palmer-helicopter-finish

With the possible exception of Tiger Woods, no one has inspired more people to take up golf than Arnold Palmer. Arnie’s swing, however, was not necessarily the greatest model.

Palmer took golf by storm in the 1950s, parlaying his go-for-broke style into seven major championships – including four Masters victories -- from 1958-64. Much like Woods, Palmer’s charismatic charges drew fans who’d never been interested in golf before.

Growing up Pennsylvania, Palmer learned the game from his father, Deac, the head pro at Latrobe Country Club. Deac encouraged the talented lad to swing hard and hit the ball far, and the young Palmer gripped the club with a “strong” left hand (turned to the golfer’s right on top of the club).

Arnie would eventually adjust his grip to a neutral position, but he never outgrew a habit he’d developed early on. Because a strong grip can cause big hooks, Arnie learned to hold his hands firm through impact to prevent them from releasing (rolling over) too quickly and hitting shots left.

Hence, Palmer’s famous finish.

Palmer’s signature: The so-called “helicopter” follow-through.

Who else does it: Bernhard Langer, Woods on occasion

What it looked like: Palmer, never one to hold back, would often swing with ferocious speed all the way to the end, whipping the club over and around his head so that it pointed toward the target. This resulted from a “blocking” action as Palmer prevented the hands from over-rotating through impact.

The move is seldom seen among modern pros, though Woods will sometimes “helicopter” the finish when attempting a big slice around trees. The intent is similar – to hold the clubface open as long as possible.

Why it worked for Palmer: Unlike his swing, Palmer’s grip was so fundamentally sound it was commonly cited as the example for amateurs to follow. That being the case, he shouldn’t have needed to stall the release to save himself from a hook.

Despite his perfect grip, Palmer retained a swing trait that could have induced a major hook. On the backswing, his left wrist became bowed or convex (the opposite of a cupped or concave wrist), which closes the clubface relative to the swing plane. Current players Dustin Johnson and Graeme McDowell exhibit a similar position.

Palmer’s wrist remained bowed on the downswing, putting him in danger of a hard-left shot. But his brisk lower-body rotation, which allowed his hands and arms to hang back for a split second, likely had more to do with warding off hooks than did the helicopter action.

How it can work for you: It can’t. To put it gently, Palmer’s whirly-bird follow-through isn’t a move you should copy.

If you struggle with hooks, there are better solutions out there.

First of all, your problem could be an overly strong grip. If you can see the third knuckle on the back of your left hand when addressing the ball, try turning both hands a touch to the left – about 1/8” to start with. Your shots should straighten out because the club will be less closed on the backswing, and the hands won’t roll over as hard through the hitting zone.

You could also be “casting” the club from the top, starting the downswing with the hands and arms rather than the lower body. Here’s a great drill to slow down your hands.

Other common causes of hooks include poor alignment and a swing plane that’s too flat (horizontal). If hooks only seem to plague you with the driver, you could be teeing the ball too high.