From his playing days to his current role as a TV golf analyst, Paul Azinger has always done things with a certain flare. One look at his grip will tell you that.
The lanky Floridian won 12 PGA Tour events, including the 1993 PGA Championship. Azinger was known for his extremely low ball flight and lights-out putting, as well as a bulldog's tenacity under pressure. Azinger never shied away from a challenge, even when facing the likes of Seve Ballesteros in the Ryder Cup.
A bout with cancer interrupted Azinger's best years, but he defeated the disease and won for the final time in 2000.
Unconventional move: An extremely “strong” grip position, with the hands turned well to the right of “neutral”
Photo 1: The left hand is rotated so far to the golfer's right that the thumb runs down the side of the club's handle. The right hand is much more “underneath” the grip than standard. Also, the back of Azinger's left forearm and the inside of his right forearm face outward, toward the ball.
Photo 2: This is the conventional
“neutral” grip that is considered ideal, with the left thumb running down the center of the handle and joined with the base of the right thumb pad.
Why it's a problem for amateurs: While a slightly strong grip can promote a free release of the club through impact, Azinger's style would be too much of a good thing for most golfers. Because the hands and forearms are pre-set in a rotated position, there's very little room left to turn them on the backswing. This causes a closed clubface at the top, resulting in major hooks and pulled shots.
How Azinger gets away with it: Indeed, Azinger's clubface is very shut at the top. He compensates by rotating the hips far to the left on the downswing, with his arms trailing more than the typical amount. By “dragging” the club, Azinger was able to hold the clubface open through impact, a move called a “delayed release.” If his hips and arms followed the normal sequence and spacing, Azinger would hit massive hooks.
The cure: If you hook the ball due to a strong grip, roll the hands to your left (for a right-hander) about 1/8 inch. Practice and play this way until you become comfortable and your shots fly straighter. If you continue producing too much right-to-left action, go another 1/8 inch and repeat the process.
It can take a while to adjust to even a slight grip change, so stick with it.
Playing Golf with a Strong – or Ultra-Strong – Grip
The way you grip the club says a lot about the golf swing that you are going to make. Your grip and your swing technique will be forever linked, and you need to make sure that they complement each other nicely if you are going to find success on the course. Using a grip and a swing style that are not well-suited to each other is only going to make the game harder than it already is. There are a variety of different grips that you can use to play good golf, but make sure that the grip you choose is one that will cooperate with the rest of your swing.
One of the most-extreme grip options that you can use is a strong left hand position. When you play the game using a strong grip –or even an ultra-strong grip – you will be giving your hands a large measure of control over the club head. A strong left hand grip is one that is turned dramatically to the right as you are looking down from address. If you can see most of the back of your left hand when you look down at your grip, you are in a strong position. If you can see all four knuckles on the back of your left hand, you are in an ultra-strong grip position. Either way, your hands will have plenty of power over the movement over the club head during the swing when you take this approach.
This is in contrast to a weak grip style, where the left hand is turned to the left on the grip. When using a weak grip, you will only be able to see one or two knuckles at address, and your hands will have little control over how the club moves during the swing. When you use a weak grip, you will be forced to manage the movement of the club mostly with your arms and shoulders, since your hands won't be able to manipulate the club head through the hitting area.
So, is a strong or ultra-strong grip right for you? Well, it depends. If you look to the players on the PGA Tour, you can see that there are a variety of grip styles represented. One great example of using an ultra-strong grip to great success is the career of Paul Azinger. Azinger used a very strong left hand grip in his game, and it worked to great effect. The key that allowed Azinger to have success with the strong left hand grip was that the rest of his swing matched the style of grip that he was using. Where another player might not be able to make that style of grip work with their other swing mechanics, it was a perfect fit for Azinger. You will need to take a close look at your own swing before deciding if a strong left hand grip is something that could make you a better player.
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.
The Benefits of a Strong Grip Position
Before you get to the point of making a decision about your own grip, it will be helpful to learn a little more about the pros and cons of playing from a strong left hand position. As with anything in golf, there are positives that can be gained by making this change – but there are some drawbacks as well. No golf method or technique is perfect, so you will also need to pick and choose from various options until you find the ones that suit you best.
Following are three benefits that you could enjoy if you decide to use a strong left hand grip in your golf swing.
