You can't flip golf on the tube lately without seeing Sergio Garcia's maneuvering fingers at address. That grip he's milking is a Lamkin Crossline. Although Sergio's giving it even more public squeezing than he gives to Martina Hingis, the grip itself never gets a mention. "None at all," admits Lamkin president Bob Lamkin Jr. "We were just joking about that."
It's no laughing matter that most golfers know little about their grips. In fact, now that you know what grip Sergio uses, we bet you don't know which ones you play. And trust us: Ignorance is not bliss. You may be missing an easy opportunity to improve your game.
There's plenty happening with grips these days, all for your benefit. Rubber and thermoplastics -- the most common grip materials -- are constantly being improved to be easier on the hands and offer more traction. Winn has found success with its lightweight, extra-soft, thermoplastic grips, which, it claims, absorb 65 percent of the shock at impact. That led other companies to offer their own super-soft grips, including Eaton/Golf Pride (Softee, Player's Softee), Lamkin (Sof-Wrap XT, DMC), Royal (Royal Classic, Serengeti), and Percise (Softac, Dual Density).
"We have an aging population with more problems with their hands and elbows," explains Jim Ulrich of Golf Pride, the largest grip maker, "and softer grips provide more comfort." Many golfers shunned soft grips at first because they twisted in their hands at impact, but manufacturers insist they've solved that problem. For instance, Lamkin's DMC and Percise's Dual Density grips eliminate twisting by combining a soft outer texture with a firm underlayer.
Several clubmakers -- including Callaway, Wilson, Tour Edge, and La Jolla Club -- now offer various lightweight, soft grips on their clubs. A lighter grip lowers the club's balance point, thus, in theory, increasing clubhead speed and allowing golfers to better feel the clubhead. "We used Winn's grips [a proprietary model] because we consider them a nice upgrade," says Ernie Strzempa, director of research and design for Tour Edge. Golf Pride's Softees are standard on all Wilson clubs in women's and senior flexes.
Several companies are developing grips with materials that wick moisture away so hands and grips stay drier. Until then, grips with cord (embedded linen thread) are a top choice for wet-weather play and for golfers with sweaty hands. Several models, including Golf Pride's Soft Cord and Royal's Comfort Cord, have softer cord threads that are less abrasive than conventional linen.
To further pamper your hands, companies are devising new grip-surface patterns. "There's a definite feel aspect to them," says Ulrich. "And some have a functional intent." Among those functions is helping golfers position their hands: Golf Pride's long-popular Victory Grip aims the left thumb down the middle of the shaft. However, that may produce a grip too weak for average golfers, so Golf Pride recently devised the PowerLink Grip, which strengthens the hand position slightly.
If you find patterns of grooves and dimples distracting, there are plenty of plain grips to choose from. A number of Tour pros -- including Ty Tryon, John Cook, and Charles Howell III -- fit some of their clubs with Percise's clear C-Thru grips ($15 each, www.c-thruputters.com). Made of a proprietary synthetic, the clear grips allow logos to show through.
There are also other specialty grips on the market: Non-tapered wedge grips (such as Percise's WedgeGrip) may help you choke down on short chips easier, while extra-long grips are necessary for belly and long putters.
What the Pros Do
Most pros play Golf Pride's Tour Velvet or Green Victory grips. But it's rarely a matter of slipping one on and hitting the course. The pros can feel if a grip is even the slightest bit over- or under-sized. "Most special requests we get pertain to size and tapering," says Lamkin. "They know what they need to perform a specific shot pattern."
Lee Janzen, Greg Kraft, and Tiger Woods are among those who scrape their grips with sandpaper, presumably to soften the cord. Perhaps because of the wet weather overseas, many European pros prefer a rougher feel to their grips.
Other pro insights: Some players, like Garcia, turn their grips 180 degrees so that they don't see the manufacturer's logo (this is "turning the grip upside-down" in Tour lingo). Nick Price and Pete Jordan rotate them partly around the shaft so they feel the grips' pattern in their fingers instead of the palm.
Because he has small hands, Woody Austin wants no tape underneath his grips and has them stretched as far as possible so they're very thin. Nick Faldo builds up his grips with tape to eliminate any taper. And countless players, including Phil Mickelson and Bob Estes, put twice as much tape under their bottom hand, which minimizes their chances of hooking the ball by stifling wrist pronation.
Your To-Do List
Keeping a grip in top form is easy. A periodic washing restores what's left of their tackiness; smooth grips can slip in your hands during the swing. After every few rounds (a bucket of range balls counts as one round), clean your grips with a wash cloth, dish soap, and warm water, then rinse and towel-dry.
The pros change their grips about four times a year, either to accommodate weather conditions or simply to get a fresh feel. There are exceptions, at both extremes. Tom Lehman and Vijay Singh never change theirs, and Tour reps say the pair would rather change clubs first. On the other hand, Estes and Austin re-grip about every two to three weeks for comfort.
How often should you re-grip? Material, weather, playing frequency, sunscreen, sweat, pressure, even your wedding ring can affect a grip's lifespan. Thus, as the car ads claim, your mileage may vary. Manufacturers suggest changing every 60 rounds, or whenever they become hard or cracked (which often occurs if they've been sitting unused for a few months). Make a regular inspection, looking for worn spots, particularly under your left thumb (if you're right-handed). Grips are thinnest at the end farthest down the shaft, so that's where they are most likely to split.
"Remember that golf is played by feel," says Dr. Ben Huang, founder of Winn. "Don't ignore the importance of the grip." How important is it? Golf Pride claims that 66 percent of all amateurs who change their grips immediately drop their scores by up to four strokes. That's a change for the better.