Ben Hogan’s “Five Lessons” Revisited

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by Joey Johnson

“Reverse every natural instinct and do the opposite of what you are inclined to do, and you will probably come very close to having a perfect golf swing.” – – Ben Hogan

Ben Hogan’s Five Lessons: Modern Fundamentals of Golf was originally published in a series of articles in Sports Illustrated in 1957 before being released as what would become one of the best-selling golf instruction books of all time. The following article contains summaries of Hogan’s work, direct quotes, and some opinion. Portions taken directly from the book are notated by quotation marks and italics.

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Lesson 1 – The Grip
“GOOD GOLF BEGINS WITH A GOOD GRIP”
Hogan points out that the standard grip is the overlapping grip popularized by Harry Vardon. That’s still true today with the interlocking grip being the only other generally accepted method.

“In a good grip both hands act as ONE UNIT. They can’t if you grip the club almost correctly – which really means partially incorrectly”. This is classic Hogan, a man of discipline and principles.

One note of caution:  Earlier in his career, Hogan was known to fight a wild hook. The “Hogan Grip” is designed to essentially eliminate that shot. Most golfers are just the opposite, with a weak slice being their nemesis. If you fall into that category, the grip Mr. Hogan describes might not be exactly right for you.

The fundamentals of the Hogan grip include:
1- Back of left hand facing the target.
2- Shaft is pressed under the pad inside the heel of the left palm.
3- Shaft lies directly across the top joint of the forefinger.
At this point you should be able to lift the club using the muscles of the forefinger and the muscles of the pad of your palm.
4- Close the hand (fingers first, then thumb). The V of the left hand will point to your right eye. The left hand grip is complete
5- Keeping your left hand on the grip, hold your right hand in an extended manner with your palm facing the target. Place the club in your right hand with the shaft lying across the top joint of the four fingers (well below the palm). Hogan stresses that the two middle fingers should apply most of the pressure. He strongly cautions against using the forefinger and thumb as the two pressure sensors because that technique tends to activate the muscles in the right arm and shoulder. This is a strong indication of his guarding against a hook.
6- The little finger of the right hand fits into the groove of the forefinger and middle finger of the left hand.
7- Fold your right hand over your left thumb, with the right thumb places slightly to the left side of the shaft. The V of the right hand will point at your chin.

As previously mentioned, the Hogan Grip is not for everyone. Jack Nicklaus, a natural fader of the ball, learned the interlocking grip from Jack Grout and used it throughout his career. Nicklaus also refers to the pressure points as the last two fingers and the heel pad of the left hand and the thumb and index finger of the right hand.

Most modern-day instructors consider Mr. Hogan’s grip to be too weak for the average player, especially the right hand. The general consensus is the Vs of the both the right and left hand should point somewhere between the chin and right shoulder of a right-handed player.

One thing is not up for debate. Sound grip fundamentals are an absolute necessity for solid and consistent ball-striking. Work with your PGA Professional to find the best grip for you.

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Lesson 2 – Stance and Posture
According to Mr. Hogan, a proper setup will:
1- Lead to balance throughout the swing.
2- Prepare and allow your muscles to perform fluidly.
3- Lead to a logical result of maximum control and power.
The fundamentals of the Hogan setup include:
1- Grip is already taken.
2- Align face of club with the target.
3- Align your body with the face of the club, shuffling into position with the adjustments of the feet, hands, and arms happening independently, but simultaneously. (Detailed independently below)
4- Feet should be shoulder width with a five-iron, slightly closer together with shorter clubs, and slightly wider than shoulder width with longer clubs. Hogan stresses to guard against using a stance that is too narrow. The stance should establish a strong foundation.
5- The right foot should be at a right angle to the target line. The left foot should be turned out a quarter turn to the left.
6- The upper part of the arms should be pressed tightly against the sides of the chest.
7- The elbows should be tucked in, with the left elbow pointing at the left hipbone and the right elbow pointing at the right hipbone. There should be a sense of fixed “jointness” between the forearms and the wrists, which should be maintained throughout the swing. The elbows should be kept as close together as possible at address and throughout the swing.
8- The left arm should hang straight and the right arms should have a slight bend at the elbow.
9- Knees should be properly flexed and supple. The knees should be bent from the thighs down. Do not use your hips. This should feel like a bit of a “sit down” motion. The upper portion of the body should remain erect. Do not crouch your shoulders. Only a slight bend of the neck (not the back or shoulders) is required.
10- The weight should be slightly more towards your heels than the balls of your feet.

The main takeaway for me from the Stance and Posture lesson is the Mr. Hogan is preparing the golfer for a swing that is powered by the body, or as we say today, by the core. Many golfers fall victim to swinging too much with their hands and arms.

