When I was a rookie on the PGA Tour, I was playing in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and saw Jeff Sluman practicing bunker shots. Standing 5'7 and 140 lb, Sluman had 6 PGA Tour victories to his name, plus the 1988 PGA Championship. He didn't make a career like that with his long game, that much was obvious. I couldn't help but watch him hit those shots from the sand. They were awe inspiring; extremely high with lots of backspin. They made a nipping sound that mine only made when I accidently hit too close to the ball. I approached him and told him that we had a mutual coach in Craig Harmon. I asked if he minded telling me how he was hitting those shots? He replied, “I just do the weakest grip ever and try to have lots of speed.” I was dumbfounded at how weak his grip looked. (Both hands rotated counter-clockwise). Sluman wasn’t the only great professional that I saw using a weak grip with his short game. Once I started looking for it, I found that it was happening all around me. It was obvious that I was at a major disadvantage without it.
Any high level amateur can hit a standard chip or pitch with low to medium trajectory. It is possible to become a scratch golfer without using a weak grip to hit the ball high, but not an elite player (with few exceptions). It’s easier than trying to make a strong grip work by all sorts of manipulations, such as moving the ball position too far forward, holding off the release, or opening the clubface at set up to the point where it might slide under the ball. I wish I could tell students that they can keep their same grip for every shot. It would be easier for them remember, but harder to play the game.
Elite players get up and down from the short side of the green. They can hit flop shots consistently. They are not “trapped” when they hit it in to a bunker. If anything, sand is a good lie. This is what I’m talking about when I suggest weakening the grip. The beauty of the weak grip is that you can let your hands go. The club naturally rotates open on the backswing, adding loft, and it doesn’t tend to close on the release, losing loft and digging. The club-face doesn’t have to be laid open at address. It can be much more square, allowing you aim straight instead of having the club-face open and pointed somewhere to the right. Shots wont gravitate towards the toe, they will strike the sweet spot, allowing for more consistent distance control.
To beginners and intermediate players, I definitely recommend weakening your grip in the sand. When it comes to flop shots, mess around with it, but consider a standard chip first. Play the percentages. To the single digit handicappers and higher level players, add the weak grip into your short game arsenal immediately. Over-exaggerate it. The types of shots that we encounter around the green are endless, therefore, we shouldn't be afraid to open the playbook, and vary our technique, starting with a weak grip.