We’ll examine the contemporary mechanics of the wrists’ role in your golf swing in this post. By the conclusion, you’ll have a thorough knowledge of the wrists’ role in your golf swing and why it’s so crucial.
As we must use accurate language, this is a challenging subject to discuss, but I truly wanted to keep it simple and applicable. It is the best I can do for now; it is still a little “wordy,” but I hope it will be helpful to you as you progress in your golfing.
Golf coaches, professional players, and nerdy amateurs are the main target audiences for this. I must also express my gratitude to Sasho MacKenzie, Scott Cowx, HackMotion Golf, and Connor Black. Although they haven’t given their endorsement, a lot of their prior work has influenced this one.
Your wrists have three planes of movement, one of these is actually in your forearms, but in golf and many sporting analyses, we tend to place them in with wrist mechanics.
The three ranges of motion are:
- Radial/ulnar deviation
This is the language we’ll use throughout this article, so we’ll cover each in turn below.
The range of motion shown below is known as the flexion/extension range. Your wrist is flexing and becomes flexed as your palm moves toward your forearm. We refer to your wrist as extending and moving into extension as the back of your hand moves upward and toward your forearm. We’ll see in a bit how important this motion is for managing your club face and shot accuracy.
We often refer to wrist hinge or cocking our wrists during the golf swing as radial/ulnar deviation. It is crucial for producing clubhead speed because it affects the strike’s centre and, through impact, establishes the lie angle of your golf club.
Your thumb is moving into radial deviation when it moves towards your forearm. You are entering ulnar deviation as your little finger approaches your forearm. Check out the illustration below and note how the blue number varies.
Your forearm’s rotation is responsible for this range of motion. Supination occurs when you extend your hands in front of you and turn them so that the palms face upward. Your hands are pronating as you turn them so that the palms are facing the floor.
Along with club head speed and, to a lesser extent, swing path through impact, this motion is also important for determining the clubface angle (open/closed) at impact. Regrettably, the HackMotion image below doesn’t show this number changing, but notice how the hand and arm are moving—that’s pronation/supination.
Wrist mechanics and your backswing
A lot of information used to be available on how the wrists should move precisely during the backswing, including the significance of a perfect plane during the backswing and the requirement for a “neutral” club face at the top of the swing. To name a few, Tony Finau, Matt Wolff, and Viktor Hovland, we are seeing more and more variation in backswing positions on the tour.
This reflects more contemporary coaching, in which your wrists must be hinged or set (radial deviation) to produce power, but beyond this, there are no ideal wrist and golf club positions.
Don’t get me wrong, these positions are important, but the best one depends on your golf grip, how you begin your downswing, and the ball flight you want to achieve.
Classical backswing wrist mechanics
Below is my best attempt at a more classical backswing where the wrists move in the following order:
Lead arm pronates, and trail arm supinates during the takeaway.
Wrists radial deviate to ‘set’ the club halfway back
There is little flexion/extension in the lead wrist at the top of the backswing.
The PGA and LPGA Tours are increasingly demonstrating that having this skill is not necessary to be a top ball striker. Based on players’ downswing mechanics and physical limitations, I believe there are numerous potential good backswing positions, but we’ll go over a few important ideas below.
Radial/ulnar deviation in the backswing
You should radial deviate (set) your wrists before you reach the top of your backswing for more control. If you are after sheer club head speed a faster backswing and later wrist set can be an option, but it has many trade-offs in control and accuracy. I would avoid a late wrist set and find other avenues to generate extra club head speed.
Pronation/supination in the backswing
Pronation of your lead arm, coupled with supination of your trail arm, will promote the club tracking more around your body and being more ‘laid off’ at the top and the club face appearing more open. Less of this action above will result in a backswing motion where the club travels steeper, is more across the line and the club face is more closed.
You can play around with this movement in your wrists and make a considerable difference to the position and orientation of the club during your backswing.
