Most golf instructors would agree that Ben Hogan’s book called Five Lessons, The Modern Fundamentals of Golf (1957, Simon & Schuster) is one of the most important and most influential golf instructional books ever written. And one of the more striking and enduring images presented in the book has to be the “rubber bands” concept presented in Lesson 2 (page 49 of my version).
What I call the “rubber bands theory” is described by Hogan like this:
“There should be a sense of fixed jointness between the two forearms and the wrists, and it should be maintained throughout the swing.” (p. 48)
In other words, Hogan is saying you should keep your arms as close together as possible throughout the entire swing. He even advocates turning your elbows inward so that “the pockets will be facing towards the sky…not toward each other.”
Actually Hogan does not use the term “rubber bands”. This description is implied by the vivid illustrations that accompany the text.
Why Should We Keep our Arms Tucked in?
Many of us will recognize this as just another version of the old (Scottish?) tip that we “hold a hanky under the armpit as we swing and don’t let it fall out.”
According to Hogan, the reason for this is that the arms will act as one unit: “With practice, they will act the same way on swing after swing, with no variation, repeating the same action almost like a machine.”
Frankly I’m not very happy with this explanation. Our bodies act as a “unit” whether we do the rubber bands thing or not. In fact, most of us have bodies that already act quite predictably machine-like — so much so, that we find it almost impossible to get rid of our slice.
No. It’s not about turning yourself into a machine. We are machines whether we like it or not. I suggest the answer is much more fundamental than this. So fundamental, in fact, nobody I’ve read on this topic has pointed it out.
It’s All About Hand Position
The reason is really pretty simple. If you don’t keep your arms tight against your body, your hands will end up out towards the ball on the down swing, and the club head will get outside the line. This is simple mechanics. Move the hands out, and the position of the club head will change. Or, if not, something else, like the shaft angle or shoulder position will have to change in order to compensate for the hands being closer to the ball.
Surprisingly, Hogan’s book does not even discuss this as a potential swing problem. There are virtually no illustrations showing the hand position at the point of impact looking down the target line from the back (or front). David Leadbetter’s commentary on “Five Lessons’ doesn’t do any better. Leadbetter shows lots of head on (90 degree) shots, but nothing demonstrating the position of the hands relative to the body at the point of impact.
Natural Golf talks about this but…
This is pretty critical, wouldn’t you agree? In fact Natural Golf – the only serious alternative swing theory to the conventional approach taught by most golf pros – takes this very seriously.
Orthodox Natural Golf theory claims that the elimination (or at least serious reduction) of the angle between the forearms and club shaft is critical to their entire method. Orthodox theory (as originally formulated by Jack Kuykendal) claims this is because it simplifies the swing, by creating a “single axis”.
Frankly I find the “single axis” theory rather unsatisfactory (for reasons discussed elsewhere). The fact that this particular Natural Golf technique (“reducing the angle”) actually works is, I think, not open to question. In my experience it does work — especially for less experienced golfers. But that doesn’t mean we have to buy the explanation.
Do you see what “eliminating the angle” amounts to? It is advocating that we get our arms away from our body, not keep them in tight like Hogan claims. In other words, it is an anti-rubber bands theory! It is telling us: Do NOT hold your arms in tight to your body. Get them stretched out! Picture Moe Norman.
Let me hazard a guess as to why this actually works…
As I mentioned above, I think the success of Natural Golf (at least when people first try it) is beyond dispute. The reason, I suggest, has little to do with how many “axes” you’re working with. Rather, it is because keeping your hands in takes discipline and effort. The more “natural” inclination is to get them out away from the body — to throw them at the ball. So why not give nature a hand by setting up with them already extended out. Doesn’t that make getting outside the line on the downswing just that much more difficult?
Yes it does. And hence, voila! we have the Natural Golf cure for the slice!
For those of us who set up in the traditional way – with an obvious angle between forearms and the club shaft – this makes it clear how fundamental Hogan’s Rubber Bands are. If we are not able to “hold the angle” (by keeping arms and hands in tight to our bodies) on the way down, we will almost inevitably come at the ball “from the outside” at the point of impact.
This also has a bearing on the “power move”
Most traditional theorists* often claim that the “power move” is that last part of the swing before impact when you go from cocked wrists to impact – the “snap” at the bottom. Analysts love to show slo-mo videos of pros like Sergio Garcia who are able to “hold their wrist cock” well below the parallel position, and then snap their hands at the ball with awesome force in that split second just before the club contacts the ball.
Executing this move correctly from a traditional setup position is almost impossible if you don’t apply Hogan’s Rubber Bands. In fact, practicing this move in slow motion can be very revealing. It will show you how your hands, arms, hips and legs must work together to allow you to approach the ball properly from the inside.
* Some exceptions to the “hold the wrist cock for as long as possible” rule include Dalton McCrary of “Straight Shooting Golf” fame, and Jack Nicklaus, at least as he presents his swing in his 70s videos.