Why You Want Ben Hogan's "Power Fade"
(and how to get it)

Why is that most of the great players in history played a "power fade", rather than a draw? My answer is that playing a power fade not only gives consistent distance control but, more importantly, it gives you consistent hand action at the point of impact that holds up under pressure!

Eric Armstrong
TreeLight.com/golf

Ben Hogan's Secret

When Ben Hogan told the world that "he had a secret"--even after carefully explaining virtually every aspect of the swing in his book, Five Lessons, he created an entire industry, with people popping up every few years with yet another book that triumphantly explains the secret he was referring to. But the most recent book on that subject, Ben Hogan's Magical Device, may well have got it right.

The one hint Hogan left us is that the secret was "plain to see", to anyone who knew what they were looking for. After talking to many contemporaries of Hogan, author Ted Hunt determined that the secret was part of Hogan called his "magical device"--with biceps snugging the chest through impact, locking the arms to the torso. Hunt identifies a small movement of the hands during that movement that produced the power fade that Hogan was so famous for.

It just could be that Ted Hunt has it right. After reading his explanations, things began to make sense in a way they never did before. As several lines of thought came together, I wrote this article to capture the ideas.

What is a "Power" Fade?

Hogan was a topnotch golfer who was in auto accident. The damage was so severe that doctors said he would never walk again. Well, he began walking, which was great. But of course he would never be able to play golf again. So he returned to playing golf. "Terrific", they said. But of course he would never return to the peak levels of competition. Lo and behold, he not only returned to that level, he began to win--tournament after tournament.

On tour, his primary weapon was the power fade--a long drive that started slightly left and curved to the right, back into the fairway. He used it to win many a tournament, as have many of the great players, including Jack Nicklaus. In fact, almost all of the really great players have relied on the power fade as their weapon of choice--as opposed to the draw, which curves to the left for a right-handed player.

When Hogan started his career, he fought a hook that put the ball far into the left rough on more than one occasion. In his search for a solution, he found a swing that completely eliminates the left side of the fairway--the power fade. With that swing, he could aim the ball down the left side, even if there was water or severe rough, confident that the ball was never, ever going further left, knowing that it was going to curve right back into the fairway.

So: What is the difference between a "power fade" and a "fade". The major difference is the swing path. An unintentional fade occurs when a beginning player has an "over the top", or "outside-in" swing path. Instead of coming into the ball with the club headed towards the target, the club comes in at an angle, and gives the ball a glancing blow. Since not all of the swing force is directed into the ball, the ball loses distance, at the same time it is curving to the right.

I believe that loss of distance is what caused teaching pro's to call it a "fade", because the ball goes a shorter distance than it would if it went downrange with power. Because the ball also curves to the right, the "fade" came to be synonomous with that curve, as well as with the lack of distance.

The power fade, on the other hand, (or what Tiger Woods calls a cut) has a good swing path behind it. In fact, no less than Jack Nicklaus suggested that to learn how to hit a power fade, you should start by learning how to hit a draw, so as to ingrain the ideal "in to out" swing path (Hit a Fade with Power).

Of course, the club is going around your body, it has to come back "in" eventually, so the swing path might well be described as "in to out to in". But that's a quibble. The important point is that you're not giving the ball a glancing blow that loses power. Instead, you're giving it solid propulsion from a well-directed swing that happens to be imparting a bit of side-spin, as well.

Why You Want a Power Fade

Because of the way spin is imparted to the ball during a swing, a fade tends to stop near where it lands, while a draw has a degree of topspin that makes it "run" after landing. So a draw goes further. Despite the extra distance, most of the great players have preferred the fade. Why is that?

One idea is that because the ball tends to stop where it lands, the ball doesn't bound off into trouble after landing. That theory suggests that fade keeps professionals out of the rough, so they do better. Well, that theory may well apply to you and me. And it's a pretty darn good reason for us to prefer a fade. But these are professionals we're talking about.

