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Why golfers shouldn’t be frustrated by their release

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What’s the “release” in a golf swing? For purposes of this article, I’ll define it as the point in the swing when the lead arm and the golf club begin to become a straight line.

Whenever the release occurs for you isn’t as important as this; you can play your best golf with the release you have right now. That’s why you shouldn’t be frustrated that you don’t have the late release of Sergio Garcia. His “lag,” which is golf lingo for a late release, might not be the best thing for you anyways. David Toms has an early release and has won 13 times on the PGA Tour, including a major championship. Had he spent all his time on the range trying to change his release, we might never have heard of him.

Let’s start from the beginning so you can see what I mean.

At the top of the swing, the angle between the lead arm and the golf club is usually somewhere near 90 degrees. Every golfer begins to diminish this angle at some point in the downswing to eventually arrive at impact at 180 degrees. When golfers do this establishes whether they release the club early or late.

Most everything golfers do with their bodies is a reaction to the straightening of this angle. If it is done early in the downswing, the body needs to react in a certain way. If it is done later in the downswing, a completely different series of body motions are required. The importance of the release point cannot be underestimated. That’s why golfers need to be aware of when they actually release the club, not when they’ve been told they should release it.

A lot of students tell me, “I know I come over the top and I cast.” My response is: “YOU BETTER!”

Why? Because if you’re over the top, you moved the bottom of the arc forward, or “late,” we might say. Add that to a delayed hit (called lag) and you have moved the bottom of the arc even further forward. Now you can’t get to the bottom of the golf ball at all. So you need to release — what some call “cast” — the club to catch up, but it’s really all the same thing; A player starts out slicing, learns to come over the top as a response, then starts casting out of necessity. What a vicious cycle!

So your teacher explains the problem and you work on hitting more “from the inside.” Now that same cast (or early release) that worked for the outside-in path is now an absolute killer. You’ll lay the sod over every iron shot you hit.

I don’t mean to be a prophet of gloom, but I’m here to tell you this: changing your release point is the hardest thing to do in the golf swing. Over many years of teaching I have seen very few change it very much, if at all. But there is a bright side: You may not have to change your release point. 

Mind you, early straightening of the lead arm and club has its consequences. It make it much harder to hit down on the golf ball, it can cause you to lose speed and it generally requires at least one compensation — but you can make a choice for it to be functional. What you cannot do if you want to play your best is keep hitting the ground first or topping the ball.

If you have been playing for some time and learned to release early, you will have to accept a somewhat outside-in path and upright plane to play. It is a compensation for what you do naturally. Both out-to-in and upright paths are compatible with early-releasing.

If you learned to hook the ball when you first learned the game, you probably have an inside path. It may be inside-out or inside-in, but chances are you are hitting from the inside. And if you’re a low-handicap player hitting solid shots from an inside path, you probably have timed your release correctly. In other words, you have sufficient angle retention in your transition.

If you’re hooking the ball or hitting fat shots when coming from the inside, there is a good chance you are releasing too early. So you too have a choice. You could add a little more delay in your hit, or a little more up and over the plane in your motion. As I said, very few learn delay, but the ones I have seen have all been strong players who come from the inside. With hard work and dedication, you stand a chance.

I heard Tom Watson say many times that he learned a “secret” later in his career. He talked about the difference in turning his body into the ball more level instead of going under it into the “reverse C” position of his younger days. And I think what Tom found is that the reverse-C move is better for a player with an earlier release, which he had most of his successful playing days. Then we see Sergio Garcia, a very late-releaser, stay behind and go under.

The principles I’m describing apply to players of any level. The better player more consistently solves this release-body motion equation. No two release points are the same, nor do they have to be. Once you know your pattern, you can play with it, and play better.

Drills for an earlier or later release

As always, the thoughts below come from my teaching experience and reflect what has worked best on the lesson tee these last three-plus decades. If they help, consider them; if not, dismiss them. Remember, however, that changing your release point is difficult at the very least, and futile for most. The process of getting more on a correct plane and a better path is gradual. That said, if you are willing to invest a lot of time, you can get more lag. But its been my experience that some very good players have ruined their golf swings trying.

Here’s a drill that may help you with delaying your hit, if that be your goal.

