Commentary: Are Golf Gloves a Help or Hindrance for the Aspiring Golfer Student? Part 1

By Dr. Matthew M. Rosman, GSEE
Director of Biomechanics and Sports Science, The Golfing Machine, LLC

As every new golf season approaches there usually is the publication of a variety of diverse golf related articles. Some of these articles discuss topics about the golf grip and golf glove wear.  These types of articles frequently ask the reader to refer to his or her personal golf glove to examine for wear marks, tears, and “holes” at various locations of the golf glove.  

Often, there are suggestions raised in some of these articles that the observation of wear marks particularly in the thumb tip or heel pad region of the glove infers the probability of a poor grip technique.  In addition, it is further implied that these glove findings may serve as forensic evidence of the source of slicing or some other swing malady that the aspiring golfer may be suffering from.

Furthermore, to eradicate such glove wear and/or ball flight problems, a suggestion is rendered to place the club significantly lower into the very bottom edge of the palm and utilize a hold that maximizes the fingers with a resultant use of the heel pad as added “security” for the lead hand-to-club union. The association again is that various troubling swing maladies will improve and the glove will suffer less traumatic insult resulting in the reduction of future wear and tear to the golf glove. The golf glove then serves as a reference tool or a teaching aid that guides these golfers in lead hand placement on the club based upon glove-to-handle location as a defense against preventing wear marks and tears in the glove.

This revised union of gloved hand to club handle now serves as a part of the total process by which the aspiring golfer student executes their present and future personal stroke pattern.  Hence, moving forward, this alteration becomes a new educational baseline point of reference by which all additional forms of analysis and evaluation of the overall competency of stroke pattern execution occurs.

As “feel” is derived from “mechanics”, the “feel” that this aspiring golfer student will neurologically “sense” from the mechanical orientation of the gloved lead hand to the golf grip handle will be imparted into the motor and performance system (of the aspiring golfer) influencing the quality of the performed chain of action of the entire stroke pattern moving forward. Thus, it is plausible that certain displayed features of snares, wobbly points, execution errors, rhythm disruptions, and other impediments in the entire chain of action, exhibited by the biomechanical system, plaguing the motion harmonics may inadvertently be expressed in the execution.  

As we all are aware the lead hand’s function, relationship, and responsibility for participation in golf stroke execution procedures are quite specific in scope.  Therefore, as Authorized Instructors, the questions we can pose to ourselves presently to “incubate” are:

•    Do these recommendations proposed in some of these types of very well intentioned articles serve the aspiring golfer student’s needs regarding lead hand grip to the highest benefit possible?
•    Does using a golf glove with an evolved “defensive” tactic that ultimately is based upon avoiding these wear and tear marks and/or holes through a redirected hand to club grasp placement provide evidence of an enhanced approach or just in essence a self-defense against wear and tear marks and/or holes in the golf glove?
•    Since golf gloves are not manufactured to provide an exact anatomy conforming skin tight fit of the entire hand to the glove itself (such as found in surgical gloves), and the palm area in comparison to the finger area is often much less conforming, is the presence of a wear mark or hole evidence exclusively of a technique malady or could other factors be the source of excessive wear erosion and holes in the golf glove?
•    What does lowering the handle into the fingers create biomechanically and how does it alter the function of the lead hand to club procedure process?
•    If a skilled golfer were to alter his or her technique for a specific execution objective such that the handle of the club was placed with a greater palm bias, would not this golfer experience over time some degree of a wear “pattern” on the glove of some familiar similarity to that of an unskilled golfer just because of the change in location of the handle to the glove?
Thus, this article is not in any way a “jab at”, a “criticism of”, “a response to”, or a commentary in any manner about the scholastic contributions of other educators over the years. I respect, appreciate, and sincerely value all of the contributions of other colleagues.  To be candid, this author, with recollection, quite long ago rendered an article with subject matter similarity for posting in a local newspaper.  Time, intense study (of both The Golfing Machine and clinical biomechanics) of the subject of the union of the hands to the handle, as well as years of lessons working with golfers of all skill levels and functional capacities, has provided greater scientific insight and understanding evolving my clinical perspective on golf glove use by the lead hand of the aspiring golf student.  

Presently then, this article is a journey of scholastic exploration into the concept of the golf glove itself from a biomechanical perspective. It is a proposal that we pause and look at the science of grasping the handle of the club with the lead hand and understand the mechanical methods available by which a union of hand to handle occurs.  It is a reminder that the location of placement of the handle in the lead hand can lawfully change due to specifically chosen and employed G.O.L.F. component variations that might require a movement of the handle from primary finger encirclement to another area of the hand such as the palm.  Please note: this present article will exclude putter grip.

