What’s the “release” in a golf swing? For purposes of this article, I’ll define it as the point in the swing when the lead arm and the golf club begin to become a straight line.
Whenever the release occurs for you isn’t as important as this; you can play your best golf with the release you have right now. That’s why you shouldn’t be frustrated that you don’t have the late release of Sergio Garcia. His “lag,” which is golf lingo for a late release, might not be the best thing for you anyways. David Toms has an early release and has won 13 times on the PGA Tour, including a major championship. Had he spent all his time on the range trying to change his release, we might never have heard of him.
Let’s start from the beginning so you can see what I mean.
At the top of the swing, the angle between the lead arm and the golf club is usually somewhere near 90 degrees. Every golfer begins to diminish this angle at some point in the downswing to eventually arrive at impact at 180 degrees. When golfers do this establishes whether they release the club early or late.
Most everything golfers do with their bodies is a reaction to the straightening of this angle. If it is done early in the downswing, the body needs to react in a certain way. If it is done later in the downswing, a completely different series of body motions are required. The importance of the release point cannot be underestimated. That’s why golfers need to be aware of when they actually release the club, not when they’ve been told they should release it.
A lot of students tell me, “I know I come over the top and I cast.” My response is: “YOU BETTER!”
Why? Because if you’re over the top, you moved the bottom of the arc forward, or “late,” we might say. Add that to a delayed hit (called lag) and you have moved the bottom of the arc even further forward. Now you can’t get to the bottom of the golf ball at all. So you need to release — what some call “cast” — the club to catch up, but it’s really all the same thing; A player starts out slicing, learns to come over the top as a response, then starts casting out of necessity. What a vicious cycle!
So your teacher explains the problem and you work on hitting more “from the inside.” Now that same cast (or early release) that worked for the outside-in path is now an absolute killer. You’ll lay the sod over every iron shot you hit.
I don’t mean to be a prophet of gloom, but I’m here to tell you this: changing your release point is the hardest thing to do in the golf swing. Over many years of teaching I have seen very few change it very much, if at all. But there is a bright side: You may not have to change your release point.
Mind you, early straightening of the lead arm and club has its consequences. It make it much harder to hit down on the golf ball, it can cause you to lose speed and it generally requires at least one compensation — but you can make a choice for it to be functional. What you cannot do if you want to play your best is keep hitting the ground first or topping the ball.
If you have been playing for some time and learned to release early, you will have to accept a somewhat outside-in path and upright plane to play. It is a compensation for what you do naturally. Both out-to-in and upright paths are compatible with early-releasing.
If you learned to hook the ball when you first learned the game, you probably have an inside path. It may be inside-out or inside-in, but chances are you are hitting from the inside. And if you’re a low-handicap player hitting solid shots from an inside path, you probably have timed your release correctly. In other words, you have sufficient angle retention in your transition.
If you’re hooking the ball or hitting fat shots when coming from the inside, there is a good chance you are releasing too early. So you too have a choice. You could add a little more delay in your hit, or a little more up and over the plane in your motion. As I said, very few learn delay, but the ones I have seen have all been strong players who come from the inside. With hard work and dedication, you stand a chance.
I heard Tom Watson say many times that he learned a “secret” later in his career. He talked about the difference in turning his body into the ball more level instead of going under it into the “reverse C” position of his younger days. And I think what Tom found is that the reverse-C move is better for a player with an earlier release, which he had most of his successful playing days. Then we see Sergio Garcia, a very late-releaser, stay behind and go under.
The principles I’m describing apply to players of any level. The better player more consistently solves this release-body motion equation. No two release points are the same, nor do they have to be. Once you know your pattern, you can play with it, and play better.
Drills for an earlier or later release
As always, the thoughts below come from my teaching experience and reflect what has worked best on the lesson tee these last three-plus decades. If they help, consider them; if not, dismiss them. Remember, however, that changing your release point is difficult at the very least, and futile for most. The process of getting more on a correct plane and a better path is gradual. That said, if you are willing to invest a lot of time, you can get more lag. But its been my experience that some very good players have ruined their golf swings trying.
Here’s a drill that may help you with delaying your hit, if that be your goal.
Put a lie board or an aim stick a few inches behind the golf ball. Start your backswing on the front edge of the lie board or on the stick. Now try hitting the ball.
One of the curious things about early releasing is that it often causes LOWER ball flight because the player is forced to move in front of the ball to avoid hitting behind it. You cannot get adequate right side bend (axis tilt) with a very early release. That position is reserved for players with a later hit, or those who are really quick with opening their body early into the downswing.
If your release is early, you can add one or more of the following things to make you release later.
- Set up a little open to the target.
- Stay more centered on the takeaway.
- Swing more upright.
- Turn more level through the ball (not sliding under).
- Narrow your arc.
If your release is late, consider adding one or more of these things to make you release earlier.
- Set up slightly closed to the target.
- Move more to your right side in the takeaway.
- Swing a little more around (flatter).
- Stay a little more behind the ball with the upper body into impact.
