Has there ever been a more exciting golfer to watch than Seve Ballesteros?
The Spaniard, who died in 2011 at age 54, was an intensely passionate performer who thrilled fans with his astounding skill and dramatic flair. Ballesteros won the Masters twice and the Open Championship three times, delivering an array of breathtaking shots every time he took the tee.
Ballesteros learned to play golf using a 3-iron on the beaches of Pedreña, Spain. The athletic, elegant swing he developed there was unique, much like Seve himself.
Unconventional move: Rather than starting the club back “low and slow” with his arms and shoulders, Ballesteros hinged the wrists very early on the takeaway.
Photo 1: With most pros, the club is parallel to the ground when the hands reach hip height. With Ballesteros, the shaft was already tilted upward because his wrists cocked so quickly. In essence, Seve “pre-loaded” the club into its final backswing position.
Photo 2: At the top, the angle between arms and shaft were a mirror image of Ballesteros' position on the takeaway (photo 1). He simply rotated the shoulders and lifted the arms into place once the wrist cock was complete.
Why it's a problem for amateurs: The conventional low and slow takeaway creates a wide swing arc, necessary for most players to generate maximum swing speed. Therefore, emulating Seve's style would drain a great deal of power from the typical golfer. Picking the club up quickly can lead to a variety of other ills, like an open clubface (slicing), restricted shoulder turn, and loss of synchronicity between the upper and lower body.
How Ballesteros got away with it: Simply put, he was incredibly talented. Thanks to his enormous hands – he could hold 11 golf balls in each one – Ballesteros could manipulate the clubhead like few others before or since. His powerful leg action ensured plenty of distance despite the relatively tight swing arc.
It must be said, of course, that Ballesteros was perhaps the wildest hitter among modern golf's greats. No doubt his unorthodox backswing had something to do with that.
The cure: If you tend to jerk the club up and away from the ball, focus on keeping the clubhead close to the ground throughout the first part of the backswing. The arms and shoulders – not the hands and wrists – should be in control at this stage. The wrists will hinge naturally as the arms climb higher and the shoulders turn.
Practice by placing a headcover behind the ball and dragging it out of the club's path on the takeaway.
Seve Ballesteros Early Wrist Hinge
When you think of the golf game of the late Seve Ballesteros, you likely think first about his incredible short game skills. To be sure, Seve made a career out of getting the ball up and down from some of the most unlikely places on the course. However, you don't become a five-time major champion based on a short game alone. In addition to his magic from around the greens, Seve was a high-quality ball striker with an excellent swing. It was the combination of short and long game talent that led Ballesteros to 91 career professional wins and a place in the World Golf Hall of Fame.
Trying to copy the short game of Seve Ballesteros would probably be a mistake – after all, he was one of the greatest of all time when it comes to playing from around the green. However, there is plenty that you can learn from his long game in an effort to improve your own swing. Specifically, the early wrist hinge that Ballesteros employed in his swing is something that you may want to consider. While this kind of swing technique isn't as popular today as it once was, there is still a lot to be said for engaging your hands early in the backswing.
Most modern golf teachers instruct their students to keep their hands quiet throughout the early stages of the swing. Today's professionals mostly make swings that are focused on body rotation both in the backswing and the downswing, with the hands and wrists playing a limited role. With that said, you don't have to be tied to that same kind of swing simply because it is popular at the moment. The incredible accomplishments of Seve Ballesteros throughout his remarkable career should be all the proof you need that it is possible to play great golf while using your wrists to set the club going back.
So is this swing technique going to be right for your game? Maybe, maybe not. The only way to know for sure is to experiment on the driving range. If you are searching for answers in your game at the moment, consider taking a trip to the range to work on an early wrist hinge move. There are a number of benefits to this kind of swing, along with a few drawbacks. Some golfers will enjoy the benefits without experiencing the drawbacks, while others won't be able to make this technique work at all. A big part of becoming a good golfer is having the willingness to experiment with your swing mechanics, because experimenting is the only way to find things that work for you. Give the early wrist hinge a chance and it just might help transform your game.
All of the instruction below is based on a right handed golfer. If you play golf left handed, please reverse the directions as necessary.
Why the Wrist Hinge Works
Even though most golf teachers will tell you to keep your wrists out of the takeaway and early part of the backswing, there are many benefits to be gained from allowing your wrists to hinge at this early stage. An early wrist hinge, when executed correctly, can lead to solid ball striking and even improved distance in some cases. Following are a few of the benefits that you may experience when you use an early wrist hinge in your golf swing.
