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Clark: “Most golfers cannot release the club too soon”

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Golfers hear a lot about release, but I honestly believe that most people do not have a good understanding of what it actually means. Here’s a working working definition of the release as I teach it:

The unhinging of the wrists and the rotation of the forearms in the downswing.

Here’s why: At some point during the swing the wrists cock and the forearms rotate away from the ball. Well, it stands to reason that during the downswing you have to unhinge the wrists and reverse the rotation of the forearms. When and how this is done is a matter of individual style and preference, but it MUST be done. More closely, if you look at the left arm and golf club as you stand at address it is more or less a straight line; but at the top of the swing that 180 degree angle changes to, in many cases, 90 degrees.  You cannot get to the bottom of the golf ball unless the 180 degree straight line relationship is returned (generally speaking). Next, if you look at the club face at address it should be square to the target; but at the top of the swing, it is rotated 90 degrees OPEN to the target. For the most part, you cannot hit the golf ball squarely unless the face of the club is returned to a square position.

How and when to do this depends on several factors in your swing. So when exactly do you unhinge the wrists?

  • Swing path: In-to-out swings have to release the club a little later and out-to-in swings have to release the club a little sooner. Why? Because in-to-out swings get to the bottom of the arc earlier than outside in. I always chuckle when I hear “I come over it and I cast.”  My response is, “you better!”
  • Swing plane: Flatter swings typically have to release the club later and upright swings have to release the club a little sooner. Why? Because flatter, wider arcs (into the ball) bottom out sooner than upright swings.
  • Pivot: The more centered your pivots (less movement off the ball), the earlier you have to release the club. Players with bigger moves off the ball in the backswing release the club a little later. Why? Because the centered pivot narrowns the swing arc and moves the bottom more forward; and the move to the right (for right-handed golfers) in the backswing moves the bottom further back.

Every one of us has to unhinge the wrists and rotate the forearms back into the ball. But the sequence of this is a matter of your swing style preference. But the “line up” of the left arm and golf club and the squaring of the face is not a preference, it is a principle of impact. Also the claim that “holding the angle” or ‘lagging” the club creates distance is simply not supported by any scientific evidence. Jason Zuback is one of the longest hitters of a golf ball ever and his release point is much earlier than than Sergio Garcia’s. Jamie Sadlowski has a very late release but not as much for power as it fits his swing style, which has considerable late, increased axis tilt (upper body tilted back) in his downswing. Creating an angle and narrowing the swing arc may be essential for making a descending blow at the right place, but it does not, in and of itself, create speed.

So take a good look at your misses:  late skulls, tops, big slices?  Think of a an earlier release. Big hooks, fats”  Think of delaying it a bit, or think about getting the body through earlier on the downswing.  It is my considered opinion that most golfers cannot release the club too soon as long as they are moving to the left side, and the handle of the club does not stall coming down. I make this claim after 35,000 up-close-and-personal observations called “golf lessons.”  And those of you who are regular followers of my teaching know that I teach EVERONE individually. I do not promote an early or a late release; just the right release FOR YOU.

As always, feel free to send a swing video to my Facebook page and I will do my best to give you my feedback.

Click here for more discussion in the “Instruction & Academy” forum. 

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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 Marco Island Marriott in Naples, Fla.. He can be reached at dennisclarkgolf@gmail.com

21 Comments

21 Comments

  1. Greg V

    Dec 30, 2014 at 10:30 am

    Jack Nicklaus once stated that it was impossible to release the club too early if his legs were working correctly.

    Harry Vardon believed that he was throwing the clubhead back through the ball with his right thumb and forefinger.

    Those two guys were pretty good at hitting a golf ball. That would be 9 Open Championships and 5 US Opens among them.

  2. mark

    Dec 2, 2014 at 2:17 am

    Didn’t Mike Austin say that back in about 1950?

  3. Todd

    Sep 11, 2014 at 7:52 pm

    You can rotate the clubface around the sweetspot without bending the wrists. And you can bend the wrists without rotating the clubface. So, lining up the shaft with the left arm is not a requirement to square the clubface at impact. Almost all pros exhibit a shaft which is behind the left arm at impact. Besides all this, if the attack angle is less than optimally descending, then the release has occurred too early.

  4. J. Evans

    Jun 25, 2014 at 10:12 am

    Hello Dennis,

    For any given golfer, is the release point the same for all clubs (full shots only, not specialty shots) wedge to driver, OR, is there a different release point for full wedges, vs, irons, vs hybrids, vs woods, thanks.

  5. Dave

    Jul 21, 2013 at 12:49 pm

    Like this but it doesn’t tell you HOW to release the club.

  6. Scott

    Apr 25, 2013 at 4:46 pm

    This has changed my golf game. Fantastic article

  7. Caleb Hoshiyama

    Feb 5, 2013 at 5:12 pm

    How do you measure Spin Loft? I know Trackman measures angle of attack; so if my angle of attack on my driver is 4 degrees (I think ideal?) and my driver is a 9 degree (true measurement, not stamped), my SL would be 5 degrees? I am missing something here?

    • Alex

      Dec 13, 2014 at 1:58 am

      SL is the difference between dynamic loft and AoA. Not your club head’s measured loft.

      You need to know what your dynamic loft is in order to calculate spin loft.

  8. jesse

    Dec 20, 2012 at 1:01 am

    Dennis, your Oct. 24th @ 4:10PM answer was somewhat revealing, but you were very unclear in mentioning the D Plane & the “lower the SL”, dynamic loft (lower the SL). This is very unclear and confusing. Just exactly what are you trying to arrive at when you talk about the “dynamic loft”. I guess you could say the golf swing is dynamic, but what does that have to do with ball flight? Too many moving parts here.

