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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

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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Let’s Talk Gear: Frequency and Shaft CPM

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When it comes to fine tuning a golf shaft and matching clubs within a set, frequency and CPM play a critical role in build quality and making sure what you were fit for is what gets built for you.

This video explains the purpose of a frequency machine, as well as how the information it gives us relates to both building and fitting your clubs.

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