If you play a lot of golf in cold weather - or just early in the morning before the temperatures have had a chance to rise - you will want to be sure to take precautions in order to avoid a painful sting in your hands. Not only is the experience no fun, that stinging can linger for several minutes, making it difficult to play subsequent shots successfully.
When you are playing in cold temperatures, the first adjustment you should make comes in club selection. It is ideal to avoid your long irons as much as possible when the weather is cold, especially from the fairway. Those long clubs are easier to hit from the tee than they are from the fairway, as it takes considerable skill to go down and get the ball cleanly with a long iron on a cold day. If possible, use a hybrid club or a fairway wood in place of your long irons to avoid the risk of catching a nasty vibration.
The other adjustment you can make is to tighten up your swing and place an even greater emphasis on solid contact. You aren't going to hit the ball as far with a tighter swing, but that isn't the point - you are only trying to make clean contact and keep the ball moving in the right direction by finding the sweet spot as often as possible. Use extra club if necessary to reach your targets and trust the tighter, controlled swing that you are using to get the job done. You can certainly have plenty of fun when golfing in cold weather, but you will want to do everything you can to avoid having the club vibrate harshly through your hands. Keep in mind to two simple tips provided in this section for reducing vibration and make swings that are confident and free of fear.
Golf is not a game that is going to cause you the kind of physical pain that can be experienced in games like football or baseball, but hitting the ball thin too often will certainly leave you with stinging, sore hands. Between a combination of improved technique and proper equipment, however, you should be able to reduce the frequency that you have to deal with this problem. Take some time to work on the important points included above that relate to your ball striking and you can look forward to plenty of vibration-free golf in the years to come.