While it's true that using the entire length of a golf club produces longer shots, this also hinders control. Gripping down on the golf club an inch or more from the butt of the shaft – called “choking up” or “gripping down” -- can greatly improve your accuracy.
Several prominent pros, including Anthony Kim and Sergio Garcia, choke up on almost every shot, even with the driver. Of course, they generate tremendous clubhead speed, so losing a few yards isn't a big deal.
In fact, choking up can actually help non-pros gain distance. How? Having better control of the club makes it easier to hit the sweet spot, negating the small loss in clubhead speed.
Choking up on iron shots can boost your greens-in-regulation percentage (GIR) – a great way to lower your scores. You'll make better contact, of course, and your misses won't sail as far off line. You may also achieve a lower ball flight, a big advantage in windy conditions.
Consider choking up on the golf club if you struggle with accuracy, or if the club feels difficult to control during the swing. Experiment by gripping the club at different lengths from the top until you feel comfortable and hit straighter, more solid shots.
Choke Up on the Club for Better Accuracy and Contact
Two of the most important elements to playing good golf are hitting accurate shots and making solid contact. In fact, those two things usually go hand in hand. When you hit the ball accurately, you are typically hitting it solid as well, as vice versa. Most golfers would love to add both accuracy and improved contact to their game because that combination will surely lead to lower scores.
Of course, just as with everything else in golf, it is not always easy to improve on these two crucial areas of your game. It takes plenty of hard work and practice to fine tune your swing to the point where you can strike the ball cleanly – and hit it directly at your target – time after time. Even the best players in the world struggle with consistency in this area because great ball striking is simply very difficult to achieve.
One way that you can take a 'shortcut' toward hitting better shots is through choking up on the club. By moving your hands up the grip toward the club head (or down the grip, depending on how you look at it), you can shorten the effective length of the club, making it easier to hit the ball solidly. When you move your hands closer to the club head, your whole swing gets shorter, adding to the control that you have over the club as it moves back and through. If you have trouble finding the sweet spot on a consistent basis, this is one quick adjustment that you could make to instantly find better contact.
As you might suspect, there is a tradeoff for making this change in your swing. When you shorten the club, the gains that you make in control will be lost in distance. Your overall swing speed will be lowered by choking up, meaning that you won't be able to hit the ball as far as you would making the same swing while gripping the club at the end. This is certainly a drawback, but it doesn't necessarily mean that you should ignore choking up as a viable option to improve your game. After all, distance is only useful when you can control it.
If you are spraying the ball all over the course with your current swing, trading a few yards for improved accuracy might be well worth it.
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.
What to Expect When You Choke Up
There are a few things that are going to change in your swing, and in your ball flight, when you choke up on the club. These changes aren't problems necessarily, but you will have to adjust for them properly in order to be satisfied with the ultimate result of your shots. The best way to get used to these changes is through practice, but you can learn about them here first so that you will know what to look for when you get out on the course.
Following is a list of things to expect when you hit shots while choking up on the club.
- Shorter distance. This point was covered above, but it bears repeating. The shots that you hit with a choked up grip are going to travel shorter than shots with a regular grip, so you need to plan for this change in your club selection. For example, if you would normally hit a seven iron for a standard 150 yard shot, consider using a six when you are planning on choking up. Over time you will learn exactly how much distance you will lose while choking up so you can fine tune your club selections accordingly.
- Lower launch. Most golfers will find that the ball comes out lower when they are choking up on the club. This is mostly to do with the reduced swing speed that you will experience, but it can also be a side effect of making a slightly shorter swing. Whatever the reason, you should be planning on a lower ball flight when choking up on the club. That means that you might not be able to clear a tree that you would have otherwise been able to get over, and it also means that the ball will take a bigger first bounce when it lands. Understanding these differences is important to picking the right club – and planning the right shot – as often as possible.
- Pull tendency. While it is easier to hit the ball accurately with a choked up grip, you might notice that you have a slight tendency to pull to the ball to the left with this kind of swing. That mistake is perfectly normal, and many golfers struggle with the same problem. Since your swing is a little bit shorter than usual, your tempo may speed up slightly – which can lead to a pull. Make a conscious effort to slow down your tempo early in the backswing to keep everything on track for a solid strike. If you can maintain a smooth tempo even with your shorter swing, you should be able to start the ball perfectly on your target line.