In the first place, they get out of the rough better than anyone on the planet. Sometimes, they even aim for the rough, as Tiger used to do. (He'd a hit a long drive down the side of fairway that gave him the best angle to the pin, and let the rough stop the ball. Then he'd power a wedge to the green, dominating many a course in the process.) In the second place, they have the practice time to figure out how far the balls travels in the air, and how far it runs after landing. And they have caddies who have paced off every possible yardage from every possible location. So if they want to hit a draw, they can pretty easily choose a club that will keep them out of trouble.

Again, for you and me, a fade makes sense. We don't have to worry about both carry (where the ball lands) and roll (where it winds up). Instead, since roll is minimal after a fade, we only have to think about one number. So we can simply pick a landing area and aim there with a club that goes that distance. Easy peasy! But that still doesn't explain why the best professionals in the business have almost all preferred the fade.

I believe that the answer lies in the hand action. As we'll see, the hand action you use to produce a fade is virtually the same action you use for a lob (half-wedge), a chip, and even a putt. And it is really helpful to keep the hand action consistent. There are 19 things that happen during a golf swing. The swing lasts for only a second, and doing any of those 19 things even slightly differently will throw the ball a mile off course. But the crtical hand action takes even less time--only a fraction of a second. It's way too fast to think about, and it's crtical to the outcome.

It took me a long time to get my swing working, with my arms rolling over and keeping the ball in play, rather than slicing it off into the woods. But I observed that when my swing was working, my short game went south! On other days, I was chipping and putting beautifully, and could pitch the ball right up where I wanted it on the green. But on those days, I couldn't keep the ball out of the weeds with anything longer than a wedge! So I could have a long game or a short game, but not both.

The author of Ben Hogan's Magical Device must have felt the same way. Because after he figured out Hogan's "magical device", he began shooting his age, and then some. (At age 71, he shot a 69. Dang!) The key, I think, is that he could use the same hand action all the way around the course, from the tee box to the pin.

That reasoning applies to the pro's, as well. When you're playing a fade, you have one hand action. When playing a draw, you have two. If, as you go through a round of golf, half of your swings use one hand action, and the other half use the opposite action, it is going to be very difficult to be consistent.

Even a pro is going to find it difficult to achieve any kind of consistency, because that action takes place in a fraction of second. The action can't be under conscious control--it has to be ingrained and automatic. Switching up your hand action for half your shots virtually guarantees that consistency will be impossible to achieve.

And then there is the fact that the swing is virtually tension proof. As we'll see, there is a particular forearm tension that is applied at the point of contact. If the swing is already applying that tension, there won't much difference if the golfer is experiencing mental tension. But if the swing depends on relaxed, free flowing arms (as mine always had), then the golfer is likely to find that the swing goes south right when it is needed most!

That observation certainly matches my experience, at least. I can be playing really well from week to week. Then I go to my club "tournament" (with virtually nothing on the line!) and watch it all go to pieces. Even within the tournament, I can be hitting one beautiful drive after another, only to watch it fall apart when I get to the "long drive" hole--where a prize is awarded for the longest drive that stays in the fairway. I try to muscle that drive, and then go off into the woods to find my ball.

In the past, I've thought that the key was learning how to relax under pressure, so that I don't "try harder" when I get to that hole. It would have been nice, had it worked. (I did improve. But I could never really count on doing well under pressure.) But now I'm thinking that the key is develop a power fade that relies on a bit of tension. It could well be that, with a fade, the desire to "try harder" or when "caring more" about the outcome, the swing will still be a reasonable facsimile of its former self.

That principle certainly makes sense when applied to pro's in the heat of competition. Imagine coming to the last tee with your entire future on the line. The difference between winning and coming in second is a million dollars. If you win, you'll have exemptions that automatically qualify for several major tournaments, with a decent paycheck for any reasonable finish. With that income, and the extra million, you'll be able to pay off your debts, reward your investors, get that big house, and marry the lady who has supported you so for long. If you come in second, you go back to your day job.

Pressure? Man, I don't even know the meaning of that word, compared to what those guys must be feeling. And yet my swing goes sideways in a tiny club tournament that no one cares about, except for the people who are in it. It makes sense then, that a swing which depends on tension will tend to be more successful in pressure situations, compared to one that requires relaxation. And that, more than any other factor, could explain why so many of the most successful golfers in history have relied on the power fade.

