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It appears from watching Anthony Kim that he chokes down on all of his shots, but he doesn’t lose any distance and maintains great accuracy.
I always thought that choking down on the club reduced the distance — at least that is what I was always told. After watching A.K. during the Ryder Cup matches, I went to the range and choked down, and I was astonished. All of my distances were not only the same as with a full grip, but each shot was crisp, neither fat nor thin.
What gives? Your help in diagnosing A.K.’s method will be very helpful.
Mel L., via e-mail
You sing a happy tune when it comes to choking. Let's find out why. There are two parts to the answer: the psychology and the physics of the choke down -- a very grand theme.
First the Psychology
When the metal-headed driver first came out years ago, scientists set the Iron Byron at 100 mph and hit balls with both wood and metal heads. They went the same distance. But when the pros hit the metal drivers, the ball went farther. Where did the tests go wrong?
Machines aren't influenced by results -- humans are. It didn't take long for golfers hitting a metal head to figure out that it went straighter. And so, having confidence that their tee shots wouldn't leave the planet, golfers swung harder. Bam! The science wasn't wrong; it just wasn't relevant.
In the same way, choking down has not limited Kim's distance. From an early age, he had to choke down on his clubs because he was short, but he still played aggressively. It didn't take long for Kim to figure out that he could still hit it a mile if he employed an explosive swing to match his explosive personality.
Now for The Physics
The other reason why Kim (and you) can shorten up successfully is that the club is under control. That means you'll hit the ball more squarely, which produces a very efficient transfer of energy. Remember, long drives and accurate irons require center contact. An in-control club helps you achieve it.
Here's a drill that I recommended in SI last week on this very subject. To see if choking down will generate more solid contact for you, put tape on the face of your club. Hit 10 shots and check the contact pattern. Choke down an inch and hit another 10 shots. Finally, choke down two inches and hit another 10 shots. Compare the patterns to find out which grip resulted in the most shots on the center of the clubface. Be careful, though: Choking down can make you over-swing at first.
If you decide to shorten up, have your grips built up so they're a uniform diameter. Most grips taper, which can cause feel issues as you choke down.
To all of our golfing Websters -- an Invitation
If you try this, report back to me. Better yet, send me video of your choked-down swing and your regular one, and we'll scope out the differences.
Most of my peers call me a decent golfer with a boatload of potential. I'm a hockey player who can hit the ball very far, but I battle a terrible hook. Sometimes it's consistent, but other times I will be hitting it straight and I'll hit a bad snap hook out of nowhere. It gets so bad I can hook wedges, 8-irons, you name it. I've been playing for a long time and I'm about an 8 handicap, but these hooks just kill my score. I've weakened my grip considerably and checked my alignment. I need help. Thank you.
Steve, via email
In this day and age everybody is talking about spin. But while they're taking ball spin, I'm talking shaft spin. If you want to put a cork on that snapper, stop spinning the shaft.
For consistency, the shaft should not turn (spin) on its own axis as you coil and uncoil because that drastically opens or, in your case, closes the face. The best, most repeating golf swings have little spinning of the shaft. You can have a "quiet shaft" by moving your chest, arms and club as a unit, with silent hands -- wrists that cock up and down but do not roll. When you "unitize" you swing motion, your hands retain their position relative to the rest of your body throughout the swing. That gives you a repeatable clubface at impact.
To monitor how much your shaft spins, take your stance and place a tee between the thumb and index finger of your top hand so it points to the sky.
Stop your swing at each of the following points, and make sure:
1. At address, the tee is pointing at the sky.
2. At the end of your takeaway, when your club is parallel to the ground, the tee is pointing at the sky.
3. Halfway into your downswing, when the club is parallel to the ground, it points at the sky again.
4. At impact, the tee is back to where it started, pointing at the sky.
5. After impact where your shaft is parallel with the ground, the tee is ... "Alex, I'll take 'Objects that are still looking at the sky' for $1000."
Click here to see photos of this drill in action.
If the tee is in the right position at all of these points, then the shaft is moving but not spinning, and your clubface is more likely to be in the correct position at impact.
(Photo: Rob Tringali)