Put a lie board or an aim stick a few inches behind the golf ball. Start your backswing on the front edge of the lie board or on the stick. Now try hitting the ball.

One of the curious things about early releasing is that it often causes LOWER ball flight because the player is forced to move in front of the ball to avoid hitting behind it. You cannot get adequate right side bend (axis tilt) with a very early release. That position is reserved for players with a later hit, or those who are really quick with opening their body early into the downswing.

If your release is early, you can add one or more of the following things to make you release later.

IMG_1246
Above: An example of a player with an early release. 

  • Set up a little open to the target.
  • Stay more centered on the takeaway.
  • Swing more upright.
  • Turn more level through the ball (not sliding under).
  • Narrow your arc.

If your release is late, consider adding one or more of these things to make you release earlier.

maxresdefault
Above: Sergio Garcia is an example of a player with a very, very late release. 

  • Set up slightly closed to the target.
  • Move more to your right side in the takeaway.
  • Swing a little more around (flatter).
  • Stay a little more behind the ball with the upper body into impact.
  • Widen your arc.

Golf is a game of trade offs. Most of us can’t have our cake and eat it too. Well, you could, but you’d be playing on the TV on the weekend and we would have all heard of you!

As always, feel free to send a swing video to my Facebook page and I will do my best to give you my feedback.

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Dennis Clark is a PGA Master Professional. Clark has taught the game of golf for more than 30 years to golfers all across the country, and is recognized as one of the leading teachers in the country by all the major golf publications. He is also is a seven-time PGA award winner who has earned the following distinctions: -- Teacher of the Year, Philadelphia Section PGA -- Teacher of the Year, Golfers Journal -- Top Teacher in Pennsylvania, Golf Magazine -- Top Teacher in Mid Atlantic Region, Golf Digest -- Earned PGA Advanced Specialty certification in Teaching/Coaching Golf -- Achieved Master Professional Status (held by less than 2 percent of PGA members) -- PGA Merchandiser of the Year, Tri State Section PGA -- Golf Professional of the Year, Tri State Section PGA -- Presidents Plaque Award for Promotion and Growth of the Game of Golf -- Junior Golf Leader, Tri State section PGA -- Served on Tri State PGA Board of Directors. Clark is also former Director of Golf and Instruction at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort. He now directs his own school, The Dennis Clark Golf Academy at the JW Marriott Marco Island in Naples, Fla.. He can be reached at dennisclarkgolf@gmail.com

48 Comments

48 Comments

  1. Josh

    Dec 21, 2014 at 6:23 pm

  2. Justin

    Nov 7, 2014 at 1:47 pm

    Would an early release be the cause to hook hybrids, irons and wedges.

    • Justin

      Nov 7, 2014 at 1:52 pm

      Just the article. so I was wondering if I position the ball more towards the back would it work or would it be a quick fix?

    • Dennis Clark

      Nov 19, 2014 at 5:51 pm

      Sorry Justin I just saw this…when the posts get a little older I tend to not look back as I’m busy answering new ones, so my bad..

      But yes, early extension of any club can cause a hook. Hold a club in your right hand and swing it down keeping the elbow a little bent and the wrists bent back a bit. you’ll see the club come down squarely (with a good grip) not extend the arm and let the wrist flatten, you’ll see the club close a lot.

  3. marte

    Oct 19, 2014 at 11:17 am

    Mr. Clarke. Great articles. I just posted a question on your..”how far to stand from the ball” article. If you have a chance could you take a look at it and hopefully reply. Thanks.
    marte

    • Dennis Clark

      Oct 19, 2014 at 12:10 pm

      sure ill take a look

    • Dennis Clark

      Oct 19, 2014 at 12:14 pm

      Marte, I cant find the question. What is it, you can ask right here…

      • marte

        Oct 19, 2014 at 1:18 pm

        Hi Dennis. Thanks very much. Yea, the article was from back in January about “how far to stand from the ball” and I just read it now. My post is at the very bottom.
        What I said there…..