In short, there are many reasons why you want the power fade, and many of them come down to the advantages of the grip that produces it:

How to Get a Power Fade

According to author Ted Hunt, Ben Hogan's "magical device" has several key ingredients:

To the degree I understand his analysis, the most critical part of the swing occurs right after the right elbow drows down into the "slot", from the top of the backswing. From the top of the backswing, the right elbow drops down to connect with the the right hip. At the point, the left and right bicep squeeze against the chest, making a single unit of the arms and torso (the "magical device") that stays intact until well after contact.

Extra:
It is worth noting that the left knee moves towards the target just before the completion of the backswing, according to Ted Hunt. That sequence increases the separation between lower and upper body, which creates more power as the energy stored in the back muscles is released in the ensuing swing. It also creates a nice "trigger" for the sequence of actions that follow, so the backswing flows naturally into the forward swing. It is also worth noting that Hogan gripped the club with the face slightly open, to impart side spin at contact. (As a chronic slicer during most of my golfing life, I intend to experiment with that part of things very carefully.) Perhaps even more astonishing he is that he hit the driver with a closed stance! (The kind you use for a draw.) But with the open clubface, he still managed to produce a power fade. (It seems to me that the closed stance and open clubface would counteract one another. If so, it should be possible to hit the same shot with a normal stance and square clubface.)

Once the elbow drops into the "slot", the critical sequence begins. At that point, the back of the left wrist is relatively flat, but the side with the thumb is cocked, so the thumb points to the sky. As the hands move from that position to contact with the ball, the left wrist arches, so the back of the wrist is bowed towards the target. (The action is like wringing a towel with the left hand. In fact, holding a towel with the right hand and "wringing" with the left is a drill that many a golfer has learned to strengthen the wrist and ingrain that seqeunce.)

But the really critical bit is the instruction to squeeze the last few fingers of the left hand at contact! To my mind, that bit of advice is the key to making the whole thing work.

When he is announcing, Johnny Miller likes to point out that the ball tends to go right or slice when a golfer gets tense. He's always looking for the golfer's ability to perform under pressure--say on the last day, with the trophy on the line--because, when there is tension, the forearms don't roll over, which causes the ball to go right.

At the same time, "holding off" the clubface, so it stays square to the target line, is key to a good half-wedge lob, the putt, and the chipping stroke. So: What is it about mental tension that prevents the clubface from closing as the forearms roll over? I suspect that it is the unconscious transfer of that tension to your forearms that makes it happen.

Try this experiment: Squeeze your thumb and index finger together. Hard. As you do, be aware of the feeling in your forearm. Where do you feel tension? Answer: You feel a thin band of tension running along the top of your forearm, from behind the thumb to the elbow. There is a bit of tension, but not much.

Now squeeze your pinky and ring finger into your palm. Then add your middle finger. Squeeze hard. What do you feel now? Answer: Your entire forearm is locked up like a rock. There isn't any part of the major forearm muscle that isn't tense.

Now then, if the forearms are loose and relaxed, the club tends to turn over as you swing. The right forearm rolls over the left, the clubface closes, and the ball goes more or less where you aim it, instead of squirting to the right. With your forearms tense, the forearms don't roll over, and the clubface doesn't close. It tends to remain square to the ball (or open, depending on your swing).

Hogan's Secret and the Short Game

As described in Ben Hogan's Magical Device, you don't want to roll your right forearm over your left during the swing. That is important component of the power fade. The rolling action produces topspin and side spin that goes left. At the very least, it will prevent the sidespin that brings the ball back around to the right. Beyond that, it produces a draw.

By the same token, "arms don't roll over" and "face stays square to the ball" is precisely what you want for a lob, chip, or putt! The goal of the power fade is ensure that "arms dsn't roll over"during the full swing, as well. Squeezing the last few fingers of the left hand at the moment of impact is key to producing that action.

