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A Great Drill to Learn the Proper Release

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In my 20+ years of teaching, I have found that the average golfer suffers primarily from two faults relating to the strike:

  1. Failure to return the clubface back to square.
  2. Failure to deliver the clubhead with a sufficiently downward attack angle.

The effects are a slice and hitting behind the ball, respectively. Neither is an issue with a proper release, which involves the swing of the clubhead around an axis at the hands and whatever bio-mechanics are associated with that. Ask five teaching pros what “the release” is all about, however, and you’re likely to get five different opinions. But the correct release can be verified visually, though not easily with the naked eye, by examining the action of the right arm, which must be straightening at impact.

Check out high-speed video on YouTube of any pro, on any swing, full or short, in which the trail arm has become bent to any degree in the backswing. You will then see the trail arm straightening into the strike. Since the release of the clubhead around the hands happens in-step with this straightening, if the trail arm stops straightening before impact, or has already fully straightened, the clubhead is released around the hands prematurely. This destroys any realistic chance of hitting down on the ball with the proper attack angle, and in the case of failing to completely straighten, prevents the left wrist from rolling back to its starting alignment to square the club face for impact.

A great drill to learn the proper release focuses on training the right arm by making short swings with the right arm only. Use a 56-degree wedge or similar. The action of the right arm often comes as a bit of a surprise to folks when learning this drill. You may be inclined initially to keep the right arm fairly straight as you swing it back. But this won’t work for very long when the left arm is attached. It will also cause the clubhead to bottom-out in-line with the right shoulder, surely behind any traditional ball position.

Position the ball inline with your center for this drill. In order to strike the ball with a descending attack angle, and thus to make any kind of “solid” contact at all from closely mown turf, the right arm must bend back and straighten into and through the strike point. This keeps the handle in the lead and thus the clubhead swinging downward into the strike.

The action of the right arm in the backswing is primarily a turning out (or external rotation) and a bending up of the forearm at the elbow. Ben Hogan identified the half side-arm, half under-hand baseball throw as the athletic movement most similar. This action alone will automatically cock the club back at the wrist. The right elbow is set in the lead to begin the forward swing. Keep the elbow leading by first turning the right shoulder around toward the ball, saving the reciprocal turning in (internal rotation) and bending down at the elbow for the strike. Remember, your main intention here is to straighten/push/thrust your right arm through the ball. If you start straightening the right arm too soon, you may not have anything left to straighten by the time you reach impact. But once you start straightening, for the love of God, don’t stop! The uncocking of the wrist and thus the release of the club is governed entirely by the straightening of the arm.

Admittedly, this is a difficult drill to execute. But when you do it, you will have mastered the most essential element of the correct swing, lacking among so many recreational golfers. When you return to using both arms, you will instantly appreciate the added stability. But more than that, use the left now to help you achieve what it is that you are trying to do with your right. Specifically, the lead arm should pull to help the trail arm push.

Check out the trail-arm action of Phil Mickelson, seen here covering a carry of less than 10 yards. It’s no coincidence that perhaps the greatest short-game player of all time features a prominent straightening of the trail arm for even the shortest swings.

The late great Seve Ballesteros clearly displays the pushing action of the right arm through the strike on this short chip from behind the 18th green at Augusta National. This stroke was holed-out to close the 1983 Masters Tournament.

The action of the right arm back is essentially a bend “up” at the elbow and a turn “out” (external rotation).

A strong mental and physical intention is often required to keep the trail arm straightening into the strike, without which proper contact from a descending clubhead delivery is virtually impossible. 240 frames per second video, seen here, confirms this most important biomechanical action of the golf swing.

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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

8 Comments

8 Comments

  1. baba booey

    Oct 18, 2017 at 4:32 pm

    I learned this from slice fixer, can hit up to 7 iron. Could use a bit more core turn as you go back IMHO> body swings the club.

    • Todd Dugan

      Oct 18, 2017 at 5:33 pm

      Swinging with just the trail arm as a drill has been around forever, baba booey. In a normal full swing, the shoulders will turn in-step with the arm swing. But since the focus of this drill is on the correct action of the trail arm, you could execute it with as little as no shoulder turn.

  2. Todd Dugan

    Oct 18, 2017 at 10:55 am

    Good work, Greg. As you have found, when you can hit down properly on the ball using just the right arm, you should have no trouble using both!

  3. Greg V

    Oct 18, 2017 at 9:11 am

    I tried the drill last night; it is not easy, but I started to hit my wedge pretty well after awhile. When I went back to both hands, I was killing it (relatively speaking).

  4. wilson

    Oct 18, 2017 at 2:18 am

    2 great short game players, not so much fairway finders. But that may be due to other factors?

    • Todd Dugan

      Oct 18, 2017 at 10:58 am

      That’s right, Wilson, as ALL great players straighten the trail arm into the strike, not just these legends.

  5. surewin73

    Oct 17, 2017 at 10:46 am

    I will give this a LIKE just because he has Cinderella playing in the background of one of the videos. ROCK ON!

    • Terry

      Oct 17, 2017 at 3:40 pm

      Somebody Save Me off the LP Night Songs. ROCK ON!

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