After reviewing both the grip and stance fundamentals, it’s very clear that Hogan considered that to be the nemesis of a repeatable golf swing.

Lesson 3 – The First Part of the Swing (Address to Top of Backswing)
1- The “Waggle” – the bridge between the address and the start of the backswing. Hogan stresses the importance of the waggle not just as a tension relieving movement, but as a bit of a miniature practice swing. With the clubhead moving away from and back towards the ball on the intended swing path.
2- Backswing Order – Hands, Arms, Shoulders, Hips. (The downswing is the reverse, but more on that later.) The hands, arms, and shoulders should move almost simultaneously, with the hands moving just a split second before the arms, and the arms a split second before the shoulders. The shoulder are always clearly ahead of the hips on the backswing and should actually be pulling the hips around. The hips should pull the left leg into the right.

The shoulders should turn as far as possible while maintaining a stationary head. The back should face the target. At the top of the backswing, your chin should be hitting against the top of your left shoulder.

The hips, as mentioned, should be turned by the shoulders. Hogan stresses not to “over turn” the hips. A tension in the muscles should be stored up between the hips and the shoulders. This stored up tension (and power) will be released on the downswing.

The left leg is pulled toward the right by the hips. The left knee breaks into the right and the left foot rolls to the right with what weight is still there on the inside ball of the foot. The left heel can stay on the ground or lift just slightly (no more than an inch). The right leg should maintain the same position as at address. The feet are moved by the body and the legs.

HoganPlaneSwing Plane (Backswing)
Ben Hogan is the Father of the Swing Plane. Much attention is given to the plane in “Five Lessons”. Hogan described two planes: The Backswing Plane and The Downswing Plane. The Backswing Plane runs from the ball to the shoulders. The shoulders should rotate on this plane and the arms and hands should move on the same angle as the plane, but always beneath it.

Lesson 4 – The Second Part of the Swing (Start of the Downswing to Finish of the Follow-Through)
Note: As mentioned above, the sequence is the opposite of the backswing. Correct Sequence: Hips, Shoulders, Arms, Hands

1- The hips initiate the downswing. Starting them first (and correctly) creates early speed and transfers the weight from the right foot to the left. This moves the body out of the way, making room for the arms to pass effortlessly through the shot. As the hips turn, they should also move laterally to transfer weight to the left foot. The movement of the hips starts a whole chain of subsequent movements. The left leg moves back to the left with the left knee turning slightly towards the target. The right knee breaks inward, toward the target. Just as the shoulders turned the hips back, the hips are now turning the body (and subsequently the arms and shoulders) through to the finish.
2-The hit! At this point, Hogan stresses to think of only one thing: HITTING THE BALL! You’ve put yourself in the proper position by having the proper grip, setup, and backswing. The downswing has been initiated by the hips. Now it’s time to reap the rewards! He points out that it’s too late for any clubhead manipulation. Essentially, the table has been set and now it’s time to serve up the main course – a properly struck golf shot. Hogan describes the strike as being delivered by both the left AND right hands. The right elbow remains close to the side and “leads the arm. The right forearm and hand catch up at impact and the player “releases” through the ball. On the follow through, the wrist and hand gradually turn over with the right palm facing the ground at the finish. Maximum speed should be reached just beyond impact where both arms are finally fully extended.
3 – SUPINATION – “AT IMPACT THE BACK OF THE LEFT HAND FACES TOWARD YOUR TARGET. THE WRIST BONE IS DEFINITELY RAISED. IT POINTS TO THE TARGET AND, AT THE MOMENT THE BALL IS CONTACTED, IT IS OUT IN FRONT, NEARER TO THE TARGET THAN ANY PART OF THE HAND.” Supination of the left wrist helps the golf really compress the ball. It eliminates any “flipping” of the hands and allows the golfer to hit the ball HARD with the right hand without the fear of a wild hook.
4- Follow Through -Once again, the correct order on the downswing is hips, shoulders, arms, and hands. At the finish, the left elbow points directly to the ground, the top of the right should hits up against the chin, and the shoulders finally catch up with the hips.

Swing Plane (Downswing)
The Downswing Plane is tilted shallower than the Backswing Plane and pointed slightly right. This guides the player to a slightly flatter and inside to out downswing versus the backswing.

Lesson 5 – Summary and Review
Here, Hogan does just that….summarizes and reviews the lessons. This section alone makes an excellent primer for any golfer. As he does throughout, Hogan points out in his summary that the golf swing is a series of basic and fundamental steps, each complimentary of and dependent on the other.

Ben Hogan’s Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf is almost 60 years old! It was crafted by the consensus greatest ball striker and one of the greatest golfers of all time. If you don’t have a copy, I’d definitely recommend that you get one. In my opinion it’s the best golf instructional book of all time and a piece of golf history!

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