Let's see why:

That should be enough information to convince you that the Power Fade hand action and short game shots have a lot in common. (For even deeper explanations and more applications, see Ben Hogan's Short Game Simplified.)

The Full Swing

When making a full swing, the forearms stay loose and relaxed through almost of all the swing. The exception is right at the very moment of contact, when the last three fingers of the left hand squeeze the club--after which the fingers relax again. That squeeze tightens the forearm muscles, and prevents the right forearm from rolling over the left--for just a split-second, mind you. That momentary sequeeze keeps the clubface in the exact position throughout contact with the ball. So instead of having the clubface change its angle as contact is made--and producing a completely different result if the contact is made a nanosecond sooner or later, relative to the closing of the clubface--the clubface meets the ball at virtually the same angle, time after time.

One major advantage is consistency, as the clubface holds it angle for the duration of contact. And if you're trying to hit a fade, you can virtually count on to come back to the right, if it moves at all. (I suspect that if you don't grip the club with an open clubface to start with, you'll get a straight shot, rather than a fade. It's worth an experiment.)

The secondary advantage is the ability to perform under pressure. If you can stay loose and relaxed, so much the better. You'll get a smoother swing and more distance. If you're a little tense, on the other hand, you won't swing quite as well--but the clubface should meet the ball at pretty much the same angle. So even if you don't get all the distance you wanted, at least you won't be hunting for the ball in your woods.

All of that, simply by arching the left wrist towards the target, and squeezing the last few fingers of the left hand at contact! It's a tiny part of the swing--lasting only a fraction of a second. It's no wonder that it stays Hogan's secret for so long! It was right there for anyone to see--as long as they had a slow motion camera and could detect the infintessimal space in which the clubface was not closing, when it ordinarily would be. Obvious! Right.

It is really obvious, though, that we owe Ted Hunt a debt of gratitude for digging that secret out--not out of the dirt, but out of the minds of people like Moe Norman and Stan Leonard who understood the secret, and who confirmed his insights with their explanations. Of course, each of them used a completely different vocabulary to explain the concept--one that made sense to them. So we also owe Ted for applying a modern understanding of physiology and kineseology to explain the concept in a standard (and very understandable) way. Finally, we owe him for surrounding his explanation with a host of stories garned from interviews with many of the luminaries in the field--people he caddied for, played with, or simply accosted when the occasion presented itself!

What If You Tend to Slice the Ball?

Hogan developed his technique in order to counteract a chronic hook. So we know that the "magical device" with the all-important hand action works if you have that tendency. But what if you have a tendency to slice?

For most of early years in golf, my short game worked pretty well, but anything longer than a short iron produced a horrible, horrible slice. My golf instructor (Ed Tischler) explained that the sidespin developed by an open clubface at impact is related to the loft of the club. With a very high loft, the spin is mostly backspin, with little sidespin. So an open clubface doesn't really hurt. (In fact, as we saw, "holding off" the club so it doesn't roll over is actually helpful!) But with longer irons and woods, more of the spin was sidespin, which produced a slice.

At the time, I had no control of the slice. So instead of working on a fade, I spent several years working to develop a draw, unknowingly following Jack Nicklaus' advice in the process. Eventually, I did get draw. In other words, I finally ingrained a semi-decent swing path! So now it is time to return to my original left-to-right tendency (but with more control!).

But to develop a draw, I also had to work on rolling my arms over, to get the right-to-left spin on the ball. That, of course, gave me two different hand actions to use throughout a round. Needless to say, consistency was difficult to achieve! Especially given the limited amount of time I spent playing, much less practicing. (Success is motivating. It makes you want to practice even more. Let's just say that maybe I wasn't all that motivated...)

The bottom line is that it shouldn't be necessary to learn an entirely different hand action to eliminate the slice. The only thing you really need to do is change your swing path!

The best way I've found to visualize that path came from a book that was originally published in 1937, now called Swing the Clubhead, by Ernest Jones. It said, in a nutshell, "Aim the club down the right centerfield line". If you imagine a line between right field and centerfield, and try to push your club down that line after contact, you are well on your way to grooving in the ideal swing path. As for the mechanics, the first step is to work on dropping the club into the "slot", with your right elbow next to your hip. Ingraining that action will (eventually) produce the necessary inside-out swing path--especially when you aim to right centerfield.

