Instinctive Golf Swing of Legends and a closer look at Ben Hogan

- by Kelvin Miyahira
December 30th 2015

In my over a decade research and three decades of practical teaching experience, I come to the conclusion that there are gifted athletes that can move their body like few others. They have power beyond most “normal” athletes because they instinctively know how to tap into it. Perhaps they were born with this sense or mimicked their parents’ or a good player’s movements. Whatever the case, they did not need to tinker at the range for decades to find “the” swing. Their practice was only to hone those fine skills by repetition.

I often wondered if they have better feel of the club and clubface than us normal people. But do they? Or are they using some secret technique that we’re not told about? Or is it that they didn’t start this game struggling with a flip/roll and learn to slow the swing down to a crawl in order to keep it in the fairway. The legends thrived without high tech. There were no computers, rarely any video or pictures, no launch monitors, no force plates, etc. So undoubtedly they were left untainted by damaging instruction from “high tech,” questionable methods, one man’s opinion on the way a swing should be or swing beautification, and these gifted athletes became the legends of the game. Clearly Sam Snead, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Lee Trevino and young Tiger Woods are a few of these guys in the legendary group.

But... But... what about Ben Hogan?

This might offend a lot of people but by that definition Ben Hogan would be left off this list of legends that had the innate, instinctive sense of swinging the club in a way that I now call a drive/hold method. In all likelihood Hogan had to have listened to some type of pop instruction (same as pop psychology). While Hogan may have the most idolized golf swing in the history of this game, he had to dig it out of the dirt and didn’t start to dominate till his mid to late 30’s. The rest of the group of legends had this golf swing figured out by their teenage years.

Why did it take Hogan so much longer to figure out his swing? Why did it take him nine years to get his first professional win? We know from his own accounts that he was a hooker of the ball and still today, when someone is hooking, the pop instruction methods will recommend a weak grip. Hence Hogan’s super-weak grip.


Also, where did he get this idea to roll his forearms (right supination/left pronation) on the takeaway along with cupping the left wrist (left wrist extension/right wrist flexion)? Given that left shoulder internal rotation and right shoulder external rotation are automatic with his flat backswing, why would he open his clubface so much? Was he such a flip/roller (another thing he was taught?) in his early career that he HAD to open his clubface that much?

There’s more to the Hogan story that begs answers that we’ll never know without high speed video of his swing in his early years. All I can say is that it is not the typical story of the guys with the natural sense of how to swing a club. Perhaps there is a part of human nature that loves suffering. We idolize those that work hard and pay their dues. That being the case, it really explains the fascination with Hogan. But I want to offer a different approach and give people a glimpse into the mindset of the other legends that figured out the “easy way.”

While most of us are learning how to flip and roll with L to L drills and weakening your grip despite a weak fade or slice, why not do as the legends did?

Tapping into the Instincts of Legends

So how did these great athletes “learn” to hit a ball? What is so special about their mindset that gets them to swing in a very similar manner to each other (micro moves in the key downswing and impact zone)? You’ve heard this before. They all look alike at impact. They move similarly at impact. That’s the truth. Why is that and why can’t everyone do it?

Perhaps a little baseball analogy is in order. I was 6 or 7 years old when I started playing T-ball. We were all just beginning to learn how to hit and throw. At this critical moment when most impressionable, I was told to “throw the hands and barrel of the bat at the ball.” In golf terms, that would mean release lag early and flip it. Is it any wonder why I sucked at hitting a baseball?


Looking at these two little kids hitting the baseball off a tee. One is a chopper/flipper and the other clearly has a home run swing. This very early experience could very well predict their future in baseball. Now how many golfers get their early experience in golf in the correct way? One in a thousand? The majority are taught poorly and this leads to a lifetime of suffering. But we like suffering don’t we?

So how does one get the right idea about swinging a golf club?

Correct instincts start from grip and posture

Let’s look carefully at the legends at their address and their grip. The secret is in the details.

See how different Hogan (on far right) set up with the weak grip and the right arm higher than his left? Technically speaking, Hogan set up with his left shoulder in external rotation (ER) and right shoulder in internal rotation (IR). His left forearm started in a more supinated position with his right forearm in pronation.  

