The golf swing is a complicated beast with many moving parts. To remember each individual part would ruin your game and probably your mind. That’s why in golf we need to focus on small movements and build up autonomy of these actions overtime to develop our skills.
One thing that can often be overlooked is the importance of our wrist action in a golf swing. Our wrists are important for many aspects of the swing including efficient power delivery, control of the clubface and timing. They can be key to generate “lag” in your swing.
You can have a solid swing, but if your wrists aren’t working efficiently it can wreak havoc on your game. The wrists are one of the final pieces of the golf swing puzzle and being so influential over your hands, it is easy to see just how much of a role they can play in the golf swing.
Wrist Action In a Golf Swing
This article is here to help explain the role of our wrists in the golf swing and explain how you can use good wrist movement to improve your golf game. This may not be something you have ever thought about before, so read on and pick up some new tips to hit it better.
Proper Use of the Wrists
Given that we will have left and right-handed golfer reading this, instead of discussing left and right wrists it will be better to describe the front (left for righties) and back wrists (right for righties). This should help reduce any confusion and allow more golfers to benefit from the tips.
One thing that you should bear in mind in terms of your wrists and your hands too is that tension is not a good thing. Before and during the golf swing it is really important to feel no tension in your wrists and hands, this will help you stay relaxed, give you more distance, and aid consistency.
Front and Back Wrist and Positioning at Address
At address, your back hand should be making a straight line with your forearm in a sort of handshake-type position down the club. Your front hand may be slightly more bowed but always check that there is no tension there. This is why some golfers waggle the club.
From here the movement of your wrists should be fairly natural until you get to the top of the swing. During the backswing, the hinge will start to develop. The hinge is the angle between your front arm and the club shaft, your wrist creates this.
The Top of the Swing – Neutral
When you get to the top of the swing your wrists take a lot of tension as they help control the club during the transition. This is a high tension point in the swing as you stop the momentum of the club and accelerate it toward the ball. Your wrist’s position can really make or break the swing here.
The textbooks say that at the top of your swing you should retain that flat wrist set-up with no extension (back of hand coming toward the top of the forearm). This helps you point the toe of the clubhead down toward the ball in a square position.
This is the ideal place to be as it means that you require no, or minimal, manipulation of the clubface on the way toward impact. You may notice that some golfers on tour don’t do this though, Dustin Johnson is a prime example of what we call the “bowed wrist”.
The Top of the Swing – Bowed
When you get to the top of the swing, if you are reducing the angle between your back hand and your back forearm then you are bowing your wrists. As said in the previous section, think about that position that Dustin Johnson gets into at the top of his swing.
Many textbooks will tell you that this puts your club into a closed position, clubface pointing to the sky, which it does. If you were to swing down to impact without manipulating your hands then you would deliver a closed face.
Dustin Johnson doesn’t do this though and he actually credits his unique position at the top of the swing for some of his incredible power. He has a “corkscrew” move as he unhinges his wrist through the ball which creates some of the highest clubhead speed in golf.
The Top of the Swing – Cupped
The opposite of a bowed wrist is a cupped wrist. This is when you create a cup with your back wrist at the top of your swing by bending your palm toward your inner forearm. Getting your wrist into this position will cause you to have an open clubface.
A swing down to the ball from here could cause an issue with missing right and a slice spin. This is, of course, what would happen without any manipulation of the face. You may be able to present a square face, however you are introducing extra movement into your swing that could affect consistency.
Ideal Position and Release
On the downswing you wrists and hands have a huge role to play in timing the delivery of the club. They can add great speed to your swing or they can make it really difficult to square the clubface if you get it wrong.
When you get yourself into a nice position at the top, it is now time to get the club down to the ball efficiently. This is when you start almost “storing” power in your wrists as you bring the club down before releasing it through the ball. Wrist hinge becomes a really important factor in building this power store.
If you watch tour golf you will often hear the talk of lag. This is the angle created between the shaft and your lead arm. The wrists are the key to lag, as you start down toward the ball, your back wrist should hold that angle. As you get to the ball you can release this tension in the final whip of the club to the ball.
Releasing the Club
To illustrate good release technique through the ball, imagine the back of your hands were painted different colors, let’s say the front hand is red and the back hand is green. Now think of someone standing directly in front of you watching you this may sound odd but please stay with it.
As your hands reach around hip-height, the observer should see the red of your front hand directly facing them. From there, your wrists should rotate down to the ball as your back wrist starts to move into something that looks like your start position.
After impact, as your hands then come back up toward your lead hip. The observer would now see the green of your back hand. This is due to a full release of the wrists and efficient delivery of the club. You would be in a position of “shaking hands with the target”.
Forward Shaft Lean
A final note on the wrists through the ball is that the hands should lead the club through the ball and strong wrists will help you hold this position. Creating shaft lean with the hands helps you to create a more crisp contact with the ball and optimize your spin control.
Fixing a Bad Wrist Action
The wrists can help add that last kick of power to your swing, but a bad technique can equally destroy your chances of hitting the ball well. The thing is that during this incredibly quick portion of the golf swing, minute issues can be amplified into big problems. It can also be harder to fix these problems due to speed.
