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Swing factors that determine how you release the golf club

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A lot has been written about what is called “lag,” or angle retention in the golf swing, which occurs during the downswing. How much lag is necessary? When should a golfer release the club? Does lag actually help? Those are the questions that I see regularly asked by readers in GolfWRX instruction articles.

Lag is a way of describing the relationship of the hands and club head, where the hands are leading and the club head is “lagging” behind in the downswing. While lag does serve a very important function in the swing, it is NOT one of speed. I work with some very good players, two of whom swing in excess of 120 mph with their driver. One releases it VERY late (too late, actually, and we’re working to get rid of some of that) and the other very early.

A “sweep” release imparts every bit as much force as a “snap” release if delivered at the same speed, as evidenced by Jason Zuback. We cannot discount the importance of the release, however, because it serves another, vital function in your swing. And that is, along with the proper body dynamics, the release is responsible for the bottom of the swing arc, or what is called “the low point.” Ideally, we want that low point slightly in front of the golf ball for shots from the turf, and slightly behind the golf ball on the driver. This is a major component of the attack angle and determines how solidly the ball may be struck.

In discussing when the golf club should be released, let’s keep in mind a few other factors about your individual swing, namely the path, the plane and the width of your swing. I will discuss these factors in more detail later on in the story.

General rules of thumb about the bottom of the swing arc

  • Path: Golfers with inside-out paths tend to bottom out early. Golfers with outside-in paths tend to bottom out later.
  • Plane: Golfers with flatter swing planes tend to bottom out early. Golfers with more upright swing planes tend to bottom out later.
  • Swing arc: Golfers with wide swings tend to bottom out early. Golfers with narrow swings tend to bottom out later.

https://youtu.be/P3zkawfMPp0

If you’re a golfer who comes “over the top,” you’ll find that releasing the club earlier is not a preference, it is a necessity. That’s because golfers who swing over the top reach impact “later,” which means their motion moves the bottom of the swing arc well forward. Because of this, golfers are forced to release the club head earlier to to complement the later bottom.

Conversely, if you have developed an inside-out path, the same early release will not work. This is because an inside path makes a golfer get to impact earlier, that is, the bottom of the swing arc is much farther back. So a golfer who swings hard from the inside needs to retain his angle slightly longer to avoid hitting fat shots and hooks.

Now with swing plane, if you’re one who swings more upright or vertical, your release should be earlier than those who have a flatter, or more horizontal swings. Upright swings are narrower and tend to move the bottom of the swing arc more forward, and an earlier release complements that move. Think Tom Watson or David Toms.

Flatter swings are wider, and tend to move the bottom of the swing arc farther behind the ball, so a later release helps move the bottom of the swing arc farther forward. Think Sergio Garcia or Ben Hogan.

NOTE: By wide and narrow I’m referring to the flat spot at the bottom of the arc. Wide means the bottom of the swing is along the ground longer, and narrow means it is along the ground a shorter time

Finally, a word about pivot: If you’re a player who tends to move off the ball in your takeaway, you will need a certain amount of angle retention coming down. The reason is that when you moved off the ball, you moved the bottom of your arc back, and you’ll need to move it back forward coming down. And if you’re a player who stays quite centered over the ball, feel free to release the club a bit earlier, simply because by staying more centered you moved the bottom a bit forward and now you may have to move it back a bit.

A good golf swing has a repeating low point. There are a myriad of factors in this dynamic, but the ones I described above are the core issues involved in finding your right combination. But don’t take my word for it, try a few combinations on your own. Try staying TOTALLY on your lead side in the back swing, and lagging the hell out of the angle coming down. I’d be willing to bet you won’t get to the bottom of the ball. Now try moving way over to trail side on the takeaway and releasing the club as early as you can. There’s a good chance you’ll lay sod over the ball or hit a quacker!

I know this sounds confusing, but read it a few times, and you’ll see what I mean. These are the swing factors that determine when and how you release the club. Remember, every move in the golf swing needs one that complements it, not one that complicates it.

If you’d like me to analyze your swing, go to my Facebook page or contact me ([email protected]) about my online swing analysis program.

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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. Dennis now teaches at Bobby Clampett's Impact Zone Golf Indoor Performance Center in Naples, FL. .

20 Comments

20 Comments

  1. Nocklaus

    Oct 8, 2016 at 8:48 pm

    Why not just find out what type of swing you have and place the ball accordingly…?
    Find the bottom of your swing arc and adress the ball there.

  2. Joe Sixpack

    Jul 12, 2015 at 3:24 pm

    What gibberish. One cannot hit a golf ball far without lag, unless his musculature allows him to. Witness any baseball power hitter.

    Here’s Tom Watson with lag.

    http://www.golfdigest.com/images/instruction/2012-11/inar01_tom_watson_lower_body.jpg

    Also, thanks for the advice. What advice? I’m not sure.

  3. Dennis Clark

    Jul 3, 2015 at 12:31 pm

    Scott, Im just not a big believer in a “late release’. It causes more problems than it helps. If you are inside, set up a little open, and turn earlier and more aggresivley through the ball

  4. Scott

    Jul 3, 2015 at 10:19 am

    Good info, thanks Dennis. I’m typically in-to-out, steep at the top but then flatten in the downswing to where I can sometimes get stuck and have a two way miss. For later release, I try to maintain the forward shaft lean at address throughout the swing – – what feels to me like passive hands. This helps but feels quite rigid, less “athletic”. Is there perhaps a better approach to later release?

  5. Dennis Clark

    Jul 2, 2015 at 7:50 am

    pulls, hooks, face often open… You sure? 2 down iron is shallow. You might try moving the ball back a little

  6. Jimmy

    Jul 1, 2015 at 4:18 pm

    Would then a more vertical path with the earlier release, be more compatible with a softer flex shaft vs. stiff? Thanks so much for the great info!!

