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Release with a “hit” to improve your golf swing

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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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As an independent contractor based in Scottsdale, Arizona, Todd Dugan provides video swing analysis as a player gift to groups hosting golf tournaments and also is available for private instruction. * PGA Certified Instructor * Teaching professionally since 1993 CONTACT: ToddDugan@PGA.com vimeo.com/channels/todddugangolf

15 Comments

15 Comments

  1. Todd Dugan

    May 16, 2017 at 3:55 pm

    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.

  2. Edge of Lean

    May 15, 2017 at 6:10 pm

    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).

    • RJH

      May 16, 2017 at 10:05 am

      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.

  3. Tim

    May 15, 2017 at 12:37 pm

    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.

    • Todd Dugan

      May 16, 2017 at 3:33 pm

      The trail arm extends to full extension past the point of separation in ALL sports that feature a hitting or throwing motion. Coincidence?

  4. H

    May 15, 2017 at 11:12 am

    “It is a tale. Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing.”

  5. Tony Luczak

    May 15, 2017 at 10:54 am

    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.

    • Todd Dugan

      May 16, 2017 at 3:39 pm

      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.

  6. Ray Bennett

    May 15, 2017 at 10:32 am

    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.

    • mctrees02

      May 15, 2017 at 11:57 am

      I assume you’re referring to the picture of Rory hitting driver at the top of this article. Have you never watched Rory’s swing before?

    • mctrees02

      May 15, 2017 at 11:57 am

      I think you’re referring to the picture of Rory at the top of this article. Have you never watched his swing before?

      • Ray Bennett

        May 15, 2017 at 7:06 pm

        Rory can swing any old way because he is an expert with 10,000+ hours of deep practice under his belt. This article targets the average golfer not the elite player, the purpose being to articulate concepts.

  7. Double Mocha Man

    May 14, 2017 at 9:02 pm

    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.

  8. Double Mocha Man

    May 14, 2017 at 6:41 pm

    Yes.

  9. James Stephens

    May 14, 2017 at 5:37 pm

    No.

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Instruction

Self-discovery: Why golf lessons aren’t helping you improve

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Of all the things I teach or have taught in golf, I think this is the most important: It’s not what we cover in a lesson, it’s what you discover. 

Some years ago, I had a student in golf school for a few days. She was topping every single shot. Zero were airborne. I explained that she was opening her body and moving forward before her arms and club were coming down. “Late” we call it. I had her feel like her arms were coming down first and her body was staying behind, a common correction for late tops. Bingo! Every ball went up into the air. She was ecstatic.

Some time later, she called and said she was topping every shot. She scheduled a lesson. She topped every shot. I asked her why she was topping the ball. “I think I’m picking up my head,” she said to my look of utter disbelief!

I had another student who was shanking the ball. At least 3 out of 5 came off the hosel with his wedges. I explained that his golf club was pointed seriously left at the top of his backswing. It was positioned well OUTSIDE his hands, which caused it to come down too wide and swing OUTSIDE his hands into impact. This is a really common cause of shanking. We were able to get the club more down the line at the top and come down a bit narrower and more inside the ball. No shanks… not a one!  He called me sometime later. The shanks had returned. You get the rest. When I asked what was causing him to shank, he told me “I get too quick.”

If you are hitting the golf ball better during a golf lesson, you have proven to yourself that you CAN do it. But what comes after the lesson is out of a teacher’s hands. It’s as simple as that. I cannot control what you do after you leave my lesson tee. Now, if you are NOT hitting the ball better during a lesson or don’t understand why you’re not hitting it better, I will take the blame. And…you do not have to compensate me for my time. That is the extent to which I’ll go to display my commitment and accept my responsibility. What we as teachers ask is the same level of commitment from the learners.

Improving at golf is a two-way street. My way is making the correct diagnosis and offering you a personalized correction, possibly several of them. Pick the ONE that works for you. What is your way on the street? Well, here are a few thoughts on that:

  • If you are taking a lesson at 10 a.m. with a tee time at 11 a.m. and you’re playing a $20 Nassau with your buddies, you pretty much wasted your time and money.
  • If the only time you hit balls is to warm up for your round, you have to be realistic about your results.
  • If you are expecting 250-yard drives with an 85 mph club head speed, well… let’s get real.
  • If you “fake it” during a lesson, you’re not going to realize any lasting improvement. When the teacher asks if you understand or can feel what’s being explained and you say yes when in fact you DO NOT understand, you’re giving misleading feedback and hurting only yourself. Speak up!