- Widen your arc.
Golf is a game of trade offs. Most of us can’t have our cake and eat it too. Well, you could, but you’d be playing on the TV on the weekend and we would have all heard of 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.
What to look for in a golf instructor: The difference between transformative and transactional coaching
Golf instruction comes in all different styles, methods, and formats. With that said, you would think this would be a good thing due to there being so many different types of people in the world. However, it is my opinion that the lack of standardization within the industry makes it confusing for the athlete to determine what kind of golf instruction they should seek out.
Before we can discuss what may or may not be the best type of instruction for yourself, first we need to know what our options are. Whether we are taking a “broad-spectrum approach” to learning or a more personalized approach, it is important to understand that there are differences to each, and some approaches are going to take longer than others to reach goals.
Welcome to the world of digital golf instruction, where tips from the most famous coaches in the world are a click away. The great thing about the internet and social media for a golfer is there has never been more access to the top minds in the field—and tips and drills are plentiful. With that said, with there being so many choices and differing opinions, it can be very easy to become distracted with the latest tip and can lead to a feeling of being lost.
I would describe “internet coaching”—or YouTube and Instagram surfing—as transactional coaching. You agree to pay, either a monthly fee or provide likes or follows and the professional provides very generalized tips about the golf swing. For athletes that are new to golf or golf instruction, this tends to be the first part of their process.
There are people who prefer a more transactional approach, and there are a ton of people having success working together over the internet with their coach. With that said, for someone who is looking for more of a long-term individualized approach, this may not be the best approach. This broad-spectrum approach also tends to be the slowest in terms of development due to there being a lot of trial and error due to the generalized approach and people having different body types.
Individual Transactional Coaching
Most people who are new to golf instruction will normally seek out their local pro for help. Depending on where you live in the country, what your local pro provides will vary greatly. However, due to it being local and convenient, most golfers will accept this to be the standard golf lesson.
What makes this type of instruction transactional is that there tends to be less long-term planning and it is more of a sick patient-doctor relationship. Lessons are taken when needed and there isn’t any benchmarking or periodization being done. There also tends to be less of a relationship between the coach and player in this type of coaching and it is more of a take it or leave it style to the coaching.
For most recreational or club-level players, this type of coaching works well and is widely available. Assuming that the method or philosophies of the coach align with your body type and goals athletes can have great success with this approach. However, due to less of a relationship, this form of coaching can still take quite some time to reach its goals.
Individual Transformative Coaching
Some people are very lucky, and they live close to a transformative coach, and others, less lucky, have had to search and travel to find a coach that could help them reach their goals. Essentially, when you hire a transformative coach, you are being assigned a golf partner.
Transformative coaching begins with a solid rapport that develops into an all-encompassing relationship centered around helping you become your very best. Technology alone doesn’t make a coach transformative, but it can help when it comes to creating periodization of your development. Benchmarks and goals are agreed upon by both parties and both parties share the responsibility for putting in the work.
Due to transformative coaching tending to have larger goals, the development process tends to take some time, however, the process is more about attainment than achievement. While improved performance is the goal, the periods for both performance and development are defined.
Which One is Right for You?
It really depends on how much you are willing to invest in your development. If you are looking for a quick tip and are just out enjoying the weather with your friends, then maybe finding a drill or two on Instagram to add to your practice might be the ticket. If you are looking to really see some improvement and put together a plan for long-term development, then you are going to have to start looking into what is available in your area and beyond.
Some things to consider when selecting a coach
- Do they use technology?
- What are their qualifications when it comes to teaching?
- Do they make you a priority?
As a golf coach who has access to the most state-of-the-art technology in the industry, I am always going to be biased towards a data-driven approach. That doesn’t mean that you should only consider a golf coach with technology, however, I believe that by having data present, you are able to have a better conversation about the facts with less importance placed on personal preference. Technology also tends to be quite expensive in golf, so be prepared if you go looking for a more high-tech coaching experience, as it is going to cost more than the low-tech alternative.
The general assumption is that if the person you are seeking advice from is a better player than you are, then they know more about the golf swing than you do. This is not always the case, while the better player may understand their swing better than you do yours, that does not make them an expert at your golf swing. That is why it is so important that you consider the qualifications of your coach. Where did they train to coach? Do they have success with all of their players? Do their players develop over a period of time? Do their players get injured? All things to consider.
The most important trait to look for in a transformative coach is that they make you a priority. That is the biggest difference between transactional and transformative coaches, they are with you during the good and bad, and always have your best interest top of mind. Bringing in other experts isn’t that uncommon and continuing education is paramount for the transformative coach, as it is their duty to be able to meet and exceed the needs of every athlete.
The importance of arm structure
How the arms hang at address plays a vital role in the golf swing. Often overlooked, the structure in which we place the arms can dictate one’s swing pattern. As mentioned in the article How Posture influences your swing, if you start in an efficient position, impact is much easier to find making, the golf swing more repeatable and powerful.
