There are so many variables in a golf swing. If I were to go back to college, I would take physics, kinesiology and biomechanics classes to become a better golf instructor. I study all the aforementioned now, but it takes me a couple reads or views to let the information soak in. A couple years ago I started studying how the golfer’s wrists movement heavily affect all the variables in the golf swing. The golfer’s wrists are most influential at impact. They affect loft, club face direction, and many other parameters that affects how the ball flies. There are many so-called “methods,” taught by instructors around the country. Different methods prescribe different wrists movements throughout the swing. I am a believer that there is no one method, or mold, to playing better golf. We are humans that have different bodies and minds, we cannot be put in a mold and expect to excel. As golfers we need to understand how our wrists work in all parts of our swing, especially impact.
There are three wrist movements to know, extension/flexion, ulnar/radial deviation and supination/pronation, as seen in the picture. Supination/pronation is technically a forearm movement, but since your wrists are attached they are affected significantly by this movement. Extension/flexion has the greatest impact on loft at impact, ulnar/radial deviation on club path, and supination/pronation on club face direction. First and foremost, you should make these movements, as seen in the picture, to test your range of motion. Any limitation inthese movements will need to be addressed with a physical trainer or medical professional.
Extension/flexion has many effects on the golf swing, but today we will discuss how extension/flexion affects the loft of the club at impact. For this discussion we are going to assume that all golfers have all other variables alike; more weight on their lead foot at impact, lower body has slight tilt towards target, upper body has slight tilt away from target, the player makes contact in the middle of the club face, the player has proper sequence and all other factors are equal. I know that is tough to ask for, but for learning purposes, let us assume those items are equivalent in all cases.
At impact the more flexion in the lead wrist a golfer has, the reduced amount of loft there will be at impact. For example, take your address position and forward lean the club shaft as much as possible, while keeping the club head just behind the golf ball, this is flexion in the lead wrist, or delofting the club as much as possible. Again, all else being equal, this is as low as you can make the ball take-off with the club in hand. Spin on the ball, wind and other considerations might change ball flight after initial launch, but this is as low as it gets for the club you are using. The results will be a ball flight that will take off low, and then when it hits the ground,will roll father than a shot with more loft, all else being equal. If you are trying to hit a low chip or pitch shot with your 56 degree club, you must have flexion in your lead wrist at impact.
For a mid-height trajectory the lead wrist should be in a slight flexion or a neutral position at impact. See picture of Tiger Woods hitting a pitch shot for a visual of this impact position. All three pictures of wrist angles show a player hitting a pitch shot. A player can easily manipulate the wrists in a pitch shot, because a pitch shot motion is performed at a lower speed than the full swing motion.
For a higher flighted shot the lead wrist should be slightly extended at impact, and be rapidly moving into more extension after impact. You do not want too much extension at impact for any golf shot, because too much extension will start to bring the leading edge into play, and thin shots will occur.
How do we use this information to help us work on our golf game? Everyone finds impact slightly different. The important factor is knowing your tendencies so you can adjust if a different trajectory is needed. Even if you do not feel comfortable changing wrist angles on a full swing, that is acceptable, but this concept is a must when chipping and pitching to perform better on the course.
What wrists alignments do you have at impact? Ball flight should tell you the story, assumingthat you hit the ball in the center of the club face. Wrists alignments have a major impact on distance control. You must realize your normal wrists alignments at impact, and understand how to change them to control both trajectory and distance. Many “methods” teach a lot of flexion in the lead wrist at impact, which delofts the club, as explained earlier. However, many golfers need more loft at impact to hit the golf ball farther and straighter, because they lack the club head speed to launch the ball at a needed height. Loft at impact gives the same golfer a chance to stop the golf ball on the green. There is no perfect answer to what is best, it is what is best for you. Producing different trajectories could be about fixing your normal trajectory, and/or it can be about trying to produce different trajectories on shots that require such variation.
To determine what is best for you, go see your local PGA professional who understands wrist movements, and can help you discover the correct wrist alignments at impact to control your trajectory and distance.
Todd Elliott is the PGA Head Golf Professional for Hideaway Beach. Todd is TPI (Titleist Performance Institute) Certified as a golf professional. This gives him the ability to give golf specific physical screening to detect any physical limitation that might affect the golf swing. Todd is also a Coutour-certified putting fitter, a Titlteist-certified fitter and a Titliest staff member. Follow Todd on Twitter @elliottgolfpro or for any question or comments email firstname.lastname@example.org.