Ben Hogan, one of the greatest golfers to ever pull on a pair of spiked shoes, once said: ‘I hate a hook. It nauseates me. I could vomit when I see one. It’s like a rattlesnake in your pocket.’ It’s easy to see why he was so vehement because, aside from the shanks, a hook can be one of the most destructive and card-wrecking shots in the game. It causes the ball initially to go right, or perhaps straight, before diving left, on a low, hard-running trajectory and it doesn’t often stop until it’s in deep trouble or out-of-bounds. That’s the bad news. The good news is that the vast majority of golfers slice the ball. The hook is usually something seen in better players who have just overdone some of the fundamentals.
The majority of tour pros who are, after all, the best exponents of golf that can be found, try to develop a fade. Unlike a slice, a fade is a controlled shot in which the ball moves left-to-right, flying high and therefore falling more softly to ground and stopping quicker. They can hit the ball as far as they need so their priority is control. The rest of us tend to try a develop a draw, which is a regulated movement from right-to-left because it gives us greater distance but, out of control it can quickly develop into a hook.
A draw is a shot in which the ball moves in a controlled way from right-to-left – probably no more than 5-10 yards at most. It’s perfect when the flagstick is tucked onto the left side of the green. Aim for the middle of the putting surface with a draw and your ball will be close. Fail to draw it and hit it straight you’ll still be in the middle of the green with every chance of a two-putt. A pull is a shot where the ball starts left from the clubface but travels in a reasonably straight line; it’s like an exaggerated draw and you might miss the green or fairway but it won’t be disastrous. A hook is sickening. The ball usually starts straight or to the right before spinning ever more severely to the left. The desirable ambition of most recreational golfers is to hit the ball with a draw, which is a good thing. Sadly, they often end up with a hook, which is not.
What Causes a Hook?
A hook is the result of hitting the ball with a closed clubface – that is, one pointing left of the target line. It is often created by an exaggerated in-to-out swingpath, poor grip or alignment, or over-active hands.
How to Fix a Hook
How to correct your swingpath
An in-to-out swing, especially if delivered with a closed clubface, sees the ball start right of or on the target line before swerving to the left. Alternatively, it can start left and go even further to port (or, as one of my playing partners describes it ‘lefterer’). Swingpath is the line on which you deliver the clubhead to the ball. Our anatomy and the fact that we stand side-on to our target, makes it is impossible to take the club back so that it describes a perfect circle. At the top of the backswing the club is behind your head, not immediately in front of it, as it would be in a perfect circle. What you have done is move the clubhead on an arc and the intention of all good shots is to reproduce that arc exactly on the way back down to the ball. If the clubhead moves from further away from you into the ball, that’s outside-to-in. If it travels from nearer to you to the ball, that’s inside-to-out. Too much inside-to-out and you’re in hooker’s hell.
How to correct your grip
When you first take a golf club in your hands, it feels natural for your right hand to sit underneath the grip, with the back of your hand almost pointing at the ground. Usually with this type of hold – known as a hooker’s grip – both hands are rotated too far to the right. The effect of this is to close the clubface so that it is pointing left of the target at impact. Incidentally, closing the clubface tends to de-loft it, which is why the ball flies further when you hook it. The more loft on a clubface, the higher it will fly but with not so much distance. This is reversed with less loft. Stand tall, bend slightly from the waist and let your hands hang down towards the ground. What you will see is that, if you were addressing a golf ball, the back of your left hand and palm of your right hand are facing towards the target. Bring your hands together and this would be a neutral, desirable grip. If you change your grip from a strong to a neutral one, you might find that initially you start hitting the ball straight right but that’s a heck of a lot better than a hook.
Fixing your alignment
Probably without realising it, over time you will have gradually changed your alignment so that you are standing ‘open’ to the target line – that is, aiming right of it. When you correct it, you will feel as if you’re aiming left, which can be scary for a hooker so get a playing partner to check your alignment; they might even take some pictures for you to refer to at the time or later. Once you’re aligned properly it is something you need to regularly check. If you ever watch tour pros practice you will notice how many of them use two clubs, sticks or golf shafts laid on the ground to aid their alignment. One lies outside the ball, parallel to the target line, and the other is across the toes, parallel to the first. It looks like a railway track pointing straight towards the target.
Fixing your backswing
Start your backswing and stop when your clubhead is pointing straight back down the target line and look at the clubface. If it is pointing towards the ground, it is closed and a closed clubface causes a hook. When you get to the top of the backswing, check your left wrist (or better still get one of your playing partners to check it – once again they can even take some pictures). If your wrist is bowed so that the clubface is pointing at the sky, straighten it up so that the back of your wrist and forearm are better aligned.
Probably subconsciously, the golfer is misaligned and pointing themselves to the right, to compensate they flips their hands over (or try to) at the point of impact. As you might guess, timing this to perfection is almost impossible and what usually happens is that the golfer overdoes it, flipping the hands too much, thereby closing the clubface and seeing the ball travel left like a tracer bullet, in all probability never to be seen again. One way to quieten your hand action is to imagine the back of your left hand driving down the target line before the natural rotation of your body pulls it around to your left. It can also be a good drill to just swing the club with your left arm only. This helps give you the sensation of the club swinging down the target line without your stronger right hand taking over and rotating too much through impact.
Develop a neutral grip. Changing the way you hold the club can be one of the most physically uncomfortable alterations you can make but it’s crucially important and you will be surprised at how quickly this initially unnatural feeling disappears.
Check your alignment and ensure that you are standing square to your target line. Picking an intermediate target, such as clump of grass or leaf a few feet ahead of your ball, can be a great help.
Keep your hands quiet throughout the swing, they will naturally pronate (back of your left hand pointing at the sky on the backswing, while the palm points at the sky on your follow-through; the reverse is true for your right hand).
Swinging in-to-out is good, but overdoing it can create a hook.
When all else fails, visit a PGA teaching pro or get one of ours at AmericanGolf to offer expert advice on the ways in which you grip the club, align yourself and swing.
About the Author
Martin Vousden - Golf Writer
Martin Vousden joined Today’s Golfer in 1988 as a staff writer and quickly rose to become editor; under his stewardship it became Britain’s best-selling golf title. He then became launch editor of Golf Buyer and Swing magazines, before moving to Scotland to take over at ScottishGolf. After five years he became (and remains) a freelance journalist, having written for numerous titles, including Golf Monthly, Golf Punk and The Clubhouse, which is based in Malaysia. He lives in Angus, about 12 miles from the Carnoustie course that beats him up every time he plays it, so he joined Kirriemuir GC. His handicap of 19.3 rises inexorably with every passing year.
Martin’s golf bag contains:
Ping G400 driver
King Cobra F/Speed 3-wood
Kane Golf 5-wood
Callaway Big Bertha 7-wood
Wilson D9 irons, 5-gap wedge
Yonex Z-Force sand wedge
John Letters Golden Goose lob wedge
Putter: GEL Ruby or Odyssey 2-ball blade (depending on which is behaving itself)
TaylorMade Distance Balls (yellow, just because he likes the colour)