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

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

WATCH: How to stop swaying during your golf swing

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In this video, I share with you how to stop swaying for good. I demonstrate how to use PNF (proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation) to create the correct movements in your backswing. This video is part of a series on PNF drills.

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A shockingly simple drill to hit the golf ball farther

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One of the biggest requests I get on the lesson tee is for more distance. Everyone wants to hit the golf ball farther. Obviously. That being said, there’s many things that go into producing distance, such as…

  • Swing Length — how long is the swing or how long does the club stay in the air before hitting the ball?
  • Swing Width — are you at full extension at during the swing or do you get soft arms?
  • Impact Point — the horizontal and vertical point of contact that influences gear effect, launch, and spin rate.
  • Spin Rate — how much backspin does the ball have?
  • Height — how high is the ball in the air?
  • Launch Angle — what is the angle of the ball off the face during impact?
  • Ball Speed — how fast does the ball leave the blade?

But one thing remains true: if you want more distance, then you must swing faster with all of the above being maximized for your current swing speed. So how do you create more speed? Simple — set up the drill as shown below.

Use between 6-to-10 balls and swing 100 percent all out with no regard for where the ball lands. Then repeat the drill and make your normal speed swing and you will find that your clubhead speed will slightly increase. Do this drill 5 to 10 times per practice session and you will train yourself to swing faster.

However, it’s up to you to figure out how fast you can swing yet maximize the qualities listed above so you can maintain consistent contact.

Remember, you don’t have to get complex to solve your distance problem. Try this first and see what happens!

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Your Body Is Your Most Important Piece Of Equipment; It’s Time For An Upgrade

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Clubs, balls, shoes, mental training, lessons. Golfers are always searching for the next thing that is going to transform their game. If a product has promise, golfers are like addicts; they must have it… regardless of the price. What’s usually ignored, however, is the most important piece of equipment for all golfers: their body, and how their physical conditioning pertains to golf.

Everything becomes easier by getting in better “golf shape.” You will likely hit the ball farther, have better energy and focus, fewer aches and pains, improved ability to actually implement swing changes and the durability to practice more.

When trying to improve your physical conditioning for golf, it would shortsighted not to mention the following requirements:

  1. Discipline: There will be times you don’t want to train, but should.
  2. Patience: Small, incremental progress adds up to big improvement over time.
  3. A Path: Make sure you use your time and effort efficiently by having a training plan that matches your goals.

If you can adopt these principles, I am confident you will be very happy with the return — even more so than the latest driver, putter or practice aid.

I like to compare having a well functioning body to a painter’s blank canvas. By ensuring you have adequate coordination, motor control, mobility, stability, strength and speed, you have the basic tools necessary for a high-performance golf swing. Of course, you will still need to develop a functional technique and specific skill level that matches your goals. On the flip side, if you are deficient in these areas, you are like a dirty canvas; your options are limited and you will need to make compensations to achieve anything close to the desired outcome. In simpler terms, movements that are universally desirable in the golf swing may be very difficult or impossible for you based on your current physical state.

Earlier, I mentioned the term “appropriate training,” and now I am going to discuss one of the ways to identify what this means for you as a golfer trying to use physical training to support a better golf game. The TPI (Titleist Performance Institute) Movement Screen is a great start for everyone. It is a combination of 16 exercises that are used to assess your current movement capabilities, identify limitations and provide you with your “Body-Swing” connection. The “Body-Swing” connection is a term coined by TPI that illustrates the link between physical deficiencies and potential swing tendencies based on its “Big 12” model. The Big 12 swing characteristics that TPI has identified are as follows:

  1. S-Posture
  2. C-Posture
  3. Loss of Posture
  4. Flat Shoulder Plane
  5. Early Extension
  6. Over The Top
  7. Sway
  8. Slide
  9. Hanging Back
  10. Reverse Spine Angle
  11. Casting
  12. Chicken Winging

It’s important to note these as tendencies rather than flaws, as great ball strikers have demonstrated some of them. When done excessively, they make high functioning swings more difficult and may make potential injury more likely. Rather than going through all 16 screening exercises (which would be a very long read), I have selected five that I feel provide a lot of useful information. They can often broadly differentiate the playing level of golfers.