        …Just read this very interesting article. Thanks. Bit slow here. Maybe you can clarify. Take my address…take right hand off grip and let it dangle. When I let it (RH) dangle it stays in position below my left hand and I can just move it back to take my grip. Is this correct? I’m guessing yes. Or, should the hands be dangling together (like palm to palm if there was no club in my left hand) and then I move the right hand down to take the grip? Hope you see this Dennis and have time to reply. Thanks. marte

        Read more at http://www.golfwrx.com/173231/how-far-to-stand-from-the-golf-ball/#HePb518yie7lCCDq.99

        • Dennis Clark

          Oct 19, 2014 at 4:14 pm

          Marte. One of the ways to check your distance from the ball. If the dangling right hand is even with the left you’ll find that your hands are under your shoulders. If it hangs way inside you may be too far. Hope that helps.

          • marte

            Oct 19, 2014 at 9:22 pm

            Yes it does. Thanks for taking the time. Terrific articles BTW.

  4. Bogeypro

    Oct 18, 2014 at 9:20 pm

    You said: Most everything golfers do with their bodies is a reaction to the straightening of this angle.”

    I don’t know that I agree with this. If the downswing is started with proper sequencing, the lower body leads, then the core, followed by the arms. If your sequencing is off and you start the downswing from the top using the arms, then the body has to react to correct it.

    I would argue that the release is a product of proper grip and downswing sequencing.

    • Dennis Clark

      Oct 18, 2014 at 9:54 pm

      Consider this possibility: I lead perfectly from the ground up but uncock my wrists prematurely. There is nothing in the sequencing of the body motion that will prevent me from uncocking my wrists early if I’m inclined to do so. If I do so of course I’ll hit the ground then discover ways NOT to hit the ground, which would then affect the sequencing. I see your point but have seen too many swings over the years to believe the reverse of the reaction I suggested is true. You’re right in that the player has a better chance in not casting the club by starting with the lower body, but this, in and of itself, is not a panacea. BTW, the most common motions I see of too early, are running the upper body ahead, raising the swing center, or shortening the radius, the dreaded chicken wing. Thx for reading

      • Bogeypro

        Oct 18, 2014 at 11:20 pm

        Do you conciously unhinge your wrists in your swing? Most would teach that the unhinging of the wrists should be natural and not manipulated. Sure, you could do it in theory, but it would be difficult when proper sequencing is followed and feel very unnatural. Wouldn’t you rather just teach to let it happen naturally?

        • Dennis Clark

          Oct 19, 2014 at 12:10 pm

          We in a theoretical world,we’d all be great players. But golf is not that way. MOST golfers release quite early,and the point of this article is as as stated: IF an early release is part of your golfing DNA, don’t sweat it, just play “around” it. Thx for reading

  5. Jeffcb

    Oct 18, 2014 at 10:20 am

    What I’ve actually noticed when I release early is that all I have to worry about then is turning through the ball. Timing for me isn’t so big of an issue then and I’m less prone to hooking it and just hit a nice draw. Usually. So for me with my swing plane, in to in, lag is very detrimental. I try and release early and throw the club through the ball. Not cast but throw. Difference being is that casting is throwing the club away from the direction of the target. Zaps my speed through the ball.

    • Dennis Clark

      Oct 18, 2014 at 2:19 pm

      What is your flightscope or Trackman numbers path wise?

      • Jeffcb

        Oct 19, 2014 at 10:28 am

        Have never used either Dennis. I don’t have access where I live but I do come from the inside (divots) and I have a tendency to roll my hands during my release instead of releasing them up the plane causing hooks instead of draws. Sometimes I am too far from the inside as well but not often. I’m basically a single plane swinger and have been working on the correct aspects of that swing this year.

        • Dennis Clark

          Oct 19, 2014 at 12:06 pm

          See if you can get to a facility that has Boditrak. You’ll love it.

  6. spooky

    Oct 15, 2014 at 5:19 pm

    Priceless – deleting my comment.

    • Zak Kozuchowski

      Oct 15, 2014 at 5:27 pm

      Thank you for the edit. Now back to what the story is about.

  7. Alex

    Oct 15, 2014 at 2:23 pm

    I’ve been an early releaser most of my life, but of late I decided to hit it “down”, esp. with my irons (I’ve always been inconsistent with irons). I’ve noticed a terrific improvement, my shots feel real solid. I think it’s what my teacher has been so insistent on: your hands lead the club through the ball. He never mentions the word release.

    Perhaps I haven’t changed much, but it does feel different and great.