You could also try closing your stance, with the left foot closer to the target line, right foot farther away. At least that way, your stance will counteract the path, so you wind up swinging more down the target line, instead of across it to the left. (When the slice begins to go away, you can begin to return to a more normal stance.)

If when you do that, you get "push slice" that starts out going right, and then curves further right, it means that the clubface is open relative to the path of the swing when you make contact. That doesn't hurt with the short clubs. You just get more of a "lob" action, with the ball going higher and landing softer--although for a reduced distance. But it sure is a killer for longer clubs. What then?

Recall that Hogan produced his power fade by gripping the club with an open clubface to start with! He intentionally had an open clubface at contact. However, he had two controlling factors: One, he closed his stance for the longer clubs. (Closing his stance counteracted the open clubface to a degree, so he so he got more of a controlled "fade", rather than a pronounced "slice".

One lesson you could take from his practice, then, would be to close your stance, to counteract your less-than-intentional open clubface. Another possible lesson would be to "strengthen" your grip, rotating it slightly to the right, so that the clubface appears slightly closed at address, with the toe ahead of the heel. That too, would counteract the less-than perfect swing that causes the clubface to be open at contact.

Those remedies are worth experimenting with. But I think the best remedy of all is Hogan's secret hand action! With that action, you arch your left wrist as your hands approach the ball, so the back of the left hand is facing the target. And you squeeze the last few fingers of the left hand as the clubface meets the ball, so you retain the angle of the clubface while the club is in contact with the ball.

That point is huge. Because what you get is a consistent clubface. If the slicer has any real problem (I should know!) it is a lack of consistency. No matter what kind of banana ball you hit, if it were consistent, you could play for it. You simply aim into the woods on your left, confident that ball is coming right back to the fairway! But when you slice, you're anything but consistent. The ball goes straight once in a while, to the right with great frequency, and every so often, it even manages to go left! When it's impossible to predict the path is going to take, it's equally impossible to plan for it!

Ingraining the "arch and squeeze" should go a long way to create consistency. Then, work on developing the inside-to-out swing path. You're going to like the result.

Ingraining Hogan's Secret

Since the critical hand movement occurs in only a fraction of a second, it needs to be automatic. The good news is that you can add that movement to your "muscle memory" archive in much less time than you might think.

Author Ted Hunt was a professional athlete, so he's no stranger to training. And in addition to his degree in history (which he put to use researching Hogan's secret), he has degrees in physiologogy and in movement kinesthetics. So he knows a thing or two about how skills are taught, and how they are acquired. He observes that Hogan's advice to spend a 15 minutes a day for a week is matched by our modern understanding of how many repetitions it takes (and how many nights sleeping on it!) are required to "ingrain" a skill. The answer: 40-50 repetitions a day for 7 days.

Fifteen minutes a day for a week! That's all it takes. Outstanding. On each repetition, you practice the skill with conscious control. By the end of the week, you're doing it automatically, and you don't even have to think about it!

As for how to spend those 15 minutes (or 50 repetitions), Ted Hunt gives different recommendations at different points in his books. Here are some of them:

Finding a middle ground among those recommendations suggests the following plan:

.At the end of that process, the movements will be ingrained, ready to take to your lobs, 3/4 swings, and the full swing without having to think about the hand action.

What If You're Just Learning the Game?

It has long been said that the best way to learn the game is to start at the cup, and work back to the tee. In other words, start with putts, then chips, then lobs (half and 3/4 swings), then pitches (wedges). Then short irons, and long irons. Then woods from a tee, and then the driver. (Then comes the woods from the fairway. That swnig is harder to learn than a driver off the tee, because there is so little room for error. You need to pick the ball cleanly from the fairway--otherwise you hit it "fat" (hitting the ground first), or you "top" it (hitting the top half of the ball).

