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Swing factors that determine how you release the golf club

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A lot has been written about what is called “lag,” or angle retention in the golf swing, which occurs during the downswing. How much lag is necessary? When should a golfer release the club? Does lag actually help? Those are the questions that I see regularly asked by readers in GolfWRX instruction articles.

Lag is a way of describing the relationship of the hands and club head, where the hands are leading and the club head is “lagging” behind in the downswing. While lag does serve a very important function in the swing, it is NOT one of speed. I work with some very good players, two of whom swing in excess of 120 mph with their driver. One releases it VERY late (too late, actually, and we’re working to get rid of some of that) and the other very early.

A “sweep” release imparts every bit as much force as a “snap” release if delivered at the same speed, as evidenced by Jason Zuback. We cannot discount the importance of the release, however, because it serves another, vital function in your swing. And that is, along with the proper body dynamics, the release is responsible for the bottom of the swing arc, or what is called “the low point.” Ideally, we want that low point slightly in front of the golf ball for shots from the turf, and slightly behind the golf ball on the driver. This is a major component of the attack angle and determines how solidly the ball may be struck.

In discussing when the golf club should be released, let’s keep in mind a few other factors about your individual swing, namely the path, the plane and the width of your swing. I will discuss these factors in more detail later on in the story.

General rules of thumb about the bottom of the swing arc

  • Path: Golfers with inside-out paths tend to bottom out early. Golfers with outside-in paths tend to bottom out later.
  • Plane: Golfers with flatter swing planes tend to bottom out early. Golfers with more upright swing planes tend to bottom out later.
  • Swing arc: Golfers with wide swings tend to bottom out early. Golfers with narrow swings tend to bottom out later.

https://youtu.be/P3zkawfMPp0

If you’re a golfer who comes “over the top,” you’ll find that releasing the club earlier is not a preference, it is a necessity. That’s because golfers who swing over the top reach impact “later,” which means their motion moves the bottom of the swing arc well forward. Because of this, golfers are forced to release the club head earlier to to complement the later bottom.

Conversely, if you have developed an inside-out path, the same early release will not work. This is because an inside path makes a golfer get to impact earlier, that is, the bottom of the swing arc is much farther back. So a golfer who swings hard from the inside needs to retain his angle slightly longer to avoid hitting fat shots and hooks.

Now with swing plane, if you’re one who swings more upright or vertical, your release should be earlier than those who have a flatter, or more horizontal swings. Upright swings are narrower and tend to move the bottom of the swing arc more forward, and an earlier release complements that move. Think Tom Watson or David Toms.

Flatter swings are wider, and tend to move the bottom of the swing arc farther behind the ball, so a later release helps move the bottom of the swing arc farther forward. Think Sergio Garcia or Ben Hogan.

NOTE: By wide and narrow I’m referring to the flat spot at the bottom of the arc. Wide means the bottom of the swing is along the ground longer, and narrow means it is along the ground a shorter time

Finally, a word about pivot: If you’re a player who tends to move off the ball in your takeaway, you will need a certain amount of angle retention coming down. The reason is that when you moved off the ball, you moved the bottom of your arc back, and you’ll need to move it back forward coming down. And if you’re a player who stays quite centered over the ball, feel free to release the club a bit earlier, simply because by staying more centered you moved the bottom a bit forward and now you may have to move it back a bit.

A good golf swing has a repeating low point. There are a myriad of factors in this dynamic, but the ones I described above are the core issues involved in finding your right combination. But don’t take my word for it, try a few combinations on your own. Try staying TOTALLY on your lead side in the back swing, and lagging the hell out of the angle coming down. I’d be willing to bet you won’t get to the bottom of the ball. Now try moving way over to trail side on the takeaway and releasing the club as early as you can. There’s a good chance you’ll lay sod over the ball or hit a quacker!

I know this sounds confusing, but read it a few times, and you’ll see what I mean. These are the swing factors that determine when and how you release the club. Remember, every move in the golf swing needs one that complements it, not one that complicates it.

If you’d like me to analyze your swing, go to my Facebook page or contact me (dennisclarkgolf@gmail.com) about my online swing analysis program.