Here’s a piece of advise I have NEVER seen fail. If you don’t get it during the lesson, there is no chance you’ll get it later. It’s not enough to just hit it better; you have to fully understand WHY you hit it better. Or if you miss, WHY you missed.

I have a rule I follow when conducting a golf lesson. After I explain the diagnosis and offer the correction, I’ll usually get some better results. So I continue to offer that advice swing after swing. But at some point in the lesson, I say NOTHING. Typically, before long the old ball flight returns and I wait– THREE SWINGS. If the student was a slicer and slices THREE IN A ROW, then it’s time for me to step in again. I have to allow for self discovery at some point. You have to wean yourself off my guidance and internalize the corrections. You have to FEEL IT.

When you can say, “If the ball did this then I know I did that” you are likely getting it. There is always an individual cause and effect you need to understand in order to go off by yourself and continue self improvement. If you hit a better shot but do not know why, please tell your teacher. What did I do? That way you’re playing to learn, not simply learning to play.

A golf lesson is a guidance, not an hour of how to do this or that. The teacher is trying to get you to discover what YOU need to feel to get more desirable outcomes. If all you’re getting out of it is “how,” you are not likely to stay “fixed.” Remember this: It’s not what we cover in the lesson; it’s what you discover!

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Instruction

Jumping for Distance (Part 2): The One-Foot Jump

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In Part 1, I wrote about how I think this concept of jumping up with both feet for more power may have come about in part due to misinterpretation of still photography and force plate data, self-propagation, and a possible case of correlation vs causation. I also covered reasoning why these players are often airborne, and that can be from flawed setups that include overly wide stances and/or lead foot positions that are too closed at setup or a re-planted lead foot that ends up too closed during the downswing.

In Part 2, let’s look at what I feel is a better alternative, the one foot jump. To me, it’s safer, it doesn’t complicate ball striking as much, and it can still generate huge amounts of vertical ground force.

First, set up with an appropriate stance width. I like to determine how wide to stand based on the length of your lower legs. If you go to your finish position and stand on your lead leg and let your trail leg dangle down so your knees are parallel, your lower trail leg should extend only as far back as it will go while being up on the tip of your trail toe. If you roll that trail foot back down to the ground, viola, you’ll have a stance width that’s wide enough to be “athletic” and stable but not so wide you lose balance when swinging. You can go a little wider than this, but not much.

To contrast, the stance below would be too wide.

Jumping off the ground can be caused by too wide of a stance and lead foot position that is too closed at setup

Second, make sure your lead foot is open sufficiently at address. I’ve previously outlined how to do both these first two points in this article.

Third, whether you shift your weight to your trail foot or keep a more centered weight type feeling in the backswing, when you shift your weight to your lead foot, be careful of the Bubba replant, and then push up with that lead leg to push your lead shoulder up. This is the one-foot “jump” and it will take advantage of parametric acceleration (read more about that here).

But also at the same time, shift your lower spine towards the target.

From a face-on viewpoint, this can look like back bend, but in 3D space it’s side bend. It kind of feels like you are crunching the trail side of your mid-section, or maybe just bending over to the side to pick up a suitcase, for example. This move helps lower your trail shoulder, which brings down the club (whereas this is more difficult to do if you try to two-foot jump with your trail leg). It also helps you to keep from getting airborne off your lead foot. Further it doesn’t change your low point (by not changing the relative position of the C7 vertebrae in its general orb in space) and complicate ball striking like a two-foot jump does.

At this point, the club releases and you can stand up out of the shot (you don’t need to transition in to any sort of dangerous back bend) in balance on your lead foot having generates tons of vertical ground force without having jumped off the ground or putting yourself at risk for injury.

“Movember” mustache… not required!

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Move Your Legs Like the Legends: The Key to the Snead Squat

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It’s important not to overdo the “Sam Snead squat.” Understanding the subtle leg movements of the game’s greats is key to making your practice purposeful and making real improvement.

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