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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

Should you strive for a flatter transition in your golf swing?

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A lot has been said recently regarding flattening the transition in the downswing. As a teacher for many years, I totally agree that this is clearly what highly skilled players do. Sasho Mackenzie, the great biomechanist from Canada, explains that when the center of mass of the golf club gets UNDER the hand path coming down, we get a much easier squaring of the club face.

There is, however, a difference in the players we see making this move and average amateur golfers. Nothing in the golf swing happens in a vacuum, so to speak. That is, every move has to complement the other moves and balance the equation. So when we see Sergio “laying the club down” (flatten) in transition, it complements or is in sync with the “delivery” he has into impact.

Sergio has Hogan-esque “lag” in his downswing. That is, his wrists stay cocked very late as he approaches impact. with a great deal of forward shaft lean. While this may be characteristic of all great ball strikers, his “flat” action is more pronounced than most. He lays the club down, downcocks his wrists and voila, strikes it solid.

The point here is when the shaft is laid off and flattened in transition, it cannot then be released early. Those who cast, or release early from a laid off transition are staring shanks right in the face, and feeling heel hits with the driver. The reason is the club is being cast out, not down when it is coming in on a more horizontal plane. When a professional flattens it, they then tighten the delivery with hands in and a narrowed arc into impact. This is a huge distinction, and one I feel is little understood. If you are working on laying it down, but are used to an early release, you may accomplish the former, but are asking for trouble on the latter. It has to be released later and tighter after the transition to work.

Another common error I see quite often is the hand path issue. Here I’m referring to to how far from the body the hands move on the down swing. If you are a player who transition steep (too vertical), your miss is very likely the toe of the club. As a result you develop a habit of sending your hands out and away from your center (the distal and proximal, in biomechanist terminology) to compensate for the toe hit and in an attempt to find the center of the face. That swing habit is common and will, at times, compensate for the steep transition.  So you can see why the club will be more likely to hit the heel if it is delivered on a more horizontal plane.

The point here is this: it’s the same theme that I have seen and written about for many years:  Golf swing corrections, if that be your goal, are rarely singular; the come in pairs.  And the reason it can be frustrating is because we have develop two new feelings, not one. Many golfers abandon the effort because the accomplish one without the other.

If, for example, you decide your transition is far too steep, and you flatten it but then cast the club (remember now OUT not DOWN) and hit the heel of the club or shank a wedge, you may say: “Hey, that’s just not for me; or that was WORSE, not better”. And you’d be right, the RESULT is likely to be worse- but maybe not the effort.  If you are committed to a swing change, it rarely comes with a singular correction.

Be sure you know what you’re in for when working on laying the club down ala Sergio, or Furyk, or Ryan Moore, when you are told you’re too steep starting down.  My advice would be to try and work on one thing at at time.  For this particular correction, I have my students ht balls on a sidehill, above the feet lie. This can orient you to a more horizontal swing feeling and then an only then can start to work on keeping the hands, arms and body connected (the “inside moving the outside”) for the completion of the swing change.

One final note on this: I want to repeat that any change is optional based on your current ball striking, not what your video looks like. Phil Mickelson is one of the best players EVER, and his swing starts down as steeply as any club golfer, and he swings his hand path out away from him as a result every time. Let me me ask this question: who among us would change the swing of a 44-time champion and five-major winner on the PGA Tour? Whatever works…

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Instruction

How-to Series: How to swing like a pro — golf swing transition

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How To Series: Transition

Now it’s time to focus on the transition—this part is probably the most important! Be meticulous in your practice. Start slowly and make sure you’re doing it properly before you speed things up. Get this right and you’ll see that it helps with power, too!

More info on hollow body and core movements: Core Movements – How the Legends Move Their Middle

This new series is all about helping you improve your golf swing quickly. We’re going to break the swing down into its component parts and give you specific practice direction—master these key elements of the swing and you’ll see improvement fast!

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Tip of the week: Dealing with downhill-sidehill lies

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In this week’s tip, Top 100 teacher Tom Stickney shows you how to play from downhill-sidehill lies and avoid a shot that flies well right of target.

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