1. Static Setup Posture

There is a lot of debate in golf instruction about what is the correct way to assume posture for the golf swing. Some prefer more rounded shoulders akin to what was common in years gone by: Jack and Arnie being good examples. Others prefer a more extended thoracic spine (less curved upper back): Rory McIlroy and Adam Scott are good examples. I’m not a golf instructor and clearly both types can hit great golf shots. I am more concerned with the lumbar spine (the lower back, which doesn’t seem to get as much attention when the setup is being discussed).

Note the difference between the spinal curvatures of Jack and Rory. I’m OK with either as long as the lower back is in a biomechanically sound position (explained in video).

An overly extended or arched lower back (which I demonstrate in the video) creates too large a space between the alignment rod and my lower back. This is a common issue I see, and it can lead to a lack of pelvis rotation, a lack of power due to the inability to effectively use the glutes and abdominal muscles and lower back discomfort. Cueing a slight posterior tilt (tucking the tailbone underneath you) often makes a noticeable difference in pelvis mobility, power, and comfort.

 2. Pelvic Rotation

Pelvic rotation is essential for X-factor stretch, the ability to increase the amount of separation between the pelvis and torso during transition (moving from the backswing into the downswing). This is often referred to as starting the downswing with the lower body/hips (while the torso is still rotating away from the target or is paused at the end of the backswing). It is critical for effective sequencing and power production. Increasing the separation between your pelvis and torso on the downswing increases what is known as the “stretch-shortening cycle” of your trunk and torso muscles, which is like adding more stretch to an elastic band and then releasing it. If you cannot separate pelvic rotation and torso rotation, it will be extremely difficult to be a good golfer.

In the video below, watch how Rickie Fowler’s pelvis rotates toward the target independently of his torso. This increases the elastic energy stored in his muscles and tendons, allowing for big power production.

 3. Lower Quarter Rotation

The Lower Quarter Rotation Test shares some similarities to the Pelvic Rotation Test, but one key difference is that it doesn’t require nearly as much motor control. Many people fail the pelvic rotation test not because of a mobility limitation, but because they can’t control the different segments of the their body and perform the action they want (motor control issue). The Lower Quarter Rotation Test, on the other hand, does not require anywhere near as much control and therefore looks more directly at the internal and external rotation mobility of the lower body. People who struggle with this test are more likely to sway, slide and have reverse spine angle.

DJ Top of backswing.jpg

I’m confident Dustin Johnson would do OK on the Lower Quarter Rotation test. Look at how well he can turn into his right hip.

 4. Seated Thoracic Rotation

This one usually resonates with golfers, as “getting a full shoulder turn” is something that golf media and players like to talk to about regularly. I think most people understand the concept of a sufficient shoulder turn being important for creating power. Restricted thoracic spine rotation can stem from a few different causes. A common one is excessive thoracic flexion (rounder upper back). To test this for yourself: 1) try the test in the video hunched over and 2) with your spine as long as possible. You should notice you can rotate farther when you sit extended.

5. 90/90 External Shoulder Rotation  

Many popular golf instruction pages on social media talk about the importance of shallowing the shaft in transition and trail arm external shoulder rotation. I understand the reasoning for this in terms of swing technique, but something that needs to be taken into consideration is whether golfers actually have the ability to externally rotate their shoulders. This is often not the case. Two interesting trends I have noticed with golfers and external shoulder rotation:

  1. A larger percentage of U.S. golfers compared to Irish golfers (the two countries I have worked in) tend to have much more trail arm external rotation available. This is mainly due to throwing baseballs and footballs in their youth, which doesn’t happen in Ireland.
  2. Shoulder external rotation, shoulder flexion, and thoracic extension really seem to reduce as golfers get older compared to other movements. Please take note of this and put some exercises into your routine that promote mobility and stability in the thoracic spine and scapula, as these are the foundation for sound shoulder mechanics. Thoracic extensions on a foam roller, relaxed hanging from a pull-up bar and wall slides with external rotation are some exercises I like to use.
MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Toronto Blue Jays

I think this pitcher would have enough external shoulder rotation in his golf swing.

I hope this article gave you some more understanding of how learning about your body and then working on its limitations might be beneficial for your golf game. If you have questions about the TPI Movement Screen or are interested in an online evaluation, please feel free to e-mail me.

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