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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 Marco Island Marriott in Naples, Fla.. He can be reached at dennisclarkgolf@gmail.com

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20 Comments

20 Comments

  1. Nocklaus

    Oct 8, 2016 at 8:48 pm

    Why not just find out what type of swing you have and place the ball accordingly…?
    Find the bottom of your swing arc and adress the ball there.

  2. Joe Sixpack

    Jul 12, 2015 at 3:24 pm

    What gibberish. One cannot hit a golf ball far without lag, unless his musculature allows him to. Witness any baseball power hitter.

    Here’s Tom Watson with lag.

    http://www.golfdigest.com/images/instruction/2012-11/inar01_tom_watson_lower_body.jpg

    Also, thanks for the advice. What advice? I’m not sure.

  3. Dennis Clark

    Jul 3, 2015 at 12:31 pm

    Scott, Im just not a big believer in a “late release’. It causes more problems than it helps. If you are inside, set up a little open, and turn earlier and more aggresivley through the ball

  4. Scott

    Jul 3, 2015 at 10:19 am

    Good info, thanks Dennis. I’m typically in-to-out, steep at the top but then flatten in the downswing to where I can sometimes get stuck and have a two way miss. For later release, I try to maintain the forward shaft lean at address throughout the swing – – what feels to me like passive hands. This helps but feels quite rigid, less “athletic”. Is there perhaps a better approach to later release?

  5. Dennis Clark

    Jul 2, 2015 at 7:50 am

    pulls, hooks, face often open… You sure? 2 down iron is shallow. You might try moving the ball back a little

  6. Jimmy

    Jul 1, 2015 at 4:18 pm

    Would then a more vertical path with the earlier release, be more compatible with a softer flex shaft vs. stiff? Thanks so much for the great info!!

    • Dennis Clark

      Jul 2, 2015 at 7:53 am

      Shaft flex is not directly related to release point…how the shaft reacts when you do release it is a flex issue

  7. tom

    Jul 1, 2015 at 11:10 am

    why when i aim right i fire thru the ball better, my release is killing my swing speed

    • Dennis Clark

      Jul 1, 2015 at 11:15 am

      maybe firing thru the ball is killing your speed; the lateral force should slow and stop so rotational force can pick up. try slowing your turn through down might help your arm speed

      • other paul

        Jul 1, 2015 at 3:04 pm

        Why not just go rotational all the time? I just started the drive/hold swing, and just hit my longest drive ever and i can barely slice the ball on purpose. Kelvin Miyahira for more power, accuracy, and less back pain.

        • JP K

          Jul 3, 2015 at 6:18 am

          I think this article is very good but agree with you, Kelvin is amazing. Best 2 hours in golf I’ve spent is his lesson. Now I’m a straight bomber. Don’t tell anyone else?

  8. Jamie

    Jul 1, 2015 at 8:24 am

    This article explains perfectly what happens in my golf swing. I swing flat and my swing bottoms out way too early…this make me more of a sweeper of the ball than a striker. The problem I have been working on this week and making solid contact with my irons…maybe this will get me pointed in the right direction. Thanks.

  9. Dennis Clark

    Jun 30, 2015 at 9:20 pm

    What is your problem at impact? That’s all that matters and tells us what we need to know? Club face, path and attack angle?

    • CD

      Jul 1, 2015 at 6:48 pm

      Straight shots, pulls (well struck), blocks and snap hooks. After more solidity in the strike and more velocity in the clubhead. Path is too inside out and attack angle is -2 down. Face often open.

  10. CD

    Jun 30, 2015 at 5:14 pm

    Here’s a question, assuming an inside out, flat swing, and some movement off the ball, what’s the best way to maintain leverage lag in terms of the shoulders and arms/hands?

    I.e. In the transition, is it best to not throw the angles in the right wrist and elbow away, and move the shoulders; or does the motion of releasing the wrists and elbow allow the shoulders to get forward more quickly and be more conducive to retaining leverage, ironically? I find it difficult to diagnose on camera and wondered if you have a solution.

  11. tom stickney

    Jun 30, 2015 at 4:02 pm

    You must manage these factors or you will never have consistent impact

    • CD

      Jun 30, 2015 at 5:08 pm

      Explains Tiger’s inconsistent chipping as his release actions in full and short game are disparate?

