If Tiger Woods’ swing is the most scrutinized in golf history, then surely Ben Hogan’s is the most studied.
Anyone who’s taught golf since Hogan’s heyday in the mid-20th century has read his landmark book, Ben Hogan’s Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf. They’ve probably pored over vintage photos and film clips of “the Hawk” in action, too, searching for Hogan’s so-called “secret” move like a pirate hunting for lost treasure.
With his obsessive devotion to practice and mechanics, Hogan developed the template for the modern-day professional golfer. Many of his swing positions remain the gold standard of perfection – indeed, the ultimate compliment having one’s swing compared favorably to Hogan’s.
Indeed, Hogan’s meticulously constructed method featured many noteworthy elements, but here we’ll focus on the one which is widely considered to be the key – if not the secret -- to his extraordinary ballstriking.
Hogan’s signature: Bowed left wrist at impact.
Who else does it: At the moment of contact, most pros show either a bowed left wrist or a wrist that is flush with the back of the left hand. In 1956, Hogan himself wrote: “At impact the left wrist of a good player is slightly convex, while that of a poor player is generally concave.”
In still frames capturing Hogan at impact, you can see the slightest outward bending of his left hand and wrist toward the target. This was a product of “supinating” the left forearm through the ball. In other words, rotating the left hand from a palm-down to a palm-up position.
Why it worked for Hogan: After having problems with a wicked hook early in his career, Hogan made swing changes to cure his debilitating malady forever. Once complete, this new swing fix featured the famous bowed left wrist, which kept the clubface square or slightly open through impact. In fact, it’s nearly impossible to hit a hook with this action, which prevents the wrist from breaking down and turning the clubface over prematurely.
How to make it work for you: Whether your left wrist (for right-handers) is bowed or flat at impact isn’t important, as long as it isn’t cupped. What really matters is that your hands are ahead of the ball with the shaft tilted slightly toward the target. (This is true for all clubs, with the possible exception of the
driver.) Achieve this position and you’ll likely have a Hoganesque flat/bowed wrist.
The first item is to make sure your hands are in front of the ball at address. The correct amount varies by club; in general, the shorter the club, the farther ahead your hands should be.
Ideally, the hands will return to the address position at impact. If so, you’ll produce a nice, clean divot by “trapping” the ball against the turf with a downward blow. This also creates backspin and a controlled ball flight.
To help create a trapping action, try this drill on the range:
- Using a short iron, assume your normal setup, with your hands ahead of the ball.
- Lift your right heel so that only your toes are touching the ground.
- Swing normally.
This drill tilts your body in an exaggerated fashion to facilitate a downward blow. Once you gain a feel for it using various clubs, resume your usual setup and swing while seeking the same sensation, striking down on the back of the ball.
Should You Play Golf with a Bowed Left Wrist?
Golf is a game that can be played a number of different ways, which is one of the things that makes it so interesting to so many people. Your swing will never be exactly like anyone else’s – even if you try to emulate the swing of your favorite professional golfer. Everyone has their own little unique traits which makes their swing different from the rest. Since there is no one right way to swing the club, it is up to you to find out what method works best for you and then refine it over time.
It should be noted before getting too far into this discussion that a bowed left wrist is relevant for a right handed golfer only. If you play golf left handed, it would be your right wrist that would be in question.
The bowed left wrist is one of the various positions that you can use in the golf swing if you so choose. While the wrist can be bowed at any point during the swing, it is most-easily observed at the top of the backswing. When the club is transitioning from backswing to downswing, it will be easy to tell if the left wrist is bowed, flat, or cupped.
So what does a bowed left wrist at top of the backswing look like? Imagine that you were wearing a watch on your left wrist during the swing. When you have a bowed left wrist at top of the backswing, the face of that watch would be exposed and pointing toward the sky. Still not clear? Try the following exercise: Hold your arms out in front of you so that your palms are facing down toward the floor. Now, relax the muscles in your hands so that they fall limp from your wrists. Look at the position of your wrists at this point – they are now ‘bowed’. If you were to lift your hands up so that your palms were facing in front of you, that would be a ‘cupped’ position.
Playing from a bowed left wrist position has gained a lot of attention over the years because of the swing of Ben Hogan. Widely considered to be one of the best ball strikers of all time, the Ben Hogan bowed wrist is a classic golf image that many have tried to learn from and emulate. While it might be a pretty tall order to copy the swing of one of the greatest in history, there certainly are some lessons to be learned from the Ben Hogan bowed wrist position.
While there are plenty of virtues to working toward this position at the top of your swing, it isn’t going to be for everyone. You need to understand how your own swing works, and how you want it to work, before you decide whether or not a bowed left wrist is the right way for you to go with your technique. The Ben Hogan supination left wrist position is well-known around golf, but plenty of other players have managed to play the game well from other positions. Watch the professional tour sometime and you will see a variety of swing positions even among the top players in the world.