- Stability through the hitting area. Many of the players who use a strong grip do so because of the feeling that it offers through impact. When you strike the ball solidly while using a strong grip, the feeling is one of strength and power. Of course, you will still need to do the hard work of delivering the sweet spot of the club onto the back of the ball, but it will feel great once you do. You might also notice that your off-center hits result in slightly better shots when using a strong grip because the club face doesn't rotate quite as much on impact.
- Improved body rotation. This is something that results from the kind of swing you will have to make in order to use a strong grip. When you change over to a strong left hand grip, you will quickly realize that you need to make a great shoulder turn in order to put your swing together successfully. Without good rotational motion from the rest of your body, your strong grip will likely just result in a quick hook. Think of this point as being forced to do something that you should be doing anyway – a full shoulder turn is good for your swing, and a strong grip will require you to make a good turn if you wish to hit a solid shot.
- Strength through the long grass. When your ball finds its way into some longer grass around the edges of the golf course, getting back in play should be your first priority. Using a strong grip, you will notice that you have an improved ability to cut the club through the grass and reach the ball with enough power to get it back into play. Players with a weak grip often struggle to hit good shots from the rough, so using a strong grip can be a big advantage when you stray from the fairway.
There are likely even more advantages to a strong grip that you may experience, but these three are a great start. Even if only one or two of these elements actually shows up in your own game, you might still find the switch to be worth your time and effort.
Drawbacks to a Strong Grip
As mentioned above, no technique in golf is perfect. There are plenty of positives to be had when playing golf with a strong grip, but there are some drawbacks as well. Only when the pros sufficiently outweigh the cons for your own playing style should you decide to go ahead with a grip change.
Below are three potential drawbacks to using a strong grip –
- One dimensional game. Many golfers who use a strong grip are only able to create one ball flight – usually a draw. If you are a player who likes to work the ball both ways depending on the hole in front of you, playing with an extremely strong grip might not be a good fit. It is challenging to adjust your ball flight with a strong grip simply because of the position that your body has to be in to strike the ball solidly. It is not impossible to vary your ball flights with a strong grip, but most players will have an easier time varying their shots when playing with a weak grip instead.
- Distance control issues. Another problem that you may run into is the inability to control the distance of your shorter shots. Many players report having more 'feel' with a weaker grip, and you might notice that this lack of feel translates into not hitting your wedges the right distance. This shouldn't be a problem on full swings, but it could be an issue when trying to hit soft shots anywhere from 40 – 90 yards. This won't be an issue for every golfer that tries a strong grip, but it is something to think about before making a switch.
- The danger of a quick hook. Playing with a strong grip will always make it a possibility that you could hit a quick hook – especially off the tee. If your body doesn't rotate properly during a given swing, the club face will have the ability to close quickly and send the ball spinning hard to the left. While proper swing technique will keep you safely away from the hook, you may not like the feeling of having to worry about that snap hook making an appearance at the worst possible time. Generally speaking, players who use a weaker grip will have less-dramatic misses in one direction or another.
None of these potential drawbacks should prevent you from trying out a strong grip in your own game. However, they are important points to be aware of and to watch out for on the course. If you notice that these problems persist in your game after changing to a strong grip, you may have to switch back – or at least find a happy medium where you are able to enjoy some of the benefits of a strong grip without having to deal with the negatives.
Making the Change
Presuming that you have decided to try a strong grip in your own game, you will need a clear plan in order to make the change successfully. If you were to simply try to walk onto the first tee and play a round with your new grip, the results would be ugly to say the least. Your grip has a ripple effect on everything else that you do in your swing, so this is not a change that should be entered into lightly. When changing your grip, expect to spend at least a month or two working on your swing on the driving range before you start to see positive results on the course. That isn't meant to be discouraging, but it is simply the reality of making this kind of change to your game.
To get started on your grip change, you should first stay away from the golf course – including the driving range. That might sound crazy, but the best way to change your grip is to avoid hitting any shots at all for a short period of time. During this time, you will simply work on learning how to place your hands into the right position for your new grip. Only when your new grip becomes comfortable should you move on to actually hitting some shots.
Follow the steps below to learn how to take a strong grip –
- Holding any one of your golf clubs, take the regular grip that you have been using in your game up to this point. Stand in an address position and pretend as if you were getting ready to hit a shot.
- Next, drop your right hand off of the club so that you are only holding on with your left hand grip. You should still be in your address position.
- Now turn your left hand to the right gradually to make your grip stronger. As you are moving your grip, keep looking down at your left hand to monitor how far it has turned. You may need to use your right hand to balance the club while turning your left into position.