- Potential for higher spin rate on wedges. This is not a rule of thumb that will apply to everyone, but some golfers may find that they impart more backspin on their wedge shots while choking up on the club. Most likely, this is a result of additional hand action through impact. Since you will be holding a thinner part of the grip by moving your hands down, you may end up using your hands more aggressively through the hitting area. When that happens, the club face can rip under the ball and add a high rate of backspin to the shot. As you are learning how to play using a choked up grip, watch your spin rates and adjust your aiming process if you find that you are spinning the ball more with your short clubs.
None of the changes that you will notice from choking up on the club are drastic. Each is a subtle change, but you need to understand them if you are going to adapt your game and make the most of this useful technique. Having the ability to play shots while choking up can help you shoot better scores, but only when you understand all of the small adjustments involved in the process.
How to Choke Up Correctly
Practice is important when learning how to choke up on the club just like it is important when learning any other skill on the course. Many players think that they can just move their hands down a couple of inches and swing away, but there is a little more to it than that. If you wish to play great shots using this technique, the process is going to have to start at the driving range.
You don't really need to do any specialized drills or fancy practice routines in order to learn how to choke up on the club. In fact, if you simply hit some balls while working through the step by step process below, you should quickly become comfortable with this technique.
- To start, head to the driving range with your set of golf clubs and a bucket of balls. You can work on hitting choked up shots for the entire practice session, or you can just include working on this shot as part of a longer session. Since you aren't going to be making any major swing changes during this process, you can work on this at any time – even before a round of golf.
- For your first shots, use a short club such as a sand wedge or pitching wedge. The short clubs are easier to hit than the long clubs, so starting with a wedge will give you a chance to build some confidence. Once you get the idea of how to hit good shots while choking up, you can then move on to hitting some of your longer clubs.
- Place a ball down on the ground in front of you and start to work through your regular pre-shot routine. Prior to taking your stance, everything about this process should be exactly the same as any other shot. Once you have completed your pre-shot routine and selected a target, walk up to the ball and prepare to take your stance.
- The process of taking your stance should start with placing the club head down behind the ball. With the club head resting on the ground behind the ball, put your hands into place on the grip of the club. Depending on how much you wish to choke up, your hands could be anywhere between one inch and several inches below the top of the grip. The formation of your grip shouldn't change – only its location on the handle of the club.
- Once your hands are set on the club, and the club is resting behind the ball, go ahead and take your stance. It is important that you take your stance after you establish your grip, and not before. If you were to plant your feet in the ground prior to creating your grip, you would not be able to accurately position them the correct distance from the ball. You are going to be standing closer to the ball while choking up than you would be otherwise, so getting your stance right is crucial to your success. Grab the club first, then take your stance, and you will be on track toward making a great swing.
- With all of the pre-shot business taken care of, go ahead and hit a few shots. Pay careful attention to your ball flight so you can learn what kind of shots are created when you choke up on the club. Remember to keep great rhythm and balance in your swing – the fundamentals that you have learned for your regular golf swing still apply when choking up on the club.
Hit several wedge shots by going through this step by step process. Once you feel like you have the hang of it, start to hit some longer clubs and test your skills. It will likely take more time to learn how to hit your longer clubs while choking up, but the effort will be worth it in the end. After spending plenty of time working on this process up front, you can then make it a regular part of your practice routine during each visit to the course. Hit at least a few choked up shots during every range visit to keep your skills sharp in this area.
When to Choke Up on the Club
There is a lot to like about choking up on the club. For one thing, it doesn't take very long to learn. After working though the steps above, you could be comfortable hitting choked up shots on the course within the next round or two that you play. Very few skills in golf can be learned and applied that quickly, but since choking up doesn't change very much of your actual swing technique, you can start reaping the benefits almost immediately.
Another great thing about choking up is simply the long list of applications that this method has out on the course. You might be surprised to learn how many different times during an average round that choking up will be a smart choice. In fact, after a short period of time, you will probably be wondering how you ever played golf without knowing how to choke up on the club.