- Get the set out of the way. At some point during the swing, the club needs to get into a 'set' position where it is perpendicular to the position of the left arm. While many golfers use a 'soft set' that doesn't fully hinge the wrists until the top of the swing, you can also set the club early to accomplish the same effect. By hinging your wrists right from the start of the swing, you can finish the task of setting the club early on in the backswing motion. With that job complete, you can then focus simply on turning your shoulders the rest of the way. Some golfers will find this to be a simpler way to swing the club, and simplifying your swing often leads to improved results.
- Creating a downward angle. Many amateur golfers fail to attack their iron shots with a downward angle, leading to shots that lack backspin and height. If this is something you struggle with, an early wrist hinge could help you develop a better downward hit when the club returns to impact. The early set of the club will elevate the club head in the backswing, allowing you to swing down aggressively through the shot.
- Developing speed in your swing. Generally speaking, a slow and smooth takeaway is the best option when trying to hit solid shots. However, for some players, using a slow takeaway never allows them to generate the kind of speed and distance they would like to have in their game. If you don't feel like you are able to get the club moving as quickly as you would like, try using an early wrist hinge to 'energize' your swing. The club head will have more speed going back, and that just may translate into more speed coming through.
- Setting a good swing plane. Using your hands and wrists to hinge the club right from the start can be helpful in establishing a swing plane that will carry you through the rest of the shot. Some golfers who keep their hands and wrists out of the takeaway get into a bad habit of dragging to the club to the inside of the correct path – which means they will have to make some sort of adjustment coming down to get back on plane. Using your wrists correctly to move the club head up into position early in the backswing is a great way to solve this problem. This kind of takeaway will put the club in front of you during the backswing, preparing you to swing down right along the target line.
Not every golfer is going to experience all of the benefits above. In fact, you may try the early wrist hinge and find that none of the items listed above ever appear in your game. Of course, you will never know if you don't give it a try. Even if only one or two of these benefits actually comes to life in your swing, those improvements may be all you need to take your game to a new level.
As is the case with any swing change you can make in golf, there will be some drawbacks to go along with the benefits. The goal, of course, is to have the benefits outweigh the drawbacks in your game. If they don't, there isn't much point in continuing with the swing change. Only when you make a change that you are confident is giving you far more pros than cons should you stick with that chance for the long run.
Before you try out the early wrist hinge for yourself, consider the list of potential drawbacks below.
- Loss of rhythm. Most golfers like to build the speed in their swing gradually, but that is not how it will happen when you use an early wrist hinge. The action of hinging your wrists will speed up the club head early in the backswing, meaning you will want to carry that speed through the rest of the swing. Most players who use an early wrist hinge have quick overall tempos, which can be a good or a bad thing, depending on your preference and your natural tendencies. Rhythm is important in golf, so you won't want to sacrifice the quality of your tempo just to add an early wrist hinge.
- Inconsistency under pressure. One of the biggest reasons to use quiet hands in your golf swing is so you can avoid the effects of nerves when you start to feel the pressure. It is easy to allow your golf swing to get quick and out of rhythm when you get nervous, and a 'handsy' golf swing is only going to make that issue worse. If you are someone who tends to feel the pressure when you are playing a round of golf, and that pressure affects your swing, you might want to think twice about using an early wrist hinge. It is one thing to be able to hit good shots on the driving range – it is another thing completely to hit them on the course when the pressure is on. If you swing isn't going to hold up in the face of nerves, it is never going to get you where you want to go.
- Getting too steep. In the positives section above, it was highlighted how an early wrist hinge can help you to hit down on your iron shots. While that is a good thing, it is not a good thing to hit down too steeply into the ball. When you start to take huge divots out of the grass after impact, you may be hitting down so steep that you are hurting your overall performance. The ideal path into the ball is a slightly downward angle that pulls just a shallow strip of turf from the earth. If you get much steeper than that, you will be putting too much backspin on your shots, and you will lose control of your ball flight. An early wrist hinge runs the risk of creating an extra-steep angle, so watch for this problem as you are working on this new technique at the driving range.
- Cutting the backswing short. Most golfers don't complete their wrist hinge until they finish the rotation of their shoulders in the backswing. If you decide to get the wrist hinge out of the way early, you may find yourself tempted to cut your shoulder turn short so you can get started on the downswing. Even if you know that this is the wrong thing to do, the feeling of finishing your wrist hinge just may lead you to change directions prematurely. It could take an extended period of practice time before you are able to use an early wrist hinge while still finishing your full shoulder turn.
Just as with the positives, you may find that only one or two of these drawbacks actually affects you – or you might even get by without any of them being a problem. As you hit balls on the range to test an early wrist hinge in your swing, make sure you watch for these four issues carefully. If they start to pop up and interfere with your ability to hit good shots, do your best to counteract them right away.