For one thing, learning the game in that sequence is the easiest way to build up to a full swing--especially when you're using Hogan's technique, which uses the same movements from tee to cup. For another thing, if you ever in your life shoot par, 50% of your shots will be putts. That's 36 putts in a round of 72 shots. Fifty percent! And every "up and down" you need to make (because you didn't land on the green with 2 shots to spare), will be a chip or a lob, depending on far off the green you are. You want those shots to wind up close enough to the hole that you can make the putt, to "save par". So no matter how you slice it, at least fifty percent of your game will consist of putts, chips, and other short-game shots.

So start all of your practice sessions on the green, working on things in this sequence:

Of course, that 50% number only comes into play if you swing well enough with the longer clubs to get near the green! To get there, the next step is to begin building the full swing.

When I was first learning the game, I had a heck of a lot of trouble with my woods and driver. Instructor Ed Tischler advised me to "bunt" the ball for a while, before working up to a full swing. At the time, I wasn't smart enough to take that advice. When I went to the driving range, and had all those balls I just finished paying for, I wanted to give them a wallop. But as I think about the best way to learn a swing, and take into account the sequence Ted Hunt recommended (described in the previous section), Ed's advise begins to make sense.

It makes sense, because a continuation of Ted Hunt's training progression might look something like this, when applied to the full swing:

At this point, you've got a swing you can use from 100 yards and in. As you continue to practice, begin using longer and longer clubs, moving from your short irons to long irons, then woods (from a tee), then driver (from a tee), and finally hitting woods "from the deck" (without a tee).

To keep your practice time manageable, divide your clubs into sets: Wedges, short clubs (8 and 9), medium clubs (6 and 7), longer clubs (4 & 5), hybrids, woods, and driver. For each session, take one club from each set--say, odd-numbered clubs one day, and even-numbered clubs the next. If you've just finished getting a full swing with a wedge, then the next thing to work on is short clubs. Work on them until you've got it, then add medium clubs, and so on.

In each session, work on everything you've ingrained--starting with putts and then chips before moving to the driving range for lobs and full swings. Now then, here is the really important bit: For every set of clubs you're just learning (or having trouble with), do the complete sequence. In other words, start by using that club for a "putt". Then use the hand action and small body rotation for a "chip". Then use the "lob" sequence. When all of those are working well, then go to the full swing.

Doing things that way has two advantages. The first is that you'll ingrain the right swing feeling for each set of clubs. You'll do a little at a time, spending seven sessions on each (or less, if what you're doing feels good and you're ready to move to the next stage. The other advantage is that you will be able to use those swings on the course. Have you ever seen a pro "punch" a shot from under the tree, and have it land in the middle of the fairway (or on the green)? Have you ever wondered how they knew the distance the ball was going to travel? The answer is that they have spent time doing that same set of swings with every club--maybe not in the same sequence, but the only way to know how far the ball is going to travel is by spending time on those shots, at some point. So by following that sequence, you'll be well ahead of the game!

Here are a couple of additional tips to help you fine-tune the swing. Add them one at a time once you have worked up to the full swing with a wedge:

Finally, here are some tips you can use to make sure you're having fun as you're learning this great game:

(For more good "alternative golf" ideas, see http://altgolf.org.)

Conclusion

The Power Fade seems to be the primary weapon in the considerable arsenal of many (or most) of the world's best players. And it's a great tool for amateurs, as well. In fact, it may well be the best tool to have in your toolbox. The Power Fade makes it easier to track and predict distances, it gives you a consistent hand action you can use throughout a round from tee to cup, and it's virtually tension-proof. It has a lot to recommend it.

The key, of course, is to make sure that you are coming at the ball from the "slot", from inside to out, so you get a real fade. If you come in "over the top", or outside-in, you get a weak slice. But with the right swing path and the right hand action, you get a reliable power fade, or "cut". One that works even when under tension, and that lets you use the same action from tee to cup.

The key to producing the power fade is the action that produces an arched left wrist, with a squeeze of the last few fingers of the left hand at contact--and those ingredients can be "ingrained", in as little as 15 minutes a day for a week!

If you play golf, that has to be something that is worth working on.

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