I’m a huge fan of Mike Malaska’s swing theories (even if I haven’t quite mastered the Malaska Move just yet). However, Malaska publicly admits that Joe Nichols is ultimately the intellectual god of his swing philosophy.
For this reason, I think it’s worth outlining the only Joe Nichols golf instruction that I could find online, together with some key thoughts and videos from his protégé, Mike Malaska. Let’s dive in.
Table of Contents
Joe Nichols Golf Ideas Explained
The term grip, according to Nichols, is misleading. It gives the connotation of tension in the hands and arms, he says. Since Nichols reasons that the optimum pressure used in the golf swing approaches that used when wielding a knife or fork, he suggests that you take the club in your hands with the shaft pointing straight to the sky. This eliminates the stress factor.
“When held in this manner, the club weighs a bit less than a pound. You can hold it vertically and in a balanced state almost all day with a minimum of effort,” he contends.
It also will serve to inhibit any subconscious manipulation of the butt of the club by the hands and fingers, he adds.
After taking hold of the club on his left side and placing his hands in the proper position, the only thing he needs to do, he says, is bend from the waist to attain a strong setup, emphasizing that the handle of the club must be slightly ahead of the ball.
Although the takeaway resembles nothing more than a quick pickup, Nichols adds a twist to this early setting of the wrists, by teaching his students to take their minds off the clubhead. “Leverage, or force, the butt end of the club toward the ground” , he says.
“This will get the shaft moving while keeping the clubface square to the target line“.
In helping his students learn the concept of this initial swing movement, Nichols asks them to envision a line that runs paralle with the target line and through the butt cap of the club.
In the optimum backswing, he claims, the wrists will already have started to hinge as they travel along this line until they reach a point just outside the right foot and shoulder.
By the time the hands and arms have guided the club back to this point outside the right foot, a position Nichols refers to as the “right corner” the wrist cock is established and the shaft is pointing almost straight upward.
It is not until this point that the movement of the shoulders is initiated. “Althought it might seem to the average golfer that he is taking the club back outside the normal plane, he really is square, and will remain square throughout the swing” Nichols states emphatically.
Another essential point, as far as the Arizona pro is concerned, is that with the club in a nearly vertical position, the mass, or weight, of the clubhead will be more toward the ball than a traditional swing.
“Most players tend to allow the clubhead to drift back over their shoulders. Then they have a helluva time trying to recover it in the forward swing without an over-manipulation of the hands“, he says.
The result of keeping the mass (of the clubhead) more toward the ball, he maintains, is that it affords the golfer a much better chance of controlling the clubhead through the hitting area as well as giving him more feel of where the clubhead is during the swing.
He also believes that by holding the club vertically, in what he terms an on-balance position, there is less strain and tension in the arms because the club feels much lighter with the absence of gravitational pull.
“The transference of weight from the left to the right side is a natural movement. There is no reason to even think about it”, says Nichols. “Weight shift is just another of those hackneyed phrases bandied about by so-called professionals, another thing for the poor student to worry about rather than just allowing it to happen.”
Nichols contends that this preoccupation with weight shift is one reason many average golfers sway off the ball and eventually top it or hit fat or even whiff it.
In Nichols’ sytem, the shoulder turn is actually initiated in the middle of the swing. The full coiling of the shoulders marks the end of the backswing while the uncoiling process begins the downswing. During all this time, the angle of the wrists achieved in figure 3 is retained.
Nichols beings the forward swing, or change of direction, with a forceful setting of the shoulders back to a square position parallel to the target line just as at address.
Most amatuers have a tendency to come over the top of the ball with the right shoulder, he claims, and the have a difficult time disciplining themselves to delay the arm and hand movement until the shoulders are set back in a square position.
Before the arm swing begins, according to Nichols, the club once again is in a near-vertical position, which he terms the power slot; the angle of the wrists has been retained. Everything is square.
When you begin the movement of your arms with your shoulders level and on line and the club in an almost vertical position, you have reached what Nichols calls a flat spot, where the action is concentrated on a more horizontal, or flat plane.
“It is necessary in golf, just as in baseball, that the clubhead catch up and pass the handle during the forward swing, ” he says, “And this can be attained only by an explosive movement of the right arm and right side against the resistance of the left.” It feels as thought the right arm actually is on top of the left rotating the clubhead.
Nichols uses imagery in helping his students understand this concept. “Think in terms of wrenching the clubhead around the butt of the club, or of snapping a whip toward the target with both hands” he says, “And feel as though the toe of the club is up, then you know you have the club square.”
In this way, you also are awae that the wrist angle has remained intact and there is less chance for the left wrist to collapse, he says.
This imagery of the toe up and firm left wrist serve to support Nichols theory that the golf swing is a matter of momentum against resistance. However, unlike traditional golf theories that involve resistance of the left leg, Nichols concentrates on a resistance of the entire left side, especially the left arm.