    • Dennis Clark

      Oct 15, 2014 at 2:57 pm

      great Alex…hitting down is key when on the turf but it is as much a function of where the strike occurs in the swing arc. If you’re doing more to the right and earlier, it sounds like it’s working

  8. Dean Blazier

    Oct 15, 2014 at 12:38 pm

    This is a good article. If a golfer tries to purposely delay their release, they’re gonna get an open clubface at impact, likely higher scores, and years of frustration. Stricker actually increases the angle from the top of the backswing, to the middle of the downswing, but he has never consciously tried to do that. He is simply squaring the clubface at impact. Hit into an impact bag to make your release more consistent, that will help your ball striking immediately, instead of wasting a season trying to increase lag

  9. Dennis Clark

    Oct 15, 2014 at 11:58 am

    Remember I said hitting very early is not OPTIMAL. I merely suggested ways to make it FUNCTIONAL if that is your plight in golf.

    • CD

      Oct 17, 2014 at 8:35 am

      I do agree you shouldn’t mess and do not agree that a late release is optimal. I think most players I’ve seen face on start to release that angle when their bodyweight meets their left side i.e. their transition is completed, depending on your definition of ‘lag’ (mine is ‘weight’ of the clubhead) someone can release early and still have ‘lag’ although not an uncocked or ‘held’ wrists look. Eg Zuback, Scott, Mahan, Stricker, Toms. What I believe is as long as you are positioning your body and weight and ball through the downstroke correctly any release can be functional. I think it is a subconscious process, the mind g

      • CD

        Oct 17, 2014 at 8:41 am

        governing the release, accounting for musculature, body size and stimulus response time. You mess with that at your peril, it’s your natural pattern and we’re talking micro scale. That said, improve carefully – eg shift weight more efficiently until a better strike achieved if that appears to be lacking – and I’ve noticed a natural progression towards more ‘lag’ and a later release myself, which appears to me to be a product of making my body movements more functional for, I assume, my particular build, ‘wiring’ and ‘release’.

        • Dennis Clark

          Oct 17, 2014 at 9:28 am

          Yes. Once the center of mass gets under the hand path, a certain amount of hands forward is required. If the COM of the club gets above the hand path, the earlier release is certainly part of the equation. Most golfers who play a fair amount know this intuitively. It cannot be a conscious thought as you mentioned. Thx.

  10. Jim Benjamin

    Oct 15, 2014 at 10:33 am

    Dennis… you’re making me feel much better about my golf swing. I took a video of my swing and made some images and I’m in the same position as the early releaser in your article except I’m even a little earlier but I think I don’t get to my left side until much later. I played for 25 years with a bad left knee and had it replaced two years ago. I have a hard time getting to my left side because I never could before. The left side of my body is much stiffer as a result but my right side turns maybe too much as I had to get my power somewhere. I shoot in the 80’s but know I can do much better. I can’t seem to take a divot and pick the ball. My left wrist breaks down during impact because the right hand comes roaring through as the resistant left side slows down. I think my release is ok, I just need to get to my left side better. Also trying to do this at 6’2″ and 344 lbs. It was 376 a three months ago so making some progress.

    • Dennis Clark

      Oct 15, 2014 at 11:34 am

      Tiny ????

      You’ll always have trouble hitting down with an early release. You may want to put more weight in your left side at address.

  11. Pingback: Golf Swing 'Release' And Why Golfers Shouldn’t be Frustrated | Golf Gear Select

  12. Alex

    Oct 15, 2014 at 1:33 am

    Interesting you call it an early straightening of the lead arm.

    So if I’ve been kinda releasing it early, and I have tension in my lead arm because I’m trying to keep it straight, that’s probably why?

    So if I actually kept my lead arm bent, would that actually change my release?

    Just curious…never really thought about the arm straightening too early. Figured it should straighten asap or stay straight.

    Also…what do you say to someone who is an early releaser but who also has secondary spine tilt and hits the ball high with a good divot? Stop worrying? Just curious because I can hit high draws with my release but on video my hands tend to lag behind me too much.

    • Dennis Clark

      Oct 15, 2014 at 9:44 am

      Don’t miss the point; it’s described as when the GOLF CLUB STARTS TO BECOME A STRAIGHT LINE WITH THE LEFT ARM. Left can be crooked or straight in the swing but should be straight at impact. at the top the club forms a 90 degree angle with the arm.