The golf grip handle is tapered and cylindrical in design.  This handle must conform to fairly specific and consistent design parameters (exclusive of the variances permitted for standard, mid-size, and over-size).  The handle design, as well as the biomechanical structure of the human hand, limits the variations for grasp and successful union especially for functional participation for all classifications of lawful golf procedures.  

What we know about the golf grip handle includes:  

•    The golf grip handle is not as thin as a pin or a pencil.  
•    The golf grip handle is not round and larger in circumference such as found in a baseball bat.
•    The golf grip handle is not flat with squared edges such as found in a hockey stick.

Thus, the golf grip handle is an elongated extension of the golf club shaft, rounded in contour, tapered with an increase in circumference as it extends superiorward, and cylindrical in design. It is in fact the golf club handle design itself that serves as a key foundational construct for how grasp may be undertaken.  Think of a fork or a knife. Now think of a baseball bat or a hockey stick.  The manner by which the hand unifies with the implement of intended use for optimal function is dictated by the limits of design of the implement and the limits of biomechanical properties of the designated hand.   

Regarding this subject concerning the grasping of a cylindrical type of implement and in consultation with the text, The Physiology of the Joints, Volume One, by I.A. Kapandji*, there is a classification of hand to implement that may be extrapolated in a useful manner to this present discussion: (Please note the term prehension is a term used to describe grasping by the hand of objects)

•    Page 264: “Palmar grips involve both the fingers and the palm.”
•    Page 264:  Under the classification of full palmar prehension: “The hand wraps itself round cylindrical objects (Fig. 229) and the axis of the object coincides with that of the palmar gutter, i.e. it runs obliquely from the hypothenar eminence to the base of the index.”  

In reviewing this body of work by I.A. Kapandji* and in analysis of the various modes of prehension discussed in that text the following may be deduced:

•    Since the thumb is not held either off from or away from the golf club handle while grasping it for lawful application in stroke execution, of the two types of palmar grips (digito-palmar and full palmar prehension) the full palmar prehension classification of grasp is most suitably in closest association with the manner by which the lead hand is customarily unified with the golf club grip handle procedurally.   

From this text, we can apply the information to the golf grip handle to deduce that:

•    The golf club handle (as indicated earlier) is tapered but cylindrical in nature.
•    The more functional manner to grasp the golf club handle is with a palmar type grip which utilizes the fingers and the palm as the implement is oriented in an “angled” or oblique manner in the palm.
•    A more optimal anatomical region of the hand to place the cylindrical golf club handle implement for maximal grasp mechanics runs “generally” within (or in close proximity to) the palmar gutter.
•    The palmar gutter is that surface area of the hand’s palm region that can form an angled contoured cup or concavity.  
•    The palmar gutter is located anatomically from the space between the thumb pad region and heel pad region running across the palm in an oblique path all the way to the superior base of the index finger.

Again, please remember that the design of the golf club handle limits the biomechanical options available for a viable and functional union of handle with the lead hand of the golfer.  The biomechanics of the hand will require a grasp that places the handle of the golf club in a more functional orientation for security purposes, optimization of the operation of the implement, and to permit the associated forearm and humerus to be able to have their longitudinal axes of rotation correspond more favorably to the axis of rotation of the golf club.

To illustrate how the design of the implement and function requirements for use dictate grip optimization characteristics let us, as an example, refer to a completely different implement: a standard screwdriver. Please find a screwdriver and then:  

•    Hold the screwdriver in various locations of your hand.  
•    Next, if possible (with caution and safety) find a screw in a wall that can safely be used.  
•    Operate the screwdriver to loosen and then tighten the screw.  
•    Try different grips of the screwdriver and determine which grasp of the handle was the most efficient to best perform the task of loosening and tightening the screw.
•    Repeat this entire process by holding the screwdriver in your normal “golf glove” oriented hand if it was not the hand that you had utilized for this activity.

What did you conclude?  

•    How was the hand grasp of the screwdriver handle accommodated to the handle design characteristics and function of the tool?
•    Which grasp allowed the best operation of the screwdriver to loosen and tighten the wall screw by the biomechanical system?
•    What happened when you used your “golf lead hand” for the activity instead?

This exercise helps to illustrate how the design of the implement (and human hand) and function of the implement (and human hand) will limit the specific grasp options for operation and use of a designated implement.  

