Guide to the Golf Swing
Ch 2: Cocking and Uncocking the Wrists
The wrist is the joint between the hand and the forearm. It allows for the positioning of the hand relative to the forearm. Muscle contractions around the wrist allow the hand to be positioned in various ways relative to the forearm. The basic wrist movements include:
- Radial abduction (movement of the hand towards the thumb, or upward);
- Ulnar adduction (movement of the hand towards the little finger, or downward);
- Palmar flexion (tilting of the hand towards the palm, or forward); and
- Dorsi flexion (tilting of the hand towards the back of the hand, or backward).
You can isolate the hand movement around the wrist joint by holding your right forearm with your left hand to eliminate forearm movement. Then, start moving your hand forward, backward, upward and downward. Focus on the muscles that you are using in relation to each movement. Rapid repetition, perhaps with a light weight in the hand, will fatigue the specific muscles causing the movement. This fatigue will give you an intuitive sense of the muscles being worked by the movement.
WRIST ANATOMY AND THE GOLF SWING
In golf, we are looking for a wrist movement that causes the club to go away from the target on the back swing and toward the target on the downswing. This movement will propel the ball down the fairway toward the target.
Suppose one grips a golf club with both thumbs on top of the shaft when the club face is perpendicular to the target. In this situation, palmar flexion in the lead wrist and dorsi flexion in the trailing list produces a backswing that goes directly away from the target. Dorsi flexion of the lead wrist and palmar flexion of the trailing wrist will move the club directly toward the target.
Suppose one wanted to use radial abduction and ulnar adduction in the swing. With both thumbs on top of the shaft, ulnar adduction in both wrists would lift the club up, and radial adduction would lower the club. The action would not propel a golf ball down the fairway toward the target. Instead, it would drive the ball into the ground.
The only way radial abduction and ulnar adduction will propel the ball down the fairway is to place both thumbs at the side of the shaft when the club face is perpendicular to the target. This position is 90 degrees from the position discussed above. One gets both thumbs at the side of the shaft by rotating the forearms. As we shall see in the next chapter, this setup rotation will eliminate the forearm roll, which is a significant power source in the golf swing.
The two examples above illustrate that wrist movement and grip position on a club whose face is perpendicular to the target need to be considered together.
When the club face is pointing toward the target, the standard teaching is to grip the club so that the thumbs are at somewhat at the side of the shaft away from the target. Both thumbs are pointing toward the trailing shoulder. This is considered a "strong" grip.
For beginners, this teaching has some logic. Beginners often lack either the strength or the timing to get the club face perpendicular to the target at impact. The club face is open and the ball typically slices. A "strong" grip is a cheating mechanism that helps beginners to cure their slice.
To propel the ball down the fairway toward the target, this teaching would require the lead wrist to move through a combination of palmar flexion and radial abduction on the back swing to get the club moving directly away from the target, and dorsi flexion and ulnar adduction on the downswing to the club moving toward the target on the downswing. The trailing wrist would execute dorsi flexion and ulnar adduction on the back swing, and a palmar flexion and radial abduction on the downswing.
A better approach is to place both thumbs on top of the shaft when the club face is perpendicular to the target at set up. In the back swing, the lead wrist would execute a palmar flexion on the back swing and dorsi flexion on the downswing, while the trailing wrist would execute a dorsi flexion on the back swing and a palmar flexion on the downswing. This approach is better for these reasons:
- Consistency. With the thumbs always on top of the shaft when the club face is perpendicular to the target, the grip will always be the same. When the thumbs are to some degree at the side of the shaft, it will be difficult to get the thumbs in exactly the same position for each swing, and the risk of inconsistency increases.
- Muscular Simplicity. The recommended approach involves only two wrist movements (dorsi flexion and palmar flexion) and their related muscle groups. The traditional teaching involves four movements and four muscle groups. Muscular simplicity is important because the brain has limited capacity to think about muscle activity during the golf swing. It can manage the involvement of two muscle groups, but not four. To the extent that one wants to bring the golf swing into the consciousness of the brain, muscle simplicity matters.
- Control. When a movement requires a combination of upward and downward movements (ulnar adduction and radial abduction) along with forward and backward movements (palmar flexion and dorsi flexion), it is difficult to get the balance correct. When a golf swing requires only the forward and backward movements (palmar flexion and dorsi flexion), control increases.
- Muscle strength. The muscles controlling dorsi flexion and palmar flexion are more powerful than those controlling the radial abduction and ulnar adduction. One reason for the greater power is that these muscles are more commonly used in daily life. This is illustrated by the fact that the crease in the skin at the wrist is along the axis for the palmar flexion.
- Range of movement. Palmar flexion leads to a range of movement of about 75 degrees relative to the forearm. Dorsi flexion has a range of movement of 45 degrees. When both wrists act together on a gripped club, the smaller range of movement determines the range of movement of the club. The range of movement is therefore 45 degrees in both directions. Ulnar adduction leads to a range of movement relative to the forearm of about 40 degrees while radial abduction produces a range of movement of about 20 degrees. The total range of movement from a combination of radial abduction and ulnar adduction is 60 degrees. Wrist cocking and uncocking will get a larger range of movement when based on palmar flexion and dorsi flexion, than on radial abduction and ulnar adduction.
- Effect on forearm roll. Forearm roll comes from rotating the forearms at the elbow. It is the subject of the next chapter. The forearm roll is an important power source in the golf swing. Placing the thumbs at the side of the shaft so that they are pointing toward the trailing shoulders requires the forearms to rotate in the set up, to accommodate the grip. This rotation comes at the expense of rotation during the swing. Rotation in the swing creates power.