Backswing – Cocking too early
You see many golfers who seem to be in a hurry to cock those wrists and set them early in the golf swing. Whilst it is admirable in some ways, nothing wrong with being keen, it can be damaging to the strike. This can often cause you to take the club up very steeply and outside the line of the plane.
The remedy to this is to just relax. The body has a wonderful way of moving correctly if you let it so during your backswing try not to think about cocking your wrists. In order to get the club to the top of your swing you will have to cock the wrists, just let them take over and do it when it’s time, don’t think about it.
Downswing – Casting
Think of the fly fisher throwing his/her bait out onto the water, casting that line out in hope of catching something. Now leave that there as it has no place in golf. A common fault in golfers is to unhinge the wrists at the beginning of the downswing, or casting as it is commonly known. This kills swing speed.
As we discussed earlier in this piece, creating lag helps you store that speed and release it just before impact. Again, this issue here is about patience and trust. Hold on to that tension in those wrists as you get to the ball, only let it go as your hands are back above the ball. You will instantly see increased speed and a better strike.
Downswing – Holding on too long
Of course, it isn’t just as simple as holding on to the lag and never letting go. Some golfers can be seen to just not allow their wrists to release the club and this can cause issues like presenting an open face to the ball and a big slice. This one comes down to being too uptight in controlling the club.
Try to relax, like cocking the wrists too early, if you let the club flow your wrists will have better timing than you think. The correct release of the wrists is a natural thing and all of these faults are actually over-manipulation of the club.
Drills to Improve Wrist Action
When things are going wrong in the golf swing, it is useful to bring in some simple drills to help spot the problem then remedy it. Here are some drills that you could try to help you fix the issues you may be seeing with your wrist action.
The Punch Drill
If you find yourself casting, releasing the wrists too early, this drill can be a great fix. The idea here is to make half-swings but punch them and never release the wrists until after impact. This will get that feeling in your head so you can take the movement into your full swing.
The Impact Bag
Like a prize-boxer, spending time on the bag is good for your game. Impact bags are great for testing how you are delivering the club to the ball. Fill an impact bag with towels and make some half-speed full swings at it. If you are releasing the wrists too early, you will tend to hit the bag with the leading edge of the club.
Getting into a good sequence on the downswing will have you presenting the whole face of the club to the bag. The result of this will be a far louder strike of the bag with the same swing. Practice this and get into the habit of smashing the bag.
The Grip Flip
This is the simplest drill and maybe the most insightful. Take your club and flip it so that you are gripping the club near the head and your grip is down toward the ground. Now swing the club normally and listen. You want to concentrate on what point in the swing you hear the “woosh” of the club.
If you are doing things efficiently then you will only hear that noise where the ball would be, this means you are creating maximum acceleration in your swing as you strike the ball. If you hear it on the way back then you simply need to slow down your backswing. We are more focused on the downswing here though.
If you start to hear the noise way before where the ball would be then you are probably casting. If you barely hear the noise then you could have hearing issues, you could just not swing fast enough or you could be holding those wrists too long. Try to get that noise coming through impact, then hit shots using that feeling.
What do the wrists do during the golf swing?
Think of your wrists as guiding your club rather than your hands. In an efficient swing, your wrists will act as a valve that stores power then releases it to launch the ball. If you can get them into a good position at the top of the swing the just relax them on the way to impact and they should work efficiently.
Should you roll your wrists?
The back hip to the front hip portion of the swing through impact is where your wrists should smoothly roll. This goes back to that thinking of having the back of your hands painted and an observer seeing the different colors as you strike the ball.
How do I get more wrist action in my golf swing?
First, think about why you may not be getting enough. Are your wrists not flexible or strong enough? This could be key so speak to someone to help you figure this out with something like a TPI Screen. Then start to use an impact bag or the grip flip to really drill that increased wrist action into a more solid strike of the ball.
When should you cock your wrists in the backswing?
As you take the club back your wrists shouldn’t really be doing much at all until the final stages of the backswing. Your club should be just about at the top of the backswing as your wrists cock.
One way to think of it is that your wrists let the momentum of the club cause the cocking once your arms have finished moving. This will get you into a nice position and it should feel very natural.
They may seem insignificant but your wrists can really make or break the swing. They can be a great asset to your clubhead speed and ball striking or they can make hitting the ball well near impossible. A good coach will be able to help you with any flaws you have in wrist action and help you remedy them.
Some of the issues listed above are easily fixed with some dedicated practice. Watching your swing on video at different angles can be a great way of analyzing your wrist action too. Mistakes like casting or cocking too early will be very easy to spot during your swing.
A key thought to take away from this article is that the feeling in your wrists during the golf swing should be very much like your grip pressure. You want your wrists to feel like they are active and part of the swing, giving security to the club, but you don’t want to feel like they are overly tense and restrictive.
Relaxing and letting the club flow as it wants to can be a great way of resetting issues in the wrists. Many issues arise from golfers just trying to manipulate the club too much. Hit the reset button and start swinging with free wrists, then you can build good technique from there.