To start, I opt to have a player’s trail arm bent and tucked in front of them with angle in the trail wrist. While doing so, the trail shoulder can drop below the lead with a slight bend from the pelvis. This mirrors an efficient impact position.
I always prefer plays to have soft and slightly bent arms. This promotes arm speed in the golf swing. No other sports are played with straight arms, neither should golf.
From this position, it’s easier to get the clubhead traveling first, sequencing the backswing into a dynamic direction of turn.
When a player addresses the ball with straight arms, they will often tilt with their upper body in the backswing. This requires more recovery in the downswing to find their impact position with the body.
A great drill to get the feeling of a soft-bent trail arm is to practice pushing a wall with your trail arm. Start in your golf set-up, placing your trail hand against the wall. You will instinctively start with a bent trail arm.
Practice applying slight pressure to the wall to get the feeling of a pushing motion through impact?. When trying the drill with a straight trail alarm, you will notice the difference between the two? arm structures.
What is ground force in the golf swing?
There is no doubt about it, the guys and gals on tour have found something in the ground—and that something is power and speed. I’m sure by now you have heard of “ground reaction forces”—and I’m not talking about how you “shift your weight” during the golf swing.
Ground force in the golf swing: Pressure and force are not equal
With respect to ground force in the golf swing, it’s important to understand the difference between pressure and force. Pressure is your perception of how your weight is being balanced by the structure, in this case, the human body. Your body has a center of mass which is located roughly one inch behind the belt buckle for men and about one inch lower in women. When we shift (translate and/or torque) the center of mass, we create a pressure shift as the body has to “rebalance” the mass or body. This pressure shift can help us understand some aspects of the golf swing, but when it comes to producing power, force and torque are where it’s at.
Pressure can only be expressed in relation to the mass or weight of the body. Therefore, if you weigh 150 pounds, you can only create 150 pounds of pressure at one time. However, when we direct that mass at a larger object than our mass, all of a sudden that larger mass directs an opposite and equal reactionary force. So now, when a human being “pushes” their legs against the ground and “feels” 150 pounds of pressure, they now get 150 pounds of force directed back towards them from the ground, creating a total of 300 pounds of force that allows them to jump off the ground in this scenario.
If ground reaction forces don’t have anything to do with the “weight shift,” then what do they affect? Everything!
Most people use the same basic ingredients to make chocolate chip cookies. However, almost everyone has chocolate chip cookies that taste slightly different. Why is that? That is because people are variable and use the ingredients in different amounts and orders. When we create a golf swing, whether we are aware of it or not, we are using the same basic ingredients as everyone else: lateral force, vertical torque, and vertical force. We use these same three forces every time we move in space, and how much and when we use each force changes the outcome quite a bit.
Welcome to the world of 3D!
Understanding how to adjust the sequencing and magnitude of these forces is critical when it comes to truly owning and understand your golf swing. The good news is that most of our adjustments come before the swing and have to do with how we set up to the ball. For example, if an athlete is having a hard time controlling low point due to having too much lateral force in the golf swing (fats and thins), then we narrow up the stance width to reduce the amount of lateral force that can be produced in the swing. If an athlete is late with their vertical force, then we can square up the lead foot to promote the lead leg straightening sooner and causing the vertical force to happen sooner.
While we all will need to use the ground differently to play our best golf, two things need to happen to use the ground effectively. The forces have to exist in the correct kinetic sequence (lateral, vertical torque, vertical force), and the peaks of those forces need to be created within the correct windows (sequencing).
- Lateral force – Peak occurs between top-of-swing and lead arm at 45 degrees
- Vertical torque – Peak occurs between lead arm being 45 degrees and the lead arm being parallel to the ground.
- Vertical force – Peak occurs between lead arm being parallel to the ground the club shaft being parallel to the ground.
While it may seem obvious, it’s important to remember ground reaction forces are invisible and can only be measured using force plates. With that said, their tends to be apprehension about discussing how we use the ground as most people do not have access to 3D dual force plates. However, using the screening process designed by Mike Adams, Terry Rowles, and the BioSwing Dynamics team, we can determine what the primary forces used for power production are and can align the body in a way to where the athlete can access his/her full potential and deliver the club to the ball in the most effective and efficient way based off their predispositions and anatomy.
In addition to gaining speed, we can help athletes create a better motion for their anatomy. As golfers continue to swing faster, it is imperative that they do so in a manner that doesn’t break down their body and cause injury. If the body is moving how it is designed, and the forces acting on the joints of the body are in the correct sequence and magnitude, not only do we know they are getting the most out of their swing, but we know that it will hold up and not cause an unforeseen injury down the road.
I truly believe that force plates and ground reaction forces will be as common as launch monitors in the near future. Essentially, a launch monitor measures the effect and the force plates measure the cause, so I believe we need both for the full picture. The force plate technology is still very expensive, and there is an educational barrier for people seeking to start measuring ground reaction forces and understanding how to change forces, magnitudes, and sequences, but I’m expecting a paradigm shift soon.
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