Falling for this golf myth is costing you distance — but it’s easy to fix

Welcome to Play Smart, a game-improvement column that drops every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from Director of Game Improvement content Luke Kerr-Dineen to help you play smarter, better golf.

I’ve heard it, you’ve heard it, we’ve all heard it a million times. Don’t grip the club firmly. Grip it soft, like a little bird you don’t want to fly away. It’s a famous Sam Snead-ism that isn’t entirely true.

It’s not that pros are lying, of course. It’s that they’re describing something they’re feeling, not what’s actually happening.

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As Titleist Performance Institute’s Dr. David Rose explains in a conversation with GOLF Top 100 Teachers Dave Phillips and Mark Blackburn below, tour players have incredible gripping strength. When TPI measures them on a dynamometer, they can exert about 60 kg of maximum force. Amateurs, by contrast, usually only exert about 30 kg of maximum force.

When it’s time to actually hit a shot, pros won’t grip the club as firmly as they possibly can, though, which is why they often tell people they’re gripping softly. But even though they think they’re gripping the club softly, they’re not. By any normal standards, pros grip the club really firm.

Think of it like a body builder lifting a 75 pound weight. To the body builder, the 75 pound weight probably feels light, even though if we tried to pick up the same weight it would feel borderline impossible. The body builder may say the weight is light, and that picking it up is easy, but you know they’re just saying that because they’re a super-strong body builder.

The body builder thinks the weight is light, even though it’s heavy, and pro golfers think they’re gripping the club soft, even though they’re actually gripping firm.

It’s a big reason why pros hit the ball so far. They may only be using about half of their maximum grip strength, but if an amateur golfer tried to match them, they’d need to grip the club as hard as they could because pros are so much stronger. Which is why Blackburn, explaining in the clip below, teaches golfers a “firm grip with loose wrists” as a way of increasing their swing speed.

“Forget this notion that holding onto club tight is a bad thing,” Blackburn says. “It’s absolutely nonsensical.”

How to improve your grip strength

All of this is a way of saying, simply, that grip strength is important. You should probably be gripping the club firmer than you are already, and be actively trying to improve your grip strength in the meantime. How do you do that? It’s actually quite simple: Lift heavy stuff.

Kettlebells, weights, pull ups; anything that requires you to grip and lift something. I wish I could make it sound more complicated than that, but it’s not. Lift heavy stuff and you’ll improve your grip strength. Improve your grip strength and you’ll gain distance.

Another way to add more pop to your swing? Getting a driver fitting from the experts at our sister company, True Spec Golf.

Luke Kerr-Dineen

Golf.com Contributor

Luke Kerr-Dineen is the Game Improvement Editor at GOLF Magazine and GOLF.com. In his role he oversees all the brand’s service journalism spanning instruction, equipment, health and fitness, across all of GOLF’s multimedia platforms.

An alumni of the International Junior Golf Academy and the University of South Carolina–Beaufort golf team, where he helped them to No. 1 in the national NAIA rankings, Luke moved to New York in 2012 to pursue his Masters degree in Journalism from Columbia University and in 2017 was named News Media Alliance’s “Rising Star.” His work has also appeared in USA Today, Golf Digest, Newsweek and The Daily Beast.