    • Dennis Clark

      Dec 26, 2012 at 6:41 pm

      Dynamic loft is the actual impact loft as opposed to the manufacturer loft. SL is SPIN LOFT and when it is lower, the golf is MORE compressed )SL is dyamic loft MINUS attack angle) My top guys get their driver spin loft down to 10-11 degrees, which is REALLY solid. It’s a measure of compression. Thx. DC

  9. ryebread

    Nov 8, 2012 at 1:13 pm

    I like the article and tend to agree. The question that I don’t see answered is the release point trigger — particularly for those fighting the dreaded slice.

  10. Dustin

    Nov 8, 2012 at 11:06 am

    Dennis,

    Can’t agree more. Tons of good info coming out of Michael Jacobs/Brian Manzella etc. regarding the release. For so long most of us including myself have tried to emulate the “lag” look and trying to delay the release when in effect, actually sends the clubhead out REDUCING lag. Trying to line that club up as soon as possible is more powerful, and easier to square the club. Trying to take the lag out, actually visually makes it look like there is more lag! Great article, and keep up the good work coming out of science not pictures and video!

  11. joe

    Oct 31, 2012 at 11:40 pm

    Also dennis, while your article is written in simple terms, i think it is beyond the comprehension of those not “in the know” about the golf swing.

    • Blanco

      Nov 7, 2012 at 3:14 am

      I disagree. The fact that he defines release in the beginning of the piece makes this more concise and understandable than most articles. The article is about release, not swing plane; I find it’s easy to get off-topic in an instructional article… where he could have gone into explanation about swing plane and shot shape (open face/in-to-out=draw, etc.), he chose to keep this simple. When learning golf my biggest knock on teachers is that they fail to achieve understanding of key concepts before expanding on them. Great article.

  12. joe

    Oct 31, 2012 at 11:34 pm

    Ok dennis, you won me over with this article. Is it possible to hit a fade with an in to out swing? I cannot hit a fade for the life of me with my release. Hitting right to left and around trees right to left is a breeze. 1 in 20 shots i can hit a fade but it is obviously not consistent in fading. If i have to hit a dogleg or around a tree left to right, im in trouble.

    • Nathan W

      Jan 9, 2013 at 2:49 pm

      I use to play an outside to drop inside swing. You can hit a fade from it, but it can be difficult. I use to drop my head shoulders and everything to prevent being out front. I would then hold my hands off to hit a push fade. I wouldn’t suggest this way by any means. I couldn’t suggest a way to hit a fade w/o truely seeing your swing.

    • Greg V

      Dec 30, 2014 at 10:36 am

      To hit a fade, try aiming to the left, then holding off your release a bit while you rotate hard to your left.

      It really helps if you keep your right side “high” through the shot.

      You still hit from the inside, but because your target line shifts to the left, and you hold off your release, your actual path to your intended target will be left of the intended target with an open face.

      Also, it is very important that your “eye line” is left of your intended target line.

    • christian

      Jan 5, 2015 at 11:21 pm

      If hitting driver from the tee-box, just tee the ball really low. This almost automatically gives me a fade.

  13. dennis

    Oct 24, 2012 at 4:10 pm

    Thx for reply; If you read Paul Wood, Steven Nesbitt, Muira et al, the scientists (physicists, biomechanists etc) who reseach this for a living, my report is based on THEIR findings, It is not an assumption that I related based on lack of detail. When I am in search of knowlegede in a field outside mine, I rely on what the SCIENTIFIC community has to say on the subject, I find it more reliable than internet blogs. That is why I invested in a Trackman so I could do golf pro level experiments on human case studies, i.e. my students over time. And the laggers or handle tuggers have no advantage over the early releasers from the turf or the tee. As for the path, it has very little control on the initial direction of the golf, 25% at the most, so your path observations concerning pull and push would only be the case if the the face (75% of the initial direction) is looking in that direction. And spin loft is the D PLane (the difference in the attack angle and dynamic loft) the lowerthe SL the greater the compression. What you missed is the basic point of the article. That MOST golfers commit their bodies (upper body opening early) before they ever lower their arms or release their club. Again just an empirical observation over many years Thx for the interest. DC

  14. Cliff

    Oct 23, 2012 at 4:30 pm

    Dennis,

    You say that an in to out swing path must release later. If I come from the inside and I release on time wouldn’t I push it in the exact direction that my swing path dictates or even further right if I’m late? On the other hand if I come from the outside of the ball and I release normal I hit a straight pull, if I release earlier I hit a hook.

    Your point about how late release does not mean more distance is interesting. Sergio Garcia is not know to be the worlds longest driver, he is known to be pretty long with his irons, specifically long irons. A late release that ends up square may have the same clubhead speed through impact as one with an early release but the spin rate is not the same, and no, it’s not about steepness. The reason a late release person can hit irons so long is because their ball comes out with more spin. Faster acceleration over a shorter distance where you reach the same ultimate speed mean more time spent touching the ball and a greater amount of friction produced on the urethane cover.

    I don’t think your article is bad, in fact it’s quite interesting for most people that don’t care about the granular details of physics. I do think that you have a mistake in your thinking and cannot make an assumption based on a single dimension when the problem involves several dimensions that you haven’t examined in as much detail.

  15. Ryan

    Oct 20, 2012 at 2:54 pm

    The last two articles by Dennis Clark are the most important things that I have learned from Dennis. I have been playing golf for about 20 years. About 10 years ago I started working with Dennis. My main lesson was “Turn and Release”. It was this concept that helped me get to scratch in just about 2 years. Also helped me gain about 25-35 yards off my driver. He drilled this concept into me every lesson I had. Larger Turn and Earlier Release; helped square the face and increase my club head speed. “Turn and Release” made me “Longer and Straighter”. Thanks a Million Dennis

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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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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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