  12. Alex T

    Jun 30, 2015 at 2:46 pm

    This is a concept I never really fully understood and, being honest, I still don’t. However, I understand the concept of finding the bottom of the arc consistently. About a year ago I figured out on my own that the bottom of my arc wasn’t consistent and my strike was equally so. I tried to create a repeatable arc and since my ball striking has improved massively. Yes, I still struggle with other areas of the game, but my ball striking is now 90% out of the middle of the club. My point here is this- this article is full of coachy mumbo jumbo, but the one salient point is thus: “A good golf swing has a repeating low point.” I couldn’t tell you what I did to find my “repeating low point” but it works and I think that is Dennis’ point here in this article- it doesn’t matter how much “lag” you have, or when you “release”, as long as it is in the right spot and consistent. Good article.

  13. Dennis Clark

    Jun 30, 2015 at 1:53 pm

    Anatomy notwithstanding, even if one were to have the suppleness and flexibility you describe, they had better not use it to excessively lag, from an upright arc, or they’ll be late into impact. Watson’s upright swing was more of a Stan Thursk product than any physical limitations he may have had. Thx for reading

  14. Greg V

    Jun 30, 2015 at 11:26 am

    Interesting article, but you fail to mention the golfer’s wrist and lead thumb flexibility – which are factors for how well lag can be loaded, and how long it can be maintained into the forward swing.

    If you look at successful golfers with flat swing planes, you will note that they have tremendous wrist flexibility – think Ben Hogan, Chad Campbell and Sergio Garcia.

    On the other hand, Tom Watson was not gifted with extremely flexible wrist action, and was an early releaser. He had to swing with an upright swing, or else we never would have heard of him. On the other hand, he made a heck of a deep turn with his hips, and released that to generate a lot of his power. As did Sam Snead and Bobby Jones, but they also had fine wrist action as well.

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Instruction

Functional Golf vs. Optimal Golf

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Optimize this, optimize that. We hear so much about “optimal” golf these days. It’s great that we now have the technology to seemingly optimize every aspect of the golfer, the golf swing, and the golf club, but we have to be realistic in terms of our goals. Ask yourself this question: If I can’t do this optimally, is there a way I can still do it better?

And… how do we define better? That’s easy. More solid impact.

Yes, optimal golf is what we’d all like and perhaps that is the concern of highly skilled players. But for the vast majority of golfers, functional golf might be more realistic. John Jacobs, the best teacher ever, called his approach “practical.” I’m using the term functional in a similar, albeit more specific way. And many of my regular readers know by now that I credit Jacobs for whatever success I’ve had as an instructor.

During a recent lesson, I pointed out a particular swing flaw to a student while we were reviewing his swing on video. He stopped me and said: “See that, what you’re showing me right there? I have done that my whole life. I’ve taken a number of lessons and they all mentioned that very move, and I CANNOT change it. Why is that?”

I thought, man, if I had a few bucks for every time I’ve heard that I’d be, uh,  pretty comfortable.

There are certain habits some golfers simply cannot break no matter how hard they try. For one reason or another, they’re physically incapable of changing. I have observed this for more than 30 years over thousands and thousands of lessons. Does this mean you can’t change the problems these moves may cause? No, absolutely not. There’s a long list of major champions with so called  “flaws” in their swings, from Nicklaus’ flying elbow to Furyk and his quirky move. But what these greats did is find a move that they CAN make, one that’s compatible with their core move.

If you have a move that, for whatever reason, is embedded in the fabric of your golfing DNA, it is probably best you do not beat your head against a wall trying to  change that move, however flawed it may seem. Rather, let’s see if we can find something that blends with that move that you CAN execute.

The golfer I was teaching suffered from fat shots and blocks due to an early release. He simply never learned “lag” or a later hit. So the bottom of the swing arc ended up behind the golf ball more often than not. This golfer has done this for some 20 years, so instead of trying to reinvent the wheel I took a different approach. I asked him to address the golf ball with more weight on his left side. Things got a little better. More weight on the left side, even better, and so on. In other words, we started his motion from a different place, one that was more functional for him.

To help this golfer create a more functional golf swing, I had to move his center of mass forward. It wasn’t optimal perhaps, but his real problem (fat shots) had to be addressed within his current skill set. “If I could just stop drop kicking every shot, I’d be happy,” he said. In other words, we worked out a compromise, a way he could hit the ball more cleanly and enjoy golf more.