What It Can Do for You
Before you make any kind of change in your swing, you should always have a good idea of what kind of benefit it can bring you in the end. If it isn’t going to make you a better player, it really isn’t worth doing at all. There are plenty of things that having a bowed left wrist can bring to your golf swing, including the following –
- A better impact position. The whole swing is really about reaching a good spot at impact so you can create a repeatable and powerful ball flight. When you have a bowed left wrist at impact, your hands are going to be ahead of the ball and you should be striking down through the shot nicely. No matter what their swing looks like at the top, most of the best players in the world feature at least a slightly bowed left wrist at impact. To simplify your swing, it might be easiest for you to find that bowed position at the top of the swing and simply take it all the way down to impact.
- Better use of the lower body. If you are going to be in a bowed wrist position at the top, you are going to have to use your lower body well in the downswing – or you could hit some ugly hooks to the left. Since the club face will probably be in a closed position coming down, it will be up to your lower body to rotate through the shot and clear out of the way so that the club face can be squared up at impact. This move has the potential to add power to your swing, but you need to make sure you can execute it correctly time after time.
- Downward impact. This was mentioned above but it bears repeating because it is so important. Hitting down through your shots – specifically, your iron shots – is one of the best things you can do to improve your ball striking. If you are in a cupped left wrist position at impact, it is going to be very difficult to hit down properly. With a bowed left wrist, your hands will be leading the club through the shot and the club head should be following a downward trajectory through the ball. To strike shots that penetrate through the air and have plenty of backspin, this is exactly the method you should be looking to use.
Depending on how you swing the club currently, there could be quite a few changes necessary to your present technique if you are going to switch to a bowed left wrist position during your swing. However, those changes might be worth making if you think your game could benefit from the points that are highlighted above.
All of the items listed above are great reasons to consider working on a bowed left wrist during your swing. However, there are some reasons why you should think twice before you head in this potentially new direction. As with anything in golf, there are pros and cons to this technique and finding the right balance of positions in your swing is what the game is all about.
The first potential drawback to consider is that you might have trouble hitting a fade from this kind of position. If your wrist is significantly bowed at the top of the swing, the club face will likely be in a shut position – unless you play with an extremely weak grip. From the shut position, you will need to rotate your lower body aggressively just to square the club face and hit a solid shot. For most players, that shot will end up being a draw based on the mechanics of the swing. Not that there is anything wrong with playing a draw – but if you want to have the flexibility in your game to hit a fade from time to time, you may find it tough to do when your wrist is bowed at the top of the swing.
Another possible negative could be a loss of speed in your swing. This issue will only be experienced by some players, as others may even find that they hit the ball farther after making the change. When your wrist is bowed at the top of the swing, you may lose a little bit of freedom and flexibility in your wrists, which can make it harder to lag the club sufficiently in the downswing. As a result, you may lose a few miles per hour off of your club head speed and a few yards off your shots as well. Again, your results may vary depending on a number of different factors, but a loss of distance is something to watch out for.
The final drawback that you will want to think about is a loss of ‘feel’ through the shot with your hands. Playing from a bowed left wrist position means you will be making a largely body-powered swing with very little control over the club placed into your hands and arms. Again, this is not necessarily a bad thing. For some players, this can have great results and can help to produce a consistent ball flight. However, if you like to feel the ball coming off the club and want a little bit more control in your hands at impact, it might not be for you.
The only way to know how you are going to feel about making this type of swing is to try it out for yourself. Obviously, those tests should take place on the practice range where you can be free to not worry so much about the results of the shots you are hitting and just focus on the process. If you decide to try hitting shots with a bowed left wrist on the range, give yourself enough time to adjust to the new technique before making a decision one way or another. You will need at least a few different range sessions before you start to get a good idea of how this type of swing can perform for you.
You might be having a little trouble deciding if this is something you should work on, or if you are better off continuing with the same basic swing that you have been using. It isn’t fun to waste time on a swing that you are going to abandon after a short period of time, so thinking it through in advance is your best option. To help with that process, the following three questions are designed for you to ask yourself about your own game and your current swing. Use the answers to the questions below to decide how you proceed.
- Do you make a good lower body turn? An aggressive lower body turn in the downswing is pretty much essential if you are going to hit good shots from a bowed left wrist position. Therefore, you need to make sure you have that ability before getting too far into this process. While you could always try to make a more aggressive turn with your lower body, you might find that it is difficult for you to do if it doesn’t already come naturally. Consider watching your own swing on video to observe the current state of your lower body rotation in the downswing. Are you able to get through the shot fully and onto your left side, or do you get ‘stuck’ and hang back on your right foot? Without a naturally lower body turn toward the target, you may find that the transition to a bowed left wrist swing is just a little too much to take on.