A screwdriver is not a golf grip handle. And, a golf club and screwdriver are used very differently.  But, because the grasp of the screwdriver by the hand places it in a category of prehension (described by I.A. Kapandji in the same referenced text* on page 268 as a “Centralised grip”) that shares certain applied characteristics with the grasp characteristics of a golf club handle in terms of biomechanical grip characteristics, we can begin to see how the design and function of the biomechanical system will provide specific mechanical operational procedures for how to optimally hold the grip handle of a golf club to execute all lawful G.O.L.F. procedures.

The two terms design and function are key to this discussion thus far.  The union of the lead golf hand to the golf club should be based upon the constructs of the scientific facts of implement and anatomical design and function for maximal effective application.  This may then for maximal benefit (particularly for the aspiring golf student) require the lead hand to not be assigned to hold the golf grip handle using a grasp limited to the primary responsibility of the finger zone region.

Such a primary finger hold grasp of an implement in relationship to the palm is defined by I.A. Kapandji in the text, The Physiology of the Joints, Volume One*, on page 264, as Digito-palmar prehension (described earlier).  This type of prehension of the implement by the fingers is secured outside of the palmar gutter and the angle of the cylindrical implement is now parallel to the baseline of the finger joints with the palm.  I.A. Kapandji on page 264* states:

•    “The axis of the grip is perpendicular to the axis of the hand and does not follow the oblique direction of the palmar gutter.”

As we have learned from Mr. Kelley in The Golfing Machine, changing the angle of the implement in relationship to the hand ultimately alters the size of the Number Three Accumulator angle presentation as well as changes the entire relationship of the 10-2 Hands to Plane relationships. Part 2 of this series will discuss this subject in greater detail.

But for now, it is important to recognize that the type of prehension utilized by the golfer without recognition of the component functions employed and their respective degree of compatibility or incompatibility could now lead to a higher probability of unanticipated execution related maladies.

Therefore, the decision to alter the location of the club’s handle to the lead hand and the angle of the handle to the lead hand must be crafted from an objective scientific position without the golf glove itself serving as a disruption to the required clinical diagnostic process.   
Thus, the presence of a golf glove, and a “defensive” strategy of grip application based upon the preservation of the golf glove from wear marks, erosions, and holes, may serve as an unfortunate unintended limitation for optimal skill building (for the aspiring golfer student) which could prevent the attainment of the desired goal of the development of what Mr. Kelley referred to as educated hands.  Therefore, the glove may serve as more hindrance than help for the aspiring golfer student.

In addition, and specifically for the aspiring golfer student, removing the golf glove can provide enhanced sensory “feel” of key specific anatomical lead hand landmarks with the club handle as well as help to better visually locate these important anatomical lead hand landmarks to place the golf club handle in. All of these factors provide greater opportunity to repeat desired lead hand placement with greater consistency each and every time the grip procedure is undertaken.  

Based on the implement classification (cylindrical) and now knowing that the golfer’s grasp application is most closely associated with the palmar type grip with a bit more of a centralized bias, then perhaps the role of the use of a golf glove for the aspiring golfer student now needs to be re-examined as to benefit for skill acquisition and whether it truly serves to permit the most sound and biomechanical grasp of the club.  

Because using a "gloved" lead hand golf grip placement approach whose primary strategic objective is a "defense" against the development of wear marks and holes in the material, may advocate by necessity, the adoption of a prehension strategy which may be more restrictive and counterproductive to the biomechanical grasp function required for a cylindrical style tapered golf grip handle. And, this "defensive" based strategy could equally be counterproductive to the development of integral "core" G.O.L.F. technique skills required for the aspiring golf student.

In fact, it is possible that depending upon the procedure required that a wear mark or an erosion in the golf glove due to the employment of a palm and finger grip may actually be an indicator of the progressive development of a sound and biomechanically functional grip “in the making” for the training of a specific skill or procedure by the aspiring golf student.

For example, in looking at the published works of Mr. Ben Hogan, would not that left hand (lead hand) grip that is advocated in Five Lessons** actually produce the increased probability for an erosion in the palm area to occur if a typical industry style golf glove was worn because of a greater palm location bias?  

What about The Golfing Machine and Mr. Kelley?  In Part 2, the discussion will continue with further examination of this subject from a TGM and BIA perspective.

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Thank you.

* Kapandji, I.A. The Physiology of the Joints, Volume One: Upper Limb. Edinburgh London Melbourne and New York. Churchill   Livingstone, 1982
** Hogan, Ben. Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf. New York. A.S. Barnes and Company, 1957