Flexion/extension in the backswing
Your club face will be more closed at the top the more your lead wrist is flexed. Your club face will grow more open the more extended your lead wrist is. You might assume that this means slicers should flex their lead wrist during their backswing to counteract their open club face, and while this can work, it’s actually more crucial that they do so during their downswing as opposed to keeping it extended.
Wrapping up backswing wrist mechanics
You can play great golf from a range of positions mentioned above. Your ideal position depends on your:
Desired ball flight
Posture, setup and grip
Downswing dynamics (wrists, arms & body)
Focus on downswing and impact mechanics first (covered below) and then fine-tune your backswing to optimise your ball flight if needed.
Wrist mechanics in the downswing & through impact
Impact is all that the golf ball really cares about; it determines where the ball goes and your ability to play the game. The wrists are essential for controlling your face angle during impact as well as your swing path, strike, and club head speed.
Face angle at impact will become the primary determinant of start direction and curvature on all of your golf shots once you can strike the ball close to the centre of the club face. The purpose of the next section is to explain how wrist mechanics relate to shot outcome and impact factors.
The information that follows is somewhat oversimplified, but it is the best explanation I can give of this difficult subject. In all of the examples that follow, we assume that you hit the centre of the club face. When reading, grab a golf club and go through each of these.
In each instance, visualise making these motions with your wrists as your clubhead makes contact. The key to producing a great impact position is applying forces to create these positions prior to impact.
Your face angle to your target and your swing path will change as you stretch and extend as you approach impact. Focus on extending your lead wrist before to impact if you wish to close your club face. Keep your lead wrist extended if you need to open your club face.
Your club face angle and swing path through impact determine how curved your shots will be, so you can quickly alter your ball flight (curvature on shots) by adjusting your wrist flexion/extension.
Flexion and extension can be thought of as the main factors affecting your face angle to your target and swing path. Flexion and extension won’t significantly alter your swing path.
Your club face and swing path in relation to your target line change depending on how much or how little your lead wrist supination changes through impact. It has a negligible impact on the connection between your swing path and club face, unlike flexion/extension.
More out-to-in swing path and closer club face to your target will result from increased lead wrist supination. A more in-to-out swing path and a club face open to your target line will result from less supination (forearm rotation).
This is slightly different from flexion/extension, which modifies the club face to your swing path, but this distinction is crucial to comprehending whether certain players respond well to certain release patterns.
It’s crucial to understand how much radial variation you have as you approach impact, yet this is a very difficult subject. Let’s start off easy: the dynamic lie angle of your golf club will be impacted by this angle upon impact. The club will be more toe up if you are more radial, and more toe down if you are more ulnar.
Just keep in mind that since making contact with the golf ball is a requirement, changing your wrist angles would require changing your hand positions at impact (or your entire swing) in order to maintain contact.
The fact that increased club head speeds are caused by greater radial deviation (wrist hinge/lag) pre-impact is a more complicated issue. This has been demonstrated empirically and through computer simulations, although the exact mechanism by which this happens is unclear.
The club head is accelerated to some extent when the radial deviation is released and converted to ulnar deviation. Holding onto the radial deviation later in the downswing, however, also makes a longer lever for pronation and supination to work through, perpendicular to your forearm.
With the same amount of lead wrist supination, the club head moves through space farther as a result, increasing club head speed. Even after numerous readings, this piece still won’t make sense. Grab a club instead, and supinate your lead arm while rotating your wrist in the radial and ulnar extremes. The aforementioned graph illustrates this.
You should now know the three planes of motion in your wrists and how they affect the impact and your golfing performance.
Flexion/extension is a key factor in club face control and altering your face angle to your swing path.
Pronation/supination also affects club face angle but tends to shift both swing path and club face angles relative to your target.
Finally, radial/ulnar deviation affects dynamic lie angle. It contributes considerably to your club head speed, both directly and indirectly, by creating a longer lever for pronation/supination to create work on the club.
It is hard to make this topic easily actionable, as it is complex and there are many potentially ‘correct’ ways to use your wrists in the golf swing.
However, I do hope this article serves as a great guide for you to better understand how to wrists work in your golf swing and potentially diagnose ways to improve your impact and golfing performance.