By setting up this way, Hogan left more range of motion to rotate shoulders (longitudinal rotation of the humerus NOT golf swing “shoulder turn”) in the opposite direction. In other words, Hogan had more left shoulder IR and right shoulder ER in his backswing than others. Given that he “rolled” his forearms as well (left forearm pronation/right forearm supination), this really opened his clubface on the backswing. In addition, Hogan started with his shoulders more level instead of the more traditional left shoulder high of the more instinctive legends.

Now....Try this

Let’s say you’re driving your car with your left hand only and you want to turn to the right. If you grabbed the steering wheel at 6 o’clock with your palm facing up (ER + supinated) then turned right, you would have no problem turning the wheel enough to make a 90 degree turn.

But now try holding the wheel at 12 o’clock (IR + pronated) and then try to turn right. You’ll run out of range of motion and can’t turn sharply enough. This is the same as in the golf swing. If you start in ER, you have a huge range of motion to move to IR and open the clubface. If you also add left forearm pronation/right forearm supination you can add even more opening to the clubface which is good only if you’re hitting a lob.

Nicklaus, Snead and Trevino set up OPPOSITE of Hogan. They had their left shoulder start in IR and their right shoulder in ER. This means their left elbow faced the target and right elbow pointed toward the right hip. They had their left forearm in more pronated (contributes to a stronger grip) and their right forearm in supination. By starting with this set up, they limited the range of motion of the shoulders and forearms from rotating the club face open. Logical?

Meanwhile Hogan’s Five Lessons book also promoted both elbows point towards the hip.
Where did the writer and artist (assuming Hogan did not write the book) get that from?

Why does impact look so similar with the legends? Maybe because it HAD to be. But that’s only part of what made them great.

The typical legend’s grip is strong. This type of position restricts of limits the amount of forearm rotation thus restricts the amount of clubface opening on the backswing. This also means the legends figured out a way to reduce their rate of closure thus making it easier to be consistent.

Flipper instruction (by dolphin trainers) would definitely say this is bad because the strong grip and closed clubface will result in hooks. But think about it, isn’t that demeaning or under estimating everyone that’s learning by assuming all of you will flip/roll it anyway?

To contrast, legends would say, “I’m not going to flip it so I can hold it this way and hit it straight by feeling like I’m swinging by rotating my body and holding off using my hands.” Their thought process is opposite of the teaching community. And that’s the key to their success! It should be yours too.

Strong posture with left shoulder/arm dominant position

While most flippers are either neutral or have the right arm in dominant position, the thoroughbred understands that the left side is in control and dominates the power/accuracy moves. It should be noted that most thoroughbreds are ambidextrous. Normal humans are not. So if you’re normal, you have to train your opposite side to be in control.

We want to see a very dominant left arm position. Many amateurs have right side dominant position by copying Hogan or by their poor instincts for the swing.

  • Left shoulder is in an elevated position and in internal rotation – left elbow points to target with left shoulder raised and closer to left ear

  • Right shoulder is depressed (lowered) and in external rotation – right elbow points to right hip with right shoulder down and farther from right ear

  • Left forearm is in pronation – rotated clockwise

  • Right forearm in supination – rotated clockwise

  • Left wrist is slightly extended – cupped

  • Right wrist is in flexion – flat or bowed

  • Then strong grip on both hands

    • Left hand start in UD with three knuckle grip

    • Right hand start in slight RD and “V” pointed toward right shoulder

Key Grip Change!

Interestingly, Hogan’s grip recommendations are exactly opposite of what stronger gripping other legends did. The grey grip is Hogan’s weak grip with the fingers diagonal to the shaft which puts the palm more to the side of the shaft and more in RD at address.

The blue line represents what I believe the legends did. This puts the fingers perpendicular to the shaft (actually moves slightly diagonal but not nearly as much as Hogan’s grip), palm more on top the shaft and more in UD at address.  This is key.

Next, if you grip the right hand like Hogan wants you’ll have your right hand more on top with the hand more in UD. Instead you should have your fingers more diagonal with the right hand more under and start in slight RD.

This left side dominance affects the backswing with one major important movement. The forearms twist clockwise or rotate in the opposite direction from the humerus (upper arm bone) rotation. See left arm vs forearm movements on left and right arm vs forearm movements on the right. Might be a little confusing until you compare with image below.


Right arm dominant players will tend to have a lot of roll on backswing and rotate the forearms counter clockwise and that opens the clubface. In addition you can see a cupped or extended left wrist vs. the bowed or flexed wrist. See Jeev Milkha Singh vs. Dustin.