- Continue to turn your left hand until you can see at least three knuckles on the back of your left hand. If you would like, you can keep going all the way until you see all four knuckles.
- When you are happy with the position of your left hand, add your right hand back onto the grip. It should be positioned so that it 'matches' comfortably with your left hand and forms a tight grip around the club.
Once you feel like you can take this new grip over and over again comfortably, you can start to make some practice swings and see how it feels when you put the club in motion. It is still a good idea to make these practice swings somewhere away from the golf course where you won't actually be hitting any balls – just make rehearsal swings to get used to the feeling of the club in your hands with the modified grip.
After a period of time where you only work on your new grip away from the course, it will be okay to head to the driving range and start hitting a few shots. It is important at this point that you keep your expectations in check when it comes to the quality of shots that you will hit. Changing your grip is a big deal in terms of the golf swing, and the first shots that you hit might not be very pretty. Don't get down on yourself after a few bad shots – stick with it and allow yourself time to learn how to strike quality shots while using a strong grip.
One of the key things to remember early on is that you need to make a big shoulder turn to hit good shots with your new grip. If you cut your shoulder turn short in the backswing, you won't have enough time to get the club into the right position. The result will be a swing that requires you to slap at the ball with your hands – and a hook is almost sure to result. If you find that your first few shots on the range are big hooks, try making a bigger turn with your shoulders. Maintain a good tempo and rhythm as you rotate away from the ball, and only stop turning when you are no longer able to turn right and maintain your balance. It will take a little bit of time until you find the perfect spot where you have gone far enough – but not too far – with your backswing. Any time you lose your balance, you will know that you have gone too far.
Another problem that you might run into on the driving range is hitting the ball fat with some of your irons. This issue is typically caused by releasing the club prematurely in the downswing. Since you have so much more control over the club head in your hands with a strong grip, you may begin to release the club before you should on the way down toward the ball. To alleviate this problem, focus on using the back of your left hand to pull the club down toward impact. Don't worry about releasing the club – that will happen naturally as you rotate through the shot. As long as you turn as quickly as you can toward the target during the downswing, the club is sure to release nicely through the ball. By getting your right hand to remain passive in the downswing you should be able to correct the problem of hitting the ball fat.
After you spend some time on the range hitting shot after shot with your new grip, you should begin to find some success. More and more of your shots will look good in the air, and they will start to feel better coming off the club. This is a great sign, and you should be excited about the progress that you have made. Don't, however, get too far ahead of yourself. There is a big difference between hitting some good shots on the range and playing well on the course – and you still have plenty of hard work in front of you.
Going Back onto the Course
If you have done a good job of staying off of the course while working on your grip change, you are probably anxious to get back out with your friends and play a round of golf. When the time comes to play your first round, there are bound to be expectations based on the progress that you have made on the driving range. It is fine to be excited about your new grip and new swing, but don't count on shooting a new personal best score in your first round back. For most players, it is going to take some time before the work on the range translates to the scorecard.
To help you make this transition as quickly as possible, try using the three tips below –
- Don't play for anything. If you are a golfer who often plays in competitions at your local club, avoid planning your first round back for a tournament day. You don't want to add the pressure of a competition to the hard work you already have to do in terms of using your new grip on the course. You want to return to a casual round of golf where you can focus on hitting as many good shots as possible without too much concern for your score.
- Play an easy course. Try to schedule your first round or two on one of the easier golf courses in your area. Playing a tough course could quickly lead to frustration when you hit a few poor shots and maybe lose a couple golf balls. Give yourself a soft landing by picking out a golf course with wide fairways and big greens. You can always head back to the tougher courses once you are more-familiar with your new grip and the shots that it is capable of creating.
- Expect more draw. Most likely, the ball is going to start moving right to left in the air more than ever before. Even if you are a player who usually fades the ball, you may find that your standard ball flight is now a draw. You should have some idea of what ball flight to expect from the work you have done on the driving range, but you won't really know what it looks like until you are actually playing on the course.
Not every golfer is cut out to play with an extremely strong left hand grip like Paul Azinger. Just because the grip worked well for him does not necessarily mean it will be the right choice for you. However, if you would like to try out a strong or ultra-strong grip in your own game, use the tips and instruction above to guide your practice sessions. As long as you put in plenty of hard work on the driving range while making the change, you should be able to start hitting quality shots on the golf course in the near future.