The Waggle: What It Is, Why Golfers Do It

You know those little movements of the golf club that some golfers make as they set up over a shot — the to-and-fro of the club, away from the ball, toward the ball, maybe away and back again? Those are waggles.

Waggling the golf club is defined as the movement of the club once the setup has been taken, before beginning the actual golf swing. (If that's not clear, see the videos below.)

Why do some (definitely not all) golfers waggle the club before swinging? There are two schools of thought, and some golfers do it for both reasons: first, it's a way of relieving tension before the swing; second, it's a way of mimicking some the motions of the swing that you are hoping to make.

When waggling entered golf — and it was definitely around by the late 1800s — it was largely about tension relief. Little movements designed to get your arms, wrists, hands loose and tension-free. Later, some golfers began thinking of waggling as a way to trigger the swing, part of a pre-shot routine to help create rhythm and get the golfer into the swing. Ben Hogan, for one, was a huge booster of waggling: He wrote extensively about it in his book Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf (affiliate links).

Hogan wrote that waggling was:

"The bridge between the address and the actual start of the backswing ... It is an extremely important part of shotmaking. Far from being just a lot of minute details, it is a sort of miniature practice swing, an abbreviated 'dry run' for the shot coming up."
The Historical Dictionary of Golfing Terms defines waggle as "the preliminary flourish of the club behind and over the ball at address." It cites a quote from Sam Snead's 1962 book The Education of a Golfer:
"The waggle is supposed to be a tension-breaker which loosens up the wrists and also gives you the feel of the clubhead."
So different great golfers (and different bad golfers) waggle for different reasons. And some golfers don't waggle at all — some have other means of addressing tension or triggering the swing, other ways of building an effective pre-shot routine.

Instructors Talking About Waggling

We'll present two videos of golf instructors talking about waggling. The first just covers the basics; the instructor is former PGA Tour winner Bobby Cole:

And next is Mike Malaska, going more in-depth and beyond just the tension-relief aspect of the waggle:

Who Was Golf's First Waggler?

We can't know who "invented" waggling in golf; it probably sprang up in different places around the same time, without a single inventor. But, amazingly, we do know who was probably the first golfer to become well-known for his waggle. In our bio of Sandy Herd, the 1902 British Open winner, we note that Peter Alliss wrote of Herd that he "helped to convince the golfing world that to-and-fro movements of the club before hitting prepare and loosen the muscles for the action to come."

Here is some rare video of Herd that shows his waggle:

Waggling Can Get Out of Hand

Whether you've always waggled or never have but want to try it, here's something important: don't let it get out of hand. Sometimes, a golfer can go overboard with waggling, and just keep waggling, and waggling, and waggling, rather than initiating the swing. In those cases, waggling becomes a problem.

At one point in his career, Sergio Garcia developed a problem with triggering his swing on iron shots. He would waggle 10 times, 12 times, 15 times, before being able to initiate the actual swing. Golfers playing with him would turn their heads away to avoid watching the process, careful not to let it get into their heads.

The popularizer of waggling, Sandy Herd, was also one the first victims of this over-waggling. He would sometimes waggle 20 or more times before being able to hit.

What does this mean? It's important to think of the waggle as part of your routine, not just something you do a little on this shot, more of on that shot. Experiment: What works best for you, a single waggle? Two, three, four? Figure out whether waggling helps you, and how much of it feels right to you. Then stick with that number. If two waggles helps you get into the swing with less tension, then always stick to two waggles. Be consistent, as you would with any other part of your pre-shot routine or setup.

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