Following is a partial list of the various situations that call for choking up on the club –
- Windy conditions. Playing in the wind is always a challenge, but it can be made significantly easier when you have the ability to choke up on your clubs. The changes that choking up makes to your ball flight – specifically lowering the ball flight and taking speed out of the shot – are perfect for dealing with the wind. Contrary to popular belief, you don't want to hit the ball hard when playing in the wind. Instead, you will be better served to hit soft shots that stay low and take the wind mostly out of play. To hit those low shots that are so great at beating the wind, you will want to choke down on the club at least an inch or two. It is easy to lose your tempo when playing in high winds, so focus on maintaining a nice rhythm while the choked up grip helps you keep the ball under control.
- Dangerous approach shots. When hitting an approach shot into a green that is guarded by hazards or deep bunkers, consider choking up to add accuracy to your swing. As long as you aren't an extremely long distance from the green, you should be able to simply take one extra club to reach the target as you choke up on the grip. While you always want to get the ball close to the hole, it is more important on a shot like this to avoid putting yourself in trouble. Choke up to improve your accuracy and find the green safely.
- Narrow fairways. You can choke up on your driver and fairway woods just like you can your irons, and the results can be equally as impressive. When you are faced with a narrow tee shot on a par four or par five, think about coming down the grip an inch or two to take a little speed off of the shot and add some control. Yes you will sacrifice a few yards of distance, but that trade will be more than worth it if you are able to place the ball right in the center of the fairway. Not every hole needs to be a competition with yourself to see how far you can hit the ball – playing for position is smart, especially when the fairway isn't giving you much room for error.
- Downhill shots. Many amateur golfers, when faced with a downhill shot, like to launch the ball as high into the air as possible so they can watch it soar. This might be fun, but it isn't going to do much for you as far as getting the ball close to the hole is concerned. The fact is that the longer the ball is in the air, the more time it has to drift off line. With that in mind, try hitting your downhill shots using a choked up grip so you can keep the flight down and limit the hang time. It is always difficult to get a downhill shot perfectly on line, but the task will become a little easier when you choke up on the club.
The four examples above are just some of the opportunities you will have on the course to use your newfound skill of choking up on the club. Don't be afraid to experiment with shots as you make your way through a round – you just might find a great chance to choke up that wasn't mentioned on this list.
Compared to some of the other techniques you can try on the golf course, hitting the ball while choking up on the club is pretty simple. However, you may run into some problems along the way, especially at first. If the shots you are hitting with a choked up grip aren't meeting your expectations, the troubleshooting points below may be able to help.
- Hitting a hook. Even if you don't fight a hook anywhere else on the course, you might find that you hit one from time to time when choking up on the club. This happens because your hands are more active in this kind of swing, so they are able to 'flip' the club face over and create hook spin. To prevent this from happening, get your lower body more engaged in the downswing. Use your legs and torso to drive the rotation toward the target and your quick hook should be a thing of the past.
- Topping the ball. This is a common mistake among golfers who don't have very much experience hitting shots while choking up. Since you are standing slightly closer to the ball at address, you may be tempted to 'stand up' through the shot at impact in order to make room for the club. Of course, you don't need to do that, and the result will often be a topped shot that rolls along the ground. Get rid of this outcome by staying down through the shot and watching the ball until it is struck.
- Shank. If you find that you are hitting the occasional shank when choking up on your irons, check to make sure you aren't standing too close to the ball at address. You should move slightly closer to the ball while choking up, but overdoing it can lead to the shanks. Go back to the point about building your stance in order to fix this problem. As long as you set the club head down first behind the ball prior to placing your feet for the stance, you should be able to position your body correctly.
Choking up on the club is a skill that every golfer should have available. In addition to helping you hit accurate shots and make solid contact, this style of golf shot is also useful in a wide range of situations. Since this technique just builds upon the other fundamentals already present in your golf swing, it shouldn't take much work to incorporate this shot into your repertoire. Once you see how effective this kind of swing can be, you may find yourself looking for every opportunity to choke up on the club and fire the ball directly at the pin. Choking up won't instantly fix any swing problems that you may have, but it will certainly help you to get the most of your swing, and your game.