As an instructor, that’s pretty much what I do every day. I’m always looking for a compatible motion that balances golf swing equations. “If that is a band aid, you better buy a whole box,” Jacobs would say.

I teach in a community of largely senior golfers. Senior but serious, I call them. They are looking for a way to put the club on the ball more often, which means a better impact position. There is no “in the long run” for seniors. I don’t say, “Let’s make a plan for later” because some are fearful of buying green bananas, let alone working hard on a long-term plan. There is also no “new” when your old move has been around most of your golfing life. Senior golfers, myself included, are on the back nine, much closer to the 18th green than the 1st tee. And most golfers are not going back and starting their round over… believe me. But this doesn’t mean they can’t play better. And they do. Every day.

This lesson likely applies to you even if you are younger and more physically capable. Some things just don’t change, and perhaps the learning psychologists or biomechanists can better tell you why. That’s why I encourage all serious golfers to work with an instructor to identify what moves in their swing simply will not change. Then they should learn to work around them, not try to fix them. That’s the way to better golf.

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A Jedi Mind Trick For Improved Target Awareness

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I think all golfers, at some point in their life playing the game of golf, has gotten stuck, or become frozen over the golf ball. Why?  They’re trying to remember which of the 23 different swing thoughts they used for the day performed the best.

The disheartening reality: none of us are going to perform well on a consistent basis with our thoughts being so internally driven. Swing thoughts force our awareness inward. Is the shaft in the correct position? Am I making a proper pressure shift? Was that a reverse pivot? Close that club face! Regardless of the technique you are trying to manage or modify, these kinds of questions make you acquire sensations internally.

To complicate things further, we are taught to look at the golf ball, not the target, while hitting our golf shot. And yet instinctively, in almost all other skills of making a ball or object finish towards a target (throwing a ball or frisbee, kicking a soccer ball, skipping a rock across water, shooting a basket ball) our awareness is not on the ball or the motion itself, but rather the ultimate target.

So, can we develop a skill that allows us to still keep our eye on the ball, like the game of golf encourages, but have awareness of our target, like so many other target sports demand?  Yes, the answer is (third rate Yoda Speak), and the skill can easily be yours.

Here’s where this gets fun. You already have learned this skill set, but under different conditions. Perhaps this example resonates with you. Did you ever play hide-and-seek as a child? Remember how you used to close your eyes and count to 10? During those 10 seconds of having your eyes closed, weren’t you using all of your senses externally, trying to track where your friends were going to hide? Weren’t you, just like a bloodhound, able to go directly to a few of the less skillful hiders’ hiding places and locate them?

Or how about this example. When you are driving down your own local multilane highway, aren’t you aware of all the cars around you while keeping your eyes firmly on the road in front of you? Reconnecting, recognizing and/or developing these skills that all of us already use is the first step in knowing you’re not too far away from doing this with your golf game.

Here’s what I want you to do. Grab a putter and place your golf ball 3 feet away from the hole on a straight putt. Aim your putter, and then look at the hole. As you bring your eyes back to the golf ball, maintain part of your awareness back at the hole. Each successive time your eyes leave your golf ball and head back to the hole, your eyes will be able to confirm your target. It hasn’t moved; it’s still in the same location; your confidence builds.

When you know for certain that your external awareness of the target is locked in while still looking at your golf ball, step up and execute your putt.

The wonderful beauty of this skill set is that you now have the best of both worlds. You are still looking at the golf ball, which gives you a better chance of striking the golf ball solidly… AND you are now target aware just like you are when you are throwing an object at a target.

As always, acquire this skill set from a close target with a slower, smaller motion. If you don’t execute properly, you have a better chance of making the proper corrective assessment from a slower, smaller motion and closer target. As you become more proficient with this skill, allow the target to get farther away and try to add more speed with a larger range of motion.

So give learning this skill set a go. I don’t think there is anything more valuable in playing the game of golf than keeping your “athlete” attached to the target. Become proficient at developing this awareness and you can tell all your friends that the primary reason your scores are getting lower and you’re getting deeper into their wallets is because of Jedi Mind tricks. Good luck!

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6 things to consider before aiming at the flagstick

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One of the most impactful improvements you can make for your game is to hit more greens; you’ll have more birdie opportunities and will avoid bogeys more often. In fact, hitting more greens is the key to golfing success, in my opinion… more so than anything else.