- How much shoulder turn do you get in the backswing? This kind of swing is all about rotation, so you also need plenty of shoulder turn going back to complement the lower body turn that you will use in the downswing. If you lack flexibility in your back and torso to make a full turn away from the ball, this kind of swing will become very difficult for you to manage. As a rule of thumb, make sure you can at least get your left shoulder pointed toward the position of the ball at the top of your backswing. Should you find that your turn falls short of that measurement, the bowed left wrist position may not be for you. While it could still be possible to hit some good shots, the lack of power that you would generate would likely cause you to go back to a different style.
- What kind of ball flight are you looking for? Different golfers like the look and feel of different ball flights – it largely comes down to just personal preference. So, what ball flight do you like? A lower flight that tends to move right to left is the most likely to result from a swing that uses a bowed left wrist. If you like to keep the ball lower to the ground and prefer to play a draw, this could be a good match for you. However, hitting the ball high, or moving it from left to right, can be problematic. That isn’t to say that it can’t be done, but the bowed left wrist doesn’t really promote those flights. You don’t want to be fighting your own swing to hit the type of shots that you enjoy hitting, so be sure this is the right fit for your style.
Just by working through those three questions, you should have a good idea of whether or not using a bowed left wrist in your swing is something that will appeal to you in the long run. Making any kind of a swing change is hard enough, but making one that affects the position of your hands and wrists is especially tricky. You would be in for quite a bit of work to alter your wrist position if you aren’t already bowed at the top of the swing. It is certainly possible to make the change, but it shouldn’t be taken lightly. Committing to the change requires dedication and plenty of time on the practice range.
Making It Happen
Should you decide to go ahead and work on this type of swing change, you will need some keys to focus on during your practice sessions. While you know that you are trying to get your wrist into a slightly bowed position at the top, it will probably be easier if you think about some other mechanics that can help to promote that position. The golf swing is all about cause and effect, so you should work on understanding how one part of your swing affects another. Doing the right things early in the swing will make it far easier to reach that bowed position at the top.
The first adjustment you need to make to your swing starts before the club even goes into motion. Work on the grip position of your left hand to make sure it isn’t too strong at address. A strong grip is when your left hand is turned well to the right on the top of the club. An easy way to check your grip position is to look down at address and see how many knuckles you can see on the back of your left hand. If you see all four, or even three and a half, your grip is probably too strong to reach a bowed position. Try turning it to the left until you can only see two knuckles – this should be about right for the kind of swing you are now trying to make.
After your grip is in a good position, next you will want to work on the path of your right elbow during the backswing. Many amateur golfers let their right elbow move up and away from their torso during the backswing, which causes plenty of problems – and also leads to a cupped left wrist. You will want to focus on keeping that right elbow pointed down toward the ground as much as possible during the backswing to help lead your hands into the right position. Doing this properly makes many parts of the swing easier, not just the bowed left wrist. A good connection between the right arm and the side of your torso is something worth working on regardless of the rest of your swing technique.
To work on your right arm position, try the following simple drill which is a classic in golf circles. Before starting your swing, place an extra golf glove or small golf towel under your right arm and trap it in your armpit. Hold it there as you start your swing, and try to keep it in place throughout the backswing and transition. If you do so successfully, you will know that your right arm is nicely tucked in near your side. If not, it will be obvious that you have lifted it up and away incorrectly. Try this drill over and over until you become comfortable with this kind of arm positioning.
The final step to working on a bowed left wrist technique in your swing is leading with the lower body during the transition. As your club stops moving back and starts moving down toward the ball, it should be your lower body that gets things moving toward the target. If you initiate that action with your hands and arms instead, your bowed left wrist position will more likely lead to a hook than anything else. You must get the lower body cleared quickly so you can square the club face to the target line and hit a solid shot.
As mentioned before, expect to put in some work on the driving range while trying to make this adjustment in your swing. Ideally, you will work on this change during a time when you can take a break from playing actual rounds on the course and just focus on your technique. Only after a period of time goes by and plenty of range balls have been hit should you try taking this modified swing out onto the course.
Achieving the classic Ben Hogan supination left wrist position that was made so famous might not be realistic in your own game, but you can certainly learn from the beautiful swing that Hogan used so successfully. Take the information provided above about the bowed left wrist in the golf swing and think about how it relates to what you currently do with the club. Only when you are convinced that this would be a beneficial direction for you to move in should you start trying it out for yourself. Should you successfully find the bowed left wrist position, however, you could be rewarded with some of the best ball striking of your life.