Adding an Early Wrist Hinge
Now that you have a pretty good idea of what to expect, it is time to visit the driving range to test out this swing technique for yourself. It isn't necessary to change other elements of your swing while working on this new move – in fact, you will be better off if you can keep everything else the same. Head to the range with the intention of making your normal golf swing, with the only change being a quicker set of your wrists in the backswing. By only making a single change at this time, you can keep the process as simple as possible. If there are other changes that need to be made in order to complete the transformation, you should wait and deal with those adjustments later. For now, simply work on an early wrist hinge and nothing else.
When you get to the range, pick up a bucket of balls and find a nice spot to settle in for a practice session. If you are normally social at the range, talking to other golfers while you practice, try to drop that habit for this visit. You need to be focused on the task at hand, and talking to others as you practice is only going to distract you. There will be plenty of time to chat with other golfers during future practice sessions – for now, focus in on yourself and what you are trying to do. If necessary, consider practicing with your headphones on so you can block out the distractions.
For the first shots of your practice session, grab one of your wedges out of the bag. You can use any wedge you choose, but make sure these initial shots come from one of the shortest clubs in your bag. It will be a challenge to adjust to this new technique, and trying to make that adjustment with a long club is just asking for trouble. Using something like a sand wedge or pitching wedge will give you some margin for error as you learn how to swing the club using an early wrist hinge.
Prior to hitting your first few balls, make some practice swings with an emphasis on an early wrist hinge. The key element in a good early wrist set is making sure that the club is moving up into the air, rather than back around you to the right. Once your shoulders start to turn, which will get the club moving away from the ball, go ahead and hinge your wrists up toward the sky. You should have the feeling of raising the club head up off the ground early in the swing. The big mistake you need to avoid is hinging your right wrist back, which will bow your left wrist in turn. Hinging your wrists the wrong way will get the club well inside of the proper line, and you will have all sorts of problems the rest of the way. Work on making a vertical hinge to get the club in just the right spot.
After a series of practice swings to find some rhythm, go ahead and hit a few shots. These shots should be just like shots you would hit on the course – meaning you should go through your pre-shot routine, pick a target, take your time, etc. Too many golfers get into 'batting practice' mode on the driving range, unloading one swing after another as fast as possible. You won't make any progress that way. Treat all of these shots the same as you would a shot on the course to get the maximum effect from your practice time.
If the first few shots go well, feel free to move up to some of your longer clubs as you continue the practice session. If you are having trouble with your wedges, don't move on until you make some progress. There is no point in trying to hit your long irons with an early wrist hinge if you can even hit a pitching wedge solid. Take this process one step and a time and only move on when you are sure you are ready.
So how long should you try this technique before you decide if it is right for you? Try to spend at least two or three full practice sessions before you make a decision on this style of swing. The first session will be spent simply getting used to the feel of the technique and learning how to make contact with the ball. For most players, the second session will be telling. You will now have an idea of how to use an early wrist hinge, so you will be able to watch your ball flight carefully in the second practice session to look for improvement. Once you have spent two or three driving range sessions trying out this style of swing, you can go ahead and decide if you should stick with it or call it off at that point.
As you work on using an early wrist set in your swing, some issues are bound to come up along the way. To help you sort those problems out as quickly as possible, consider using the troubleshooting tips below.
- Pulling shots to the left. It would not be surprising to find that you are pulling your shots to the left soon after starting to use an early wrist hinge. The reason for those pulls would be a failure to complete your backswing. Without a full shoulder turn away from the ball, the club will come down into impact a little bit over top of the proper swing plane. When that happens, your swing path will be aiming left, and a pull is the likely result. Make sure to finish your shoulder turn in the backswing and you should be able to straighten out that pull.
- Too steep. If your iron swings are coming down too steeply into the ball, make sure you aren't leaning to your left in the backswing. As you focus on the wrist hinge, there is a possibility that you will develop a minor reverse pivot motion. Even as you work on adding the wrist hinge, you still need to emphasize balance throughout your swinging motion. Keep your center of gravity in the middle of your feet as long as possible and you will flatten your angle of attack nicely.
- Topping the ball. Simply making solid contact can be a challenge when first using this swing method. Since you will be using a quicker swing rhythm by adding an early wrist hinge, it is possible that you will have some trouble with topping the golf ball from time to time. If you are hitting some tops on the range, try to slow down the transition of your swing at the top. A rushed downswing is the usual cause of a top, so take it easy as you start to move the club down and you should be able to get the club face back in the proper position at impact.
Seve Ballesteros is truly one of the great players in golf history, not only because of a magical short game, but also because of his quality full swing. Using an early wrist hinge to get the club into position, Ballesteros was able to play his way into the World Golf Hall of Fame. If you would like to try the early wrist hinge maneuver in your own game, use the content above to get started.