The legends didn’t have any idea of a swing plane (maybe only Hogan had an idea of this) nor what looked pretty. They just did what worked and felt comfortable athletically.

Closed is the new “square”

Forget opening the clubface to the point where you increase rate of closure. It doesn’t make any sense to open the clubface like the guy on the right. You want the bottom of the club to be somewhere between horizontal and Dustin or maybe 30 degrees pointed down from horizontal. To get the clubface to “conventional” Leadbetter model is to force a flip/roll release.


So let’s just say that the legends’ address positions created limitations (near to end of range of motion in the clockwise direction) to opening the clubface via rolling the forearms clockwise along with the left shoulder IR/right shoulder ER. There’s even a bit of tension created by those positions to move toward the opposite of counterclockwise movements once the backswing gets started. Thus, the moves on the downswing MUST NOT lead to early release and flip/roll release!!!

I repeat, the downswing moves must avoid an early release and flip/roll release or else the ball will go left!

So what did the legends do in order to avoid hooking?

Hold Lag

Let’s start with the right elbow drive as the key to holding lag (external rotation and transverse adduction). Also keeping the right elbow flexed. Check out Snead’s guns.


Instinctively, the legends know how to rotate by allowing the sacrum (tailbone) away from the target at impact. Sammy didn’t slide.

APT and LPT as shown by Sammy creates great rotation and no sign of a jump or slide.

Jack did not “learn” to slide until after he started to work with other teachers. Jack Grout knew better than to mess with that great swing.

If I’m really critical here, I’d say Hogan had his right elbow just behind his right hip and his lower body has slid just a bit farther forward (less sacrum back) than the others. Also he has more right pelvic tilt…………..gulp.

Right arm stays bent

If the right arm gets straight at impact, it is a sure sign that the right shoulder has fired too early (internal rotation cluster). It will cause the right wrist flexion (flip) to occur and totally destabilize impact with potential to add right forearm pronation (flip/roll).

Bent right elbow helps with retaining right lateral bend as well. This forces the right shoulder to lower (more right lateral bend) and create a more stable structure to strike the ball with speed of right shoulder internal rotation without sacrificing accuracy.

Positive Reinforcement

We live in an era where we want to build self-esteem in everyone. We want people feeling good about themselves. If you will take these measures and start hitting balls, every time you drive/hold it, you will hit the ball straighter. Every time you flip/roll it, you will hook it badly. Thus mastering your swing will be easier and rewarding you with improvement in ball striking while increasing your lag and drive/holding.

Conversely, if you start with the weak/neutral grip and learn to hit it straight, you are rewarded for flip/rolling. Since we don’t see that type of release on the PGA tour very often, it would be illogical to think that you’re good enough to master the timing of it.

Start swinging like a legend

The legends ultimately figured out the best way to hit the ball both far and straight. Their movements were untainted by the type of waltz instruction or high tech sizzle (deceleration is king concept) that we’re seeing today. Therefore their movements are more truly athletic and pure. Today’s stars are or have been influenced by instruction and the video camera. Is there a better swing than Tiger 2000? Or Slammin’ Sammy? They had all the moves. There’s no need to look around for an “easier” method or one that requires less practice, etc. This is it. And for those that like suffering and enjoy the challenge, sure the Hogan model is there for you to try. But if it took Hogan nine years of everyday practice from sun up to sun down to master it, how long is it going to take you?

Attention all slicers, weak faders and short hitters

I’d bet 90% of all slicers and weak faders could cure themselves just by following the steps laid out in this article. Learn to hook initially while allowing yourself to flip/roll, then learn to hold off your release to make it go straight. If you know you are over the top with the steep downswing and path way left, learn to pull hook. Once you can hook the ball, it’s time to learn to create right lateral bend and a better elbow move to get your plane flatter and path more toward your target.

Remember, traditional instruction ASSUMES everyone flips it. We expect that you won’t!


Announcement: I will be in Florida on Feb. 20 and 21 doing clinics in Port St. Lucie at the PGA Learning Center. For more or to sign up, contact me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. I will hold two clinics per day; AM and PM sessions. Each will be four hours and will give ample time to work on full swing and some pitching work to develop the low spinner. Cost is $395 for the session. Also, I will also hold a teaching clinic on Monday Feb 22nd. Email me for details.