The “release” involves the swing of the club head around the hands in the forward swing. We may sense that the uncocking of the wrists, which permits the release, originates in the trailing or right hand, but for good ball-strikers it is always accompanied by a straightening of that arm. The bending and straightening of the arm is a powerful action used by humans in countless everyday tasks and in sports by the fighter to punch, by the hitter to hit in baseball, and by the pitcher and quarterback to throw in baseball and football, to name a few.

There are two essential characteristics of a proper hitting action:

  1. The hitting arm straightens to full extension.
  2. Full extension is reached past/after contact or separation.

This is why we are instructed in sports to continue punching/hitting/throwing through, not simply to, the object/ball. Golf is no exception, as a proper release sees the hitting arm continue extending past the ball in any swing, full or short, where the arm has bent or cocked to any degree in the backswing. Except for the collision with the ball and ground, the club head will continue accelerating until full extension is reached. Far ahead of his time, Ben Hogan wrote that the club head should reach maximum speed after impact.

This is the most essential element of the swing that is lacking among poor ball-strikers, and IT affects the efficiency of the strike in the following three ways:

  1. Allows the golfer to produce the speed/power that he or she is physically capable of.
  2. Allows the golfer to return the club face square to the path of the swing.
  3. Allows the golfer to strike the ball with a descending attack angle just before the club head reaches the bottom/low point of its arc.

As the release unfolds in-step with the straightening of the trail arm, the low point/bottom of the club-head arc will occur just prior to the point where the arm reaches full extension or is no longer straightening, dependent upon ball position. Thus, full extension must be reached sufficiently past the ball to achieve a descending attack angle. “Hitting down on the ball,” as it’s know, in most situations where the ball lies on the ground/turf, is a requirement for contacting the ball on the “sweet spot” of the club face before excessive interaction between the club head and ground/turf can occur that can rob distance-controlling speed and spin-producing friction. Expressed another popular way, only by hitting past the ball can a golfer “compress” the ball.

It is not uncommon to hear a golfer complain that he “gave it too much right hand.” In the sense that a proper hitting action involves fully extending the hitting arm, it is not possible to hit too hard with the right/trail arm/hand. Hogan wrote that on a normal full swing, you should hit as hard as you can with the right hand. He said he wished he had three right hands! The error is in completing the hitting action too early, or worse, ceasing the hitting action altogether before impact (care for some hot sauce with that “chicken wing”?).

Adrian-Gonzalez-swing

An example of the proper hitting action, as seen in baseball by MLB player Adrian Gonzalez. The trail arm straightens from a cocked position before impact to a fully extended position past impact.

Cam-Newton-throwing

A proper throwing motion, shown here by NFL quarterback Cam Newton, features the same two essential characteristics as a proper hitting action.

Rory-McIlroy-swing

Seen from down-the-line of flight, PGA Tour star Rory McIlroy exhibits the proper hitting action.

Na-Yeon-Choi-swing

Seen face-on, LPGA Tour player Na Yeon Choi exhibits the proper hitting action.

A simple practice drill for helping to acquire the skill of hitting past the ball can be performed using only the trail arm with a laser pointer or flashlight held in the hand. Address a ball normally with your lead arm off to your side, your trail wrist in-line with a point just behind the ball, and the light pointing there. Cock the trail arm back, simulating the backswing. The point of light should always follow the swing-target line on the ground, indicating the proper direction of the swing. Simulate the forward swing by straightening the trail arm fully and past the ball. There should be no independent hand/wrist bending or twisting in this exercise. When the trail arm has fully extended, the light point will stop. That point should be approximately 3 inches past the back of the ball, for any ball position.

I anticipate some of the reactions to be along these lines:

  • What about the lead/left arm/hand? Should it not play an active role?
  • Isn’t the body pivot an important component of the release?

In response, yes, actively use the left if you like. Hogan said that hitting hard with the right hand was only half of the story, and that you must hit as hard with the left as with the right. Skilled golfers use every muscle in their body in swinging the club to strike the ball. Just make sure that your trail arm continues hitting past the ball.

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Based in Scottsdale, Arizona, Todd Dugan provides a video swing analysis service to groups hosting golf tournaments and is available for private lessons as an independent contractor .

* PGA Certified Instructor
* Teaching professionally since 1993

CONTACT: ToddDugan@PGA.com

vimeo.com/channels/todddugangolf

25 COMMENTS

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  1. Seems to be some contradiction in this article.
    Full paragraph #2, sentence #2, says: “…a proper release sees the hitting arm continue extending past the ball in any swing, full or short, where the arm has bent or cocked to any degree in the backswing.”
    This is confirmed in the paragraph after the 3 points, in sentence #2: “…full extension must be reached sufficiently past the ball to achieve a descending attack angle.”
    These statements are the opposite of what you assert in the caption to the illustration of batter Adrian Gonzalez, where you state: “The trail arm straightens from a cocked position before impact to a fully extended position past impact.”
    The contradiction is in the word “before.” This should read “after” to be consistent with your main assertion (unless I’m seriously misunderstanding something).