“It is almost like swinging against a brick wall. The moment of the right side leveraging against the resistance of the left is what gives you the felling of bending the shaft and ultimately allows you compress the ball,” he says. If done correctly, this swing produces a very shallow arc resulting in long, thin divots.
“If there were optimum resistance of the left side in the golf swing, the arms would snap through the hitting area and recoil in front of the body.”
In Nichols’ method the resistance of the left is so great that the amount of follow-through is almost negligible, with the butt of club rarely going past the belt buckle at the “left corner”.
Nichols stresses that the release is vertical rather than across the target line, that the weight of the clubhead must go down the line until just after impact and then upward, if the shoulders are to be square.
The action through the hitting areas, with the arms leading the movement of the body, contradicts the commonly-held thought that the larger muscles of the back and legs are dominant.
To reinforce his concept of the golf swing, Nichols introduces an exercise, which he calls the rotary. It is a whipping action, where the player starting at the right corner (this could be called the back corner), makes an aggressive pass with the arms to the left corner (Figure 6 above) and snaps the club back to position illustrated in Figure 1.
This exercise, which can be done with or without a golf ball, reinforces the concept of momentum vs resistance, and makes you more aware of where the club is throughout the swing.
Now maybe this method isn’t for everybody. However, it certainly is revolutionary, fresh approach to the golf swing. And for those of you experiencing some difficulty with the classic swing theories, it may be a distinct help.
I’ve inserted a video of Mike Malaska demonstrating Joe Nichols rotor drill to help clarify what you need to do. Basically, you are releasing the club and then pulling it back to its initial address position rather than ending the swing over your shoulder. The only way to do this is with the rotary/circular motion that Joe Nichols wants his students to achieve.
Support For Joe Nichols
Mike Morley (Tour Pro): “Nichols’ method was most beneficial to me in the sense that for the first time it taught me how to release. He showed me how my arms worked and spent time drilling into me the concept of momentum against resistance.“
Howard Twitty (Tour Pro): “I have noticed an improvement in my ability to reproduce my golf swing. The reason is simple. With Joe’s method my body is working with centrifugal force rather than fighting it. It has helped me in the sense that I no longer collapse my left wrist, a problem I had when I first went to Joe.”
Bill Greanleaf (Teaching Pro): “Nichols increased my drives by 45-50 yards. I guess the biggest thing is that I learned to play without a lot of tension in my left side. For the first time I actually thought about the balance of the club. There’s nobody else who teaches this, but it is probably the crux of the method. When you reach the point where the club is vertical, or ‘on-balance’ as Nichols terms it, there is no tension. Consequently, this eleiminates the tendency to get shorter and quicker on the backswing under pressure.”
Don Johnson (Teaching Pro): “To me, the concept of feeling the toe up at impact is perhaps the single most important aid. If I can get a 20 handicapper, a player who has sliced everything he has ever hit, to just feel this, I know he can hit the ball straighter and with more distance potential.
Most people slide into the ball. They have everything there at impact except the clubhead. Nichols’ method helps you get the clubhead into the impact zone before the butt, by rotating the clubhead around the handle.“
Thoughts From Joe's Protégé, Mike Malaska
Joe Nichols stressed the feeling of swinging “level”, meaning the club head felt like it never got closer to the ground than the level of your hands during the swing. Of course, we all know that gravity and momentum make the club head go lower than that during the swing, but mentally focusing on having that level feeling made all the difference in the world. It makes the golf swing feel much more like a waist-high baseball swing or tennis forehead.
Joe also taught that you should feel like the club stayed “in front” of you throughout the swing rather than lagging behind on the downswing. He understood that when you start your downswing, rotating your chest too far ahead of your club during the swing worked against building power and consistency.
The club shouldn’t feel like it lags back; it should feel like it is working in unison with your chest throughout the swing.
And, since the momentum of the club at the start of your downswing makes the club want to move farther away rather than in-sync with your chest, you need to redirect that momentum. You can do this easily by feeling like you are “standing the club up” from the start of your downswing. You want to feel like the club shaft is vertical as it falls down naturally toward waist-level (and, again, the club itself won’t actually be vertical, but feeling like you’re doing that puts the club shaft in the perfect plane for a powerful swing).
You can “stand the club up” this way most easily by “shallowing” your arms in the downswing, meaning you let your arms actually swing on a lower level than they were on your backswing. Do this, and you’re allowing the club to find and stay in the most efficient swing arc for you. And that means putting the most natural force of your swing onto the ball at impact.
This was another moment I realized that what a swing looks like and what is actually causing that swing are very different things.
Please note – The excerpt and screenshot above are sourced from Mike Malaska’s eBook, the Invisible Swing. If you have even the slightest interest in Joe Nichols swing theories, it’s definitely worth a look.
This is the best video on Joe Nichols’ swing philosophy, but sadly it can’t be embedded on other websites.