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.
- 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.
- 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.
The Big Shift: How to master pressure and the golf transition using prior sports training
If you’re an #AverageJoeGolfer, work a day job, and don’t spend countless hours practicing, you might be interested in knowing that sports you played growing up, and even beer league softball skills, can be used to help you play better golf. We’re sure you’ve heard hockey players tend to hit the ball a mile, make the “best golfers”, while pitchers and quarterbacks have solid games, but baseball/softball hitters struggle with consistency. Did you know that a killer tennis backhand might help your golf game if you play from the opposite side? Dancers are way ahead of other athletes making a switch to golf because they understand that centeredness creates power and consistency much more efficiently than shifting all around, unnecessary swaying, or “happy feet.”
Lurking beneath fat shots, worm burners, and occasional shanks, are skillsets and motions you can pull from the old memory bank to apply on the golf course. Yes, you heard us right; your high school letterman jacket can finally be put to good use and help you improve your move. You just need to understand some simple adjustments different sports athletes need to make to be successful golfers.
In golf, shifting from your trailside into your lead side is what we’ll call the TRANSITION. Old School teachers refer to this motion, or shift, as “Foot Work”, New-Fangled-Techno-Jargon-Packed-Instruction uses “Ground Pressure/Force” to refer to the same concept. Don’t worry about the nomenclature; just know, as many GolfWRXers already do, that you must get your weight to your lead side if you want any chance at making solid and consistent contact. TRANSITION might be THE toughest motion in golf to master.
The good news for you is that TRANSITION happens in all other sports but in slightly different ways, depending on the sport. Golfers can more quickly learn TRANSITION, and speed up their swing learning process by understanding how prior sport experience can be applied to the golf swing.
[The basics of a solid golf move are; 1) you should have a SETUP that is centered and balanced, 2) you move your weight/pressure into your trail side during the TAKEAWAY and BACKSWING, 3) TRANSITION moves your weight/pressure back into your lead side, and 4) you FINISH with the club smashing the ball down the fairway. Okay, it’s not quite as easy as I make it sound, but hopefully our discussion today can relieve some stress when it comes time for you to start training your game.]
Hitting coaches don’t like their hitters playing golf during the season, that’s a fact. The TRANSITIONS are too different, and if they play too much golf, they can lose the ability to hit off-speed pitches because their swing can become too upright. Golf requires an orbital hand path (around an angled plane) with an upright-stacked finish, while hitting requires batters to have a straight-line (more horizontal) hand path and to “stay back or on top of” the ball.
Now we apologize for the lack of intricate knowledge and terminology around hitting a baseball, we only played up through high school. What we know for sure is that guys/gals who have played a lot of ball growing up, and who aren’t pitchers struggle with golf’s TRANSITION. Hitters tend to hang back and do a poor job of transferring weight properly. When they get the timing right, they can make contact, but consistency is a struggle with fat shots and scooping being the biggest issues that come to mind.
So how can you use your star baseball/softball hitting skills with some adjustments for golf? Load, Stride, Swing is what all-good hitters do, in that order. Hitters’ issues revolve around the Stride, when it comes to golf. They just don’t get into their lead sides fast enough. As a golfer, hitters can still take the same approach, with one big adjustment; move more pressure to your lead side during your stride, AND move it sooner. We’ve had plenty of ‘a ha’ moments when we put Hitters on balance boards or have them repeat step drills hundreds of times; “oh, that’s what I need to do”…BINGO…Pound Town, Baby!
Softball/Baseball Pitchers, Quarterbacks, & Kickers
There’s a reason that kickers, pitchers, and quarterbacks are constantly ranked as the top athlete golfers and it’s not because they have a ton of downtime between starts and play a lot of golf. Their ‘day jobs’ throwing/kicking motions have a much greater impact on how they approach sending a golf ball down the fairway. It’s apparent that each of these sports TRAINS and INGRAINS golf’s TRANSITION motion very well. They tend to load properly into their trailside while staying centered (TAKEAWAY/BACKSWING), and they transfer pressure into their lead side, thus creating effortless speed and power. Now there are nuances for how to make adjustments for golf, but the feeling of a pitching or kicking motion is a great training move for golf.
If this was your sport growing up, how can you improve your consistency? Work on staying centered and minimizing “happy feet” because golf is not a sport where you want to move too much or get past your lead side.
My wife was captain of her high school dance team, has practiced ballet since she was in junior high, and is our resident expert on Ground Pressure forces relating to dance. She has such a firm grasp on these forces that she is able to transfer her prior sports skill to play golf once or twice a year and still hit the ball past me and shoot in the low 100s; what can I say, she has a good coach. More importantly, she understands that staying centered and a proper TRANSITION, just like in Dance, are requirements that create stability, speed, and consistent motions for golf. Christo Garcia is a great example of a Ballerina turned scratch golfer who uses the movement of a plié (below left) to power his Hogan-esque golf move. There is no possible way Misty Copeland would be able to powerfully propel herself into the air without a proper TRANSITION (right).
Being centered is critical to consistently hitting the golf ball. So, in the same way that dancers stay centered and shift their weight/pressure to propel themselves through the air, they can stay on the ground and instead create a golf swing. Dancers tend to struggle with the timing of the hands and arms in the golf swing. We train them a little differently by training their timing just like a dance routine; 1 and 2 and 3 and…. Dancers learn small motions independently and stack each micro-movement on top of one another, with proper timing, to create a dance move (golf swing) more like musicians learn, but that article is for another time.
Hockey is a great example of the golf TRANSITION because it mimics golf’s motions almost perfectly. Even a subtlety like the direction in which the feet apply pressure is the same in Hockey as in Golf, but that’s getting in the weeds a bit. Hockey players load up on their trailside, and then perform the TRANSITION well; they shift into their lead sides and then rotate into the puck with the puck getting in the way of the stick…this is the golf swing, just on skates and ice…my ankles hurt just writing that.
If you played hockey growing up, you have the skillsets for a proper golf TRANSITION, and you’ll improve much faster if you spend your time training a full FINISH which involves staying centered and balanced.
Now we didn’t get into nuances of each and every sport, but we tried to cover most popular athletic motions we thought you might have experience in in the following table. The key for your Big Shift, is using what you’ve already learned in other sports and understanding how you might need to change existing and known motions to adapt them to golf. If you played another sport, and are struggling, it doesn’t mean you need to give up golf because your motion is flawed…you just need to know how to train aspects of your golf move a little differently than someone who comes from a different sport might.
Clement: Effortless power for senior golfers
Are you struggling with range of motion? Want more EFFORTLESS POWER? We are truly the experts at this having taught these methods for 25 plus years, while others were teaching resistance, breaking everyone’s backs and screwing up their minds with endless positions to hit and defects to fix. Welcome home to Wisdom in Golf!
Clement: How to turbo charge your swing
The shift in golf instruction continues and Wisdom in Golf and GolfWRX are right out there blazing a trail of fantastic content and techniques to get you to feel the most blissful, rhythmic golf shots you can strike! This here is the humdinger that keeps on giving and is now used by a plethora of tour players who are benefitting greatly and moving up the world rankings because of it.
The new trend (ours is about 25 years young) is the antithesis of the “be careful, don’t move too much, don’t make a mistake” approach we have endured for the last 30 years plus. Time to break free of the shackles that hold you back and experience the greatness that is already right there inside that gorgeous human machine you have that is so far from being defective! Enjoy!
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