However, there is a misconception among players when it comes to hitting approach shots. When people think “greens,” they tend to only think about the flagstick, when the pin may be the last thing you should be looking at. Obviously, we’d like to stick it on every shot, but shooting at the pin at the wrong time can cost you more pain than gain.

So I’d like to give you a few rules for hitting greens and aiming at the flagstick.

1) Avoid Sucker Pins

I want you to think about Hole No. 12 at Augusta and when the pin is on the far right side of the green… you know, the Sunday pin. Where do the pros try and aim? The center of the green! That’s because the right pin is by all means a sucker pin. If they miss the shot just a touch, they’re in the water, in the bunker, or left with an impossible up-and-down.

Sucker pins are the ones at the extreme sides of the green complex, and especially the ones that go against your normal shot pattern.

So go back to No. 12 with a far right pin, and say your natural shot shape is right-to-left. Would you really aim out over the water and move it towards the pin? That would be a terrible idea! It’s a center of the green shot all day, even for those who work it left-to-right. Learn to recognize sucker pins, and you won’t short side yourself ever again.

2) Are You a Good Bunker Player?

A “sucker pin,” or just a difficult hole location, is often tucked behind a bunker. Therefore, you should ask yourself, “am I a good bunker player?” Because if you are not, then you should never aim at a pin stuck behind one. If I wanted to shoot at pins all day, I’d make sure I was the best lob wedge player around. If you are not a short-game wizard, then you will have a serious problem attacking pins all round.

For those who lack confidence in their short game, or simply are not skilled on all the shots, it’s a good idea to hit to the fat part of the green most of the time. You must find ways to work around your weaknesses, and hitting “away” from the pin isn’t a bad thing, it’s a smart thing for your game.

3) Hitting the Correct Shelf

I want you to imagine a pin placed on top of a shelf. What things would you consider in order to attack this type of pin? You should answer: shot trajectory, type of golf ball, your landing angle with the club you’re hitting, the green conditions, and the consequences of your miss. This is where people really struggle as they forget to take into account these factors.

If you don’t consider what you can and cannot do with the shot at hand, you will miss greens, especially when aiming at a pin on a shelf. Sometimes, you will simply have to aim at the wrong level of the green in order to not bring the big number into play. Remember, if you aim for a top shelf and miss, you will leave yourself with an even more difficult pitch shot back onto that same shelf you just missed.

4) Know your Carry Distances

In my opinion, there is no excuse these days to not know your carry distances down to the last yard. Back when I was growing up, I had to go to a flat hole and chart these distances as best I could by the ball marks on the green. Now, I just spend an hour on Trackman.

My question to you is if you don’t know how far you carry the ball, how could you possibly shoot at a pin with any type of confidence? If you cannot determine what specific number you carry the ball, and how the ball will react on the green, then you should hit the ball in the center of the green. However, if the conditions are soft and you know your yardages, then the green becomes a dart board. My advice: spend some time this off-season getting to know your distances, and you’ll have more “green lights” come Spring.

5) When do you have the Green Light?

Do you really know when it’s OK to aim at the pin? Here are some questions to ask yourself that will help:

  • How are you hitting the ball that day?
  • How is your yardage control?
  • What is the slope of the green doing to help or hinder your ball on the green?
  • Do you have a backstop behind the pin?

It’s thoughts such as these that will help you to determine if you should hit at the pin or not. Remember, hitting at the pin (for amateurs) does not happen too often per nine holes of golf. You must leave your ego in the car and make the best decisions based on what information you have at that time. Simple mistakes on your approach shot can easily lead to bogeys and doubles.

6) When is Any Part of the Green Considered a Success?

There are some times when you have a terrible angle, or you’re in the rough/a fairway bunker. These are times when you must accept “anywhere on the green.”

Left in these situations, some players immediatly think to try and pull off the “miracle” shot, and wonder why they compound mistakes during a round. Learn to recognize if you should be happy with anywhere on the green, or the best place to miss the ball for the easiest up and down.

Think of Ben Hogan at Augusta on No. 11; he said that if you see him on that green in regulation then you know he missed the shot. He decided that short right was better than even trying to hit the green… sometimes you must do this too. But for now analyze your situation and make the best choice possible. When in doubt, eliminate the big numbers!

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