  13. marcel

    Oct 15, 2014 at 12:09 am

    kinda disagree with this article… but its not a bad article… however my point is – the whole release talk is over empathized “grayish” area that spans from your whole swing… more perfect swing has more lag and less perfect or hacker swing has no lag or even hitting in front… players at low technique level if trying to emulate Sergio’s lag will unwind swing release to the Right… then compensate with wrist flip to the Left… Lag is a consequence of swing motion not a separate thing – and should be kept far away to keep swing working!

    • marcel

      Oct 15, 2014 at 12:15 am

      the Lag is a consequence of Wrist Cock – if you dont cock your wrist you not gonna have the additional distance off the ball in Arch and thefore wont be lag… all the examples are amateur with no cock in their wrists. Sergio on the other hand holds his wrists in the position until release.

      • marcel

        Oct 15, 2014 at 12:15 am

        watch the Right Hand of Sergio and right hand of other players… they have no wrist action…

      • Dennis Clark

        Oct 15, 2014 at 9:45 am

        The amateurs displayed had plenty of “wrist cock” at the top of the swing.

      • Dennis Clark

        Oct 15, 2014 at 9:55 am

        Steve Stricker has very little wrist cock but plays fairly well. Video Alan Doyle, you’ll get a kick out of that. Wrist cock is actually ulnar and radial deviation. Players with a weak grip have less of it because of the motion restriction. When you strengthen grip you are more in a flexion and extension motion which allows for much greater freedom of motion.

    • Dennis Clark

      Oct 15, 2014 at 9:41 am

      30+ years of watching it on the lesson tee leads me to the reverse conclusion. Motion is a consequence of lag or lack of it.

    • Dennis Clark

      Oct 15, 2014 at 9:51 am

      the gray area you describe is exactly what I mean. when a player releases or doesn’t is fine. both can work. and there is no perfect swing. in the golf hall of fame, there are hundreds of golf swings. Thx for reading and your interest.

      • marcel

        Oct 15, 2014 at 6:37 pm

        thanks Dennis – in no way i would like to argue. I am no golf instructor but taking lessons. playing around 12 handicap. 36yo 5’8″ with average 7i 169 yards. 4i 200 yards.

        I was never lead into lag (maybe i never got to that level of getting coaching) but more into strong grip and wrist action… i noticed that only by proper wrist action I have added some 6yrds – which in turn created more lag by later release…

        Look I am enthusiast and love breaking things down to understand them better.

        Cheers and thanks for great article.

        m

        • Dennis Clark

          Oct 15, 2014 at 6:43 pm

          Thx Marcel, I’m glad you enjoyed and appreciate the feedback. The is no question that “snapping” the wrists into the ball adds solidity to the hit, it’s just that some great players choose very little set going back and re-cock into the ball. The problem with early release is that very often you lose that snap. Thx. DC

  14. Zak

    Oct 14, 2014 at 11:21 pm

    I’ve been golfing my whole life (I’m 23 years old), but I have had a few breaks here and there where I didn’t golf much (or at all). When I got back into the game in 2012 after a break of about 2 years, I made the decision to completely change my swing and fix the issues that I had. I had a steep backswing (broke my wrists almost immediately) and I would cast on the way down. I started making a wide backswing and a step downswing. The backswing was relatively easy, but the downswing needed props. I would take a tape and put it behind the ball and try not to hit it. It took me a while to get used to the changes, but when they finally took hold, it feels normal. I’ve never played better. I went from high 80’s, to now averaging 79.6 per round.

    • Dennis Clark

      Oct 15, 2014 at 9:47 am

      glad that worked for you. There is always one drill or feel that will work for you. As teachers we work on a large canvas-thousand of students, so we’re always on the lookout for several things to relay. Great job on your improvement.

  15. Dennis Clark

    Oct 14, 2014 at 10:58 pm

    Earlier or later? Do you have video comparisons to share?

  16. paul

    Oct 14, 2014 at 10:19 pm

    I have found my wrist strength changes through the year (construction worker) and my release changes with it.

  17. james

    Oct 14, 2014 at 5:17 pm

    Great article. I’ve also seen release become affected from things like swingweight, length of the club, flex of the shaft, and even how I’m gripping the club. When you add in all of those factors, it often becomes even more clear why someone may release early / late.

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