I started this series of articles last week by saying it, and now I want to say it again: Golf is a deceptively simple game. It is 90% mental. It is a game to be relished, savored and enjoyed, and it is only played well when these pleasures are in evidence. Books, and indeed whole series of books, have been written analyzing the hitting of a golf ball as if it were a rocket launching that involved half a million complicated parts, any one of which might suddenly fail. It isn't. There are very few really important things to know about the golf grip and swing. Therefore what follows on these pages is about all of the technical golf instruction I will offer you, because it is all you need. It is divided into three segments—the grip, the head and feet, and the compact swing.
The single most fundamental and most neglected aspect of golf is the grip. Without the right grip on the club you can practice for years, you can develop a swing that is a perfect picture of grace and balance and yet you can never play anywhere near your potential. With the right grip you can make all kinds of other mistakes. It is the cardinal virtue that can compensate for a dozen golfing sins. Yet rare is the golfer with a good grip. Even some of the touring pros have never learned its secret.
The first thing a person does when he decides to give golf a try is to pick up a club. Unfortunately, the "natural" way to pick it up—after years of holding baseball bats, suitcase handles, brooms or frying pans—is the wrong way, and it is at this moment that lifelong duffers are born.
There is only one right way to grip a golf club. The grip has to keep both hands locked together and working together, and it has to hold the club tight enough to avoid even the slightest turning in the hands, while at the same time leaving the muscles sufficiently relaxed for a nice easy swing. Refer to the color photographs, and I will explain how to accomplish this double objective.
Let us start with the left hand, where the last three fingers do the work. They have to hold the shaft tight against the palm—tight enough so that it can't turn, yet not so tight as to get cramped and stiff. You lay the shaft diagonally across the left palm, from the base of the index finger to the opposite corner, then close the last three fingers snugly. The forefinger and thumb play a secondary role. They help steady your hold on the club and give you the necessary sense of "feel."
Now put the right hand on the club. Here the two middle fingers do the job. Like the last three fingers of the left hand, they apply the pressure—tight enough to keep the club from turning, but not unnaturally tight. The little finger of the right hand overlaps the index finger of the left hand and forms a link between the two, keeping them working together. (This is, of course, the Vardon overlapping grip, which is used by almost all golfers today.) The thumb and forefinger, like the thumb and forefinger of the left hand, help steady your grip and give you the feel of the club. But it is the middle two fingers that do most of the work. I have heavy callouses running almost the entire length of my two middle fingers (see below) and almost no callouses anywhere else.
There is one other thing to watch about the right hand. Notice that if you start to close the fingers of your hand, as if about to make a fist, a little pocket forms in the palm (see right). It runs from the heel of the hand—the lower left corner as you look at it—diagonally up toward the base of the index finger. This pocket is very important. When you put your right hand on the club this pocket must fit over your left thumb. Then the part of your right hand lying below the thumb must close firmly, pressing against the left thumb with a good, snug hold.
If you are holding the club with the last three fingers of your left hand and the middle two fingers of your right hand, and if your left thumb is cradled firmly in that little pocket of your right hand, with the part of the right hand below the thumb keeping a steady pressure, then you've got it.
What you have done—and you can see this for yourself—is firm up and consolidate your grip to the point where there is an absolute minimum of air space anywhere between your hand and the club. Your grip is so steady that the stress of the backswing is not going to jar it loose at any point. Nor will the shock of impact when you hit the ball, a shock that is much more violent than golfers realize. At the same time, you have got your hands nicely locked together so that they can work as a team. As your wrists start breaking on the backswing, they can move in perfect unison; they won't fight each other as they do in most bad grips. On the downswing they are free to put into the club all the whip of which your muscles are capable.