Get a Grip: The Ultimate Guide to Golf Grips

Published 08/08/2013 07:43:00

Every soul who thinks the performance parts of a golf club begin and end with the shaft and clubhead should conduct a little test. First, find the best shaft money can buy and insert it into the hottest clubhead on the market. Tee up the most popular ball on the PGA Tour. Now slather the grip with 3-In-One oil.

Before you play away, one more thing: Clear the clubhouse porch. The ball, not to mention the club itself, is apt to fly anywhere. Get the picture? The grip is the business end of the club. It is the primary connection between your well-schooled hands and the clubhead. While the grip may be the least expensive component in the game, it is fundamentally the most important. Here is some information to help you select a grip that fits you.

What size grip?

No part of a golf club is sized as mysteriously as the grip. If you browse through golf-equipment fitting guides you'll see that they come in measures such as "1/64 oversize" with a ".580 core." What is the golfer to make of this? "These measurements are relative to what is standard, and `standard' varies," says Jim Ulrich, marketing manager for Eaton/Golf Pride Grips. "Basically, if a grip is `1/64 oversize,' it means that the outside diameter of the grip is 15/1,000ths of an inch larger than normal, and is uniformly larger from the butt to the tip of the grip." Though it does vary, in general a men's standard grip is about .900 inches and a women's .855 inches in outside diameter when measured two inches below the grip cap. (The ".580- inch core" refers to the diameter of the hollow core of the grip.)

"Either you can buy your grips oversize to begin with, or your pro can install them 'larger' by using an extra wrap or two of tape beneath them," says Ulrich. "The tricky part is making your grips 'smaller.' If you stretch a small grip over a shaft that is too wide to accommodate it -thereby making the wall of the grip thinner-the grip material will deteriorate more quickly."

If you have large hands, prevailing wisdom says you should install extra-large grips. But is it really that simple? Tommy Armour, whose hands were so large that one of his contemporaries likened them to a "stalk of bananas," actually used grips that were extra small.

Instead of choosing extra-large grips that would enable him to grip the club conventionally-partly in the fingers, partly along the callus pads at the base of the fingers-Armour played with grips so small that he held them in the fingers alone, almost as though he were holding a pencil. But beware of emulating Armour. Small grips require a firmer hold on the club to prevent them from sliding during the swing. Armour's hands were exceptionally strong.

For most players, grips that are too big may restrict their hand action, resulting in slices, while grips that are too small may be the cause of too much hand action, resulting in nasty hooks. The traditional fitting rule: When you close your gloved hand around the grip, the tips of your ring and middle fingers should just brush your palm. But as Armour's case proves, grips allow a lot of room for personal preference.

Before rubber...

Before 1750 or so, golf clubs had no grips at all; players simply held the bare wooden shaft. The first grips were plain cloth wrapped around the shaft, followed later by everything from silk to wool to sheepskin. In the 19th century, wrapped leather became the standard and remained popular for so long that Jack Nicklaus, for example, insisted on leather grips right up until this year.

Nicklaus has been the exception. By the 1950s, cheaper, tackier rubber grips, first introduced in the 1890s, had become commonplace. Today most grips are rubber or synthetic rubber. A significant improvement over leather, right? Not in the opinion of "Lighthorse" Harry Cooper, at 90 one of the oldest living great players of the 1920s and '30s. Although Cooper never won a major championship, he did win 30 PGA Tour events.

"I used the Fulford leather grips that were very tacky, very durable and very good," says Cooper. "Almost everybody used them because they performed well and only had to be replaced about once a year, if you played a lot.

"To install the grip, you'd place a felt lining right up against the hickory shaft so you'd have a softer feel. Then you'd apply some plain glue to the felt so the leather would stick to it. Next, you'd take a small tack and fix one end of the leather grip to the top of the shaft. Then you carefully wrapped the leather around the felt in a spiral fashion, making sure there were no spaces between the spiral wrapping. Those leather grips stayed put, I'll tell you.

"The first rubber grips were lousy. They stayed in your hands all right, but didn't bind against the shaft very well. I would make a good swing and the ball would go sideways. I gave them up, went back to leather and won a lot of tournaments."

The first cord grip

The most radical departure from standard leather and rubber grips in this century has been the cord grip -- a standard rubber grip infused with strands of corded fabric. The cord grip has long been popular among better players for its rough texture, which minimizes slippage in rain and hot, humid weather. The cord grip was invented in the early 1930s by Jackie Burke Sr., whose son, Jackie Jr., won both the Masters and PGA Championship in 1956. Burke Jr. explains how his father, then the head pro at River Oaks in Houston, was inspired to invent the first cord grip: "On his way to work one day he blew a tire. As he sat at the roadside waiting for a guy to come help him put on a spare, he got to staring at that blown-out tire. He saw that the rubber was impregnated with corded strands of fabric, and he got the idea that something like that might work. My dad hated the leather grips they had in those days and had tried to put all kinds of stuff on top of his so he Many grip manufacturers have tried, but none has perfected, a grip that absolutely won't slip when it's wet. A leather glove isn't the answer, either; when it gets wet it isn't much better than your bare hand. One solution may be Wet Grips, a pair of cotton gloves that absorb moisture rather than try to repel it.

"The wetter they get, the better they work," claims Ralph Bennett of W&R Golf Company, the manufacturer of Wet Grips. "In fact, they are utility gloves that don't work unless they are wet."

Wet Grips have a Velcro fastener to hold them in place. They come in four sizes, don't shrink or stretch and are washable. Wet Grips retail for $17.95, including shipping. Phone: 800-814-0101.could hold the club better. So he found an inventor, a fellow named Tracy Parks, and turned him loose on the idea of making a grip inlaid with corded strands of cotton. He mixed the cord into the rubber and put it into the molds. Then he baked them. That first cord grip worked very well and he got it patented. He started a company called Burke-Par and got Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan, Jimmy Demaret, Craig Wood and Henry Picard in as shareholders. Things went real well until just after the war, when my dad died. Because most of the shareholders had been off to war, they let the patent expire and the Golf Pride company picked up where Dad left off."

Today, nearly all grips are rubber, cord or "half-cord" (the underside portion corded, the top side plain rubber).

The grip is key

It's a fact few golfers understand: When you change your grip, you change your whole club. "You must pay great attention when you change your grips," says John Wheatley, founder of Wheatley Golf and an expert on club-fitting and shaft technology. "You have to understand that a grip affects the club's flex, overall weight and weight distribution."

A standard men's grip weighs about 50 grams, but some grips can weigh up to 60 grams or, in the case of special oversize "arthritic" grips, more than 75 grams. If your new grip weighs just 11 grams more than your old grip, you could be changing your club's swingweight from, say, D-2 to D-0 -- a major change in feel and performance. In such a case, you'll need to add weight to the head to get your old swingweight back -- but this means you're now swinging a heavier club, and you may be changing the effective flex as well.

Even the softness of a grip can change a club's characteristics. "If you take a normal stiff shaft with a soft rubber grip and regrip it with a hard cord grip," says Wheatley, "the club will now play as if it had an extra-stiff shaft. The fundamental difference in the performance of the club will be dramatic." Conversely, going from a standard grip to a cushion grip (like some arthritic grips) can effectively increase torque and weaken flex. "Actually," says Wheatley, "this can be beneficial for players with weak hands and slow swing speeds."

The key, Wheatley adds, is to make sure that your clubs' flex and torque are measured with the grip on-because the grip affects everything.

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