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:
- The hitting arm straightens to full extension.
- 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:
- Allows the golfer to produce the speed/power that he or she is physically capable of.
- Allows the golfer to return the club face square to the path of the swing.
- 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”?).
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.
A proper throwing motion, shown here by NFL quarterback Cam Newton, features the same two essential characteristics as a proper hitting action.
Seen from down-the-line of flight, PGA Tour star Rory McIlroy exhibits the proper hitting action.
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.