There are plenty of ways to play golf. You can be a ‘paint by numbers golfer’ for example. 160 yards is always a seven iron, or whatever. You can also be the type of golfer who grew up watching Seve conjure shots out of nowhere. Playing to a distance means nothing to you and you might be imaging 12 different ways to play every shot you see, using everything from a wedge to a wood. Of course, most of us fit somewhere in between these two extremes and we generally need to, at the very least, choke up on a club to manipulate distance now and again.
Choke Up, Choke Down, Grip Up, Grip Down
There are a few different names for what is essentially the same thing. I generally say choke up but others will refer to exactly the same thing as gripping down. There isn’t any mystery to this, despite the confusing names. What it means is simply holding the club further along the shaft towards the clubhead.
It doesn’t matter exactly where you normally grip the club. Gripping the club shorter is relatively to your normal position. For example, a fair few golfers grip the club with perhaps an inch of the shaft sticking out above the top hand (the left if you are a right-handed golfer). They might choke up for certain shots and leave two inches or more showing above the hands.
Why Choke Up?
There are actually a few reasons for choking up. The most common one is to simply take distance off the shot. This is basically a mechanical solution. By making the shaft length effectively shorter, we the head is actually traveling slightly less quickly than normal even though we are swinging, in theory at least, at the same speed. A shorter shaft length means less clubhead speed.
Of course, the difference isn’t huge. In fact, research on single length irons has given the oft-quoted figure that loft is responsible for about 80% of distance. For most golfers hitting a mid-iron, gripping down an inch or so will take about ten yards off the shot. This is quite a personal thing though, so it is well worth spending a bit of time either on course or the on the range with a rangefinder and really understanding what difference it makes.
There is no standard measure for choking up either. We often refer to an inch or so, but some people will actually go further than this. Less is not that common because it doesn’t make enough of a difference to distance to be worthwhile. Let’s be honest, our shot patterns even on good strikes mean that we have a short to long dispersion that is going to be at least 5 yards so unless you are a pro, attempting to take 5 yards off by gripping down isn’t really worth it.
You could have two different gripping down lengths. For example, one shot when you choke up an inch and another when it is two inches. Of course, you are going to need some way of measuring this. You might not like the idea of making marks on your grip with a sharpie but it does make it easier.
Recently, we have seen some companies actually making grips in order to make it easier to hold the club at different lengths. The grip might even be a bit longer so that you can grip further along the shaft and still be holding the rubber grip itself rather than the shaft. Sometimes, there will be varying marks on the grip to make hand placement easier and more consistent from shot to shot rather than just guessing. This is becoming common on wedge shafts were it is really important to be able to hit one club varying distances.
Other Effects of Choking Up
I said that the main reason for doing this was to vary distance but in my experience it isn’t the only reason. For example, some golfers will choke up on every shot all the time. I actually did this for a while myself. I probably lost a couple of yards on my irons doing this, at least initially. However, I think that I probably found this distance again fairly quickly and actually gained in other areas.
The first thing that this does is makes the club effectively shorter which mean that it is easier to hit the middle of the face. We can all hit a seven iron more consistently than a five. The loft is different obviously, but there is also, in a standard set, about an inch difference in length. If you choke down about an inch on the five, it will now be the same length as the seven. It will feel very comfortable to hit. Confidence increases and the feeling of control is amazing.
When I did this, I was actually playing with a single length set. All the clubs were 38 inches in that particular set which is quite long for one length irons, but fine for me given my height. However, it did permit me to grip down about an inch without feeling uncomfortably hunched over. Standing over five iron that is playing at effectively 37 inches and with the feeling of a gripped down club in your hands makes for a fantastic feeling of control. It really did feel like the proverbial cheat stick!
I felt like I could actually swing a little bit harder too which meant that I quickly regained any distance that a ‘shorter’ club cost me.
The other big effect of changing where you grip the ball is ball flight. It is often used to flight the ball or hit a knock down shot, keeping the ball lower in windy conditions for example. In many ways, it feels like hitting a punch shot for every shot that you play. Once again, it does give a really nice feeling of control.
Disadvantages of Gripping Down
As with all things, golf gives and golf takes away. You may have noticed that I said ‘used to’ quite a few times in this article. If playing with a set that let me grip down every shot was so good, why did I stop doing it? Well, firstly, it is important to remember that I am an idiot and do have an irresistible urge to change my clubs far too often! I am not looking for that life partner in terms of clubs, I enjoy chopping and changing, including doubling back on things that I have used before.
There were other disadvantages though. One of them was to do with how the club felt in my hand. Gripping down will change the swingweight feel. Of course, the club hasn’t changed at all. Its dead weight is still the same. Its static swingweight is also still the same if you measure it on a swingweight scale. However, it you swing a club gripped right at the end of the grip and one gripped a couple of inches further down, it will feel quite different.
Basic physics tells us that this isn’t really a surprise but it does have an impact on the way we play. In my case, when things were going well, it was a feel I loved. The clubhead felt light, which I enjoyed. I felt that I could really accelerate into the back of the ball and I had tremendous control.
However, when things were slightly off, it was a different story. Golf is a cruel master/mistress and we all have off days. On these days, I felt like I couldn’t really feel the club when gripping down my strike pattern became erratic. This negated the whole point of playing a choke up shot in the first place. I might well be able to take ten yards off my seven iron on a full swing, but if I was losing another ten yards because I couldn’t centre the ball, what was the point?
The other issue that it is important to remember is lie angle. Once again, the club doesn’t magically change shape when you grip down. It is the same club. However, it will play differently. The effective lie angle becomes flatter. This in turn can effect ball flight. Your baby draw might become a baby fade. No dig deal if you know this is the case, but when you are looking for control with a wedge, it can be the difference between having a put and chipping from the edge.
I definitely believe that the choke-up is a great shot to have in any golfer’s locker. For some of us, it might actually become their stock shot. Just be aware that it can have some potential downside too.