    • No contradiction! You will understand the consistence of meanings if you read the whole sentence as below: “The trail arm straightens from {a cocked position before impact} to {a fully extended position past impact}. Kindly note that both “before” and “past” here refer to the time when the trail hand is “cocked” or “fully extended” respectively. The “ before” impact here does not refer to the time when the trail arm is straighten.

  2. The average golfer doesn’t need more right hand. Why doesn’t golfwrx post a study showing muscle tension in the extremities compared to the core during the swing. You can bet the farm that for 95% of golfers the right arm would have the most tension because of this “instinctive” action to hit with the dominant arm/side. That’s probably the root cause of most golfing issues. Instinct isn’t always the best thing and just because you see something in a picture doesn’t mean it happened for the reason you think it did. The right arm extension primarily happens just because it is attached via fingers to the club and the club is moving away from the right side of the body in the last part of the swing.

    • Tim …. very astute observations…. and to tell the average golfer to continue with a “hit-release” instinct through impact is futile because it’s likely the hips have blocked, the shoulders have stalled and the lead arm holding the top of the club has fizzled out due to lack of kinetic chain momentum … ergo a wrist flipping action ensues!
      Trying to encourage the average golfer to apply more rear/right arm through impact is like trying to remedy the failure of the body parts to generate momentum by rotating… instead of blocking.
      It’s all in the hips …. and the hips don’t lie ….!

  3. It’s refreshing to hear someone talk about the importance of the right arm but unfortunately all of this info is not entirely accurate. Golf research from Dr Ferdinands has evaluated right arm extension contribution to club head speed and it is negligible. There is some contribution but other right arm factors are more important. Sometimes extension occurs after impact (one of your pics show that) so it is a perception that is real but once the ball leaves the club we have no influence over ball flight. The right arm is critical in the golf swing but it is through addiction not extension.

    • So how do you reconcile that with all the adherents to the SA (Single-Axis) swing which promotes huge right arm action to “hammer” the ball through Impact?
      Could you provide a link to Dr. Ferdinands’ research… thanks.

    • Contribution to clubhead speed is just one of three ways, presented in the article, that trail arm extension past the ball affects the efficiency of the strike. There is no great ball-striker who does not exhibit this trait.

  4. Look at the picture of the golfer at impact at the. Start if the article. His body has stalled with little body rotation which means his body rotation occurs past impact. What good is body rotation past impact? This method can only work with a release that has he clubface rotating from very open to shut through the ball position at best. The release needs to be matched to body rotation. When the body stalls as in the above pic, the player has to throw his hands and clubhead at the ball and hope for the best.

  5. WOW!!!! Talk about “intuitive physics” based on feedback “feel”. All these old dog “teachers” attempt to back up their swing beliefs with the feelings of the beloved pro heroes who wrote golfswing “bible” books. “They know what they are talking about because they were great pro golfers!”
    Many years ago I called one of these veteran pro-teacher types who had his name put on a semi-biomechanical golf magazine article and I questioned him about what was written on his behalf. Finally, the exasperated celebrity teacher blurted out: — “I know what I feel !!! …. and that was that !!!
    ————————–
    Everything in this article are unverifiable anecdotal assertions with no scientific analysis nor verification whatsoever …… it’s all “I see therefore I know”… and my video pictures tell me so ….! Nope …!! But it all doesn’t matter because golfers are gullible (Penick – Little Red Book, page 74)… believe it !!!

    • If I had a nickle for every contradictory piece of golf advice out there I could buy that membership at the local country club with a pool.

      I’m thinking any advice is good, since my swing remains contradictory. I’ll be trying this out at the range tomorrow morning.

      • Depend on your “feeel” and you can’t go wrong because feeel is everything in your golfswing…. particularly that sweet buttery orgasmic feeel of impact…. the reward every aspiring golffer seeks ….. that plus fuun …. and don’t practice too much on the range because practice is deleterious and expensive … just go for it on the golf course … !

    • You said, “Everything in this article are unverifiable anecdotal assertions”. That the trail arms extends past the ball in the swings of all great ball-strikers, and in countless other sports, is easily verified by video analysis. This article illustrates several examples. In the swings of average golfers, the trail arm often straightens at or before impact. In the swings of poor golfers, the trail arm often does not fully extend at all. Make of that what you will, but the article does make clear the implications.

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