    • Dennis Clark

      Jul 2, 2015 at 7:53 am

      Shaft flex is not directly related to release point…how the shaft reacts when you do release it is a flex issue

  7. tom

    Jul 1, 2015 at 11:10 am

    why when i aim right i fire thru the ball better, my release is killing my swing speed

    • Dennis Clark

      Jul 1, 2015 at 11:15 am

      maybe firing thru the ball is killing your speed; the lateral force should slow and stop so rotational force can pick up. try slowing your turn through down might help your arm speed

      • other paul

        Jul 1, 2015 at 3:04 pm

        Why not just go rotational all the time? I just started the drive/hold swing, and just hit my longest drive ever and i can barely slice the ball on purpose. Kelvin Miyahira for more power, accuracy, and less back pain.

        • JP K

          Jul 3, 2015 at 6:18 am

          I think this article is very good but agree with you, Kelvin is amazing. Best 2 hours in golf I’ve spent is his lesson. Now I’m a straight bomber. Don’t tell anyone else?

  8. Jamie

    Jul 1, 2015 at 8:24 am

    This article explains perfectly what happens in my golf swing. I swing flat and my swing bottoms out way too early…this make me more of a sweeper of the ball than a striker. The problem I have been working on this week and making solid contact with my irons…maybe this will get me pointed in the right direction. Thanks.

  9. Dennis Clark

    Jun 30, 2015 at 9:20 pm

    What is your problem at impact? That’s all that matters and tells us what we need to know? Club face, path and attack angle?

    • CD

      Jul 1, 2015 at 6:48 pm

      Straight shots, pulls (well struck), blocks and snap hooks. After more solidity in the strike and more velocity in the clubhead. Path is too inside out and attack angle is -2 down. Face often open.

  10. CD

    Jun 30, 2015 at 5:14 pm

    Here’s a question, assuming an inside out, flat swing, and some movement off the ball, what’s the best way to maintain leverage lag in terms of the shoulders and arms/hands?

    I.e. In the transition, is it best to not throw the angles in the right wrist and elbow away, and move the shoulders; or does the motion of releasing the wrists and elbow allow the shoulders to get forward more quickly and be more conducive to retaining leverage, ironically? I find it difficult to diagnose on camera and wondered if you have a solution.

  11. tom stickney

    Jun 30, 2015 at 4:02 pm

    You must manage these factors or you will never have consistent impact

    • CD

      Jun 30, 2015 at 5:08 pm

      Explains Tiger’s inconsistent chipping as his release actions in full and short game are disparate?

  12. Alex T

    Jun 30, 2015 at 2:46 pm

    This is a concept I never really fully understood and, being honest, I still don’t. However, I understand the concept of finding the bottom of the arc consistently. About a year ago I figured out on my own that the bottom of my arc wasn’t consistent and my strike was equally so. I tried to create a repeatable arc and since my ball striking has improved massively. Yes, I still struggle with other areas of the game, but my ball striking is now 90% out of the middle of the club. My point here is this- this article is full of coachy mumbo jumbo, but the one salient point is thus: “A good golf swing has a repeating low point.” I couldn’t tell you what I did to find my “repeating low point” but it works and I think that is Dennis’ point here in this article- it doesn’t matter how much “lag” you have, or when you “release”, as long as it is in the right spot and consistent. Good article.

  13. Dennis Clark

    Jun 30, 2015 at 1:53 pm

    Anatomy notwithstanding, even if one were to have the suppleness and flexibility you describe, they had better not use it to excessively lag, from an upright arc, or they’ll be late into impact. Watson’s upright swing was more of a Stan Thursk product than any physical limitations he may have had. Thx for reading

  14. Greg V

    Jun 30, 2015 at 11:26 am

    Interesting article, but you fail to mention the golfer’s wrist and lead thumb flexibility – which are factors for how well lag can be loaded, and how long it can be maintained into the forward swing.

    If you look at successful golfers with flat swing planes, you will note that they have tremendous wrist flexibility – think Ben Hogan, Chad Campbell and Sergio Garcia.

    On the other hand, Tom Watson was not gifted with extremely flexible wrist action, and was an early releaser. He had to swing with an upright swing, or else we never would have heard of him. On the other hand, he made a heck of a deep turn with his hips, and released that to generate a lot of his power. As did Sam Snead and Bobby Jones, but they also had fine wrist action as well.

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Instruction

Why you are probably better at golf than you think (Part 2)

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Golf is very much a monkey-see-monkey-do sport. If you ever go to the local range, you are sure to see golfers trying to copy the moves of their favorite player. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it does not. While I understand the logic of trying to mimic the “secret move” of the most recent winner on tour, I always balk when the person trying to create their best impression fails to realize the physical differences between them and the best golfing athletes in the world.

Read part 1 here. 

In addition to most golfers not being at the same fitness levels as the best players in the world, they also do not have bodies that are identical to their favorite player. This single statement proves why there is not one golf swing; we all are different sizes and are going to swing the club differently due to these physical differences.

You have to understand your swing

The biggest reason I believe that golfers are better than they think is most golfers I meet do not understand what their swings should look like. Armed with video after video of their golf swing, I will always hear about the one thing that the golfer wishes they could change. However, that one thing is generally the “glue” or athleticism of the athlete on display and is also the thing that allows them to make decent contact with the ball.

We are just coming out of the “video age” of golf instruction, and while I think that recording your golf swing can be extremely helpful, I think that it is important to understand what you are looking for in your swing. As a young coach, I fell victim to trying to create “pretty swings”, but quickly learned that there is not a trophy for prettiest swing.

It comes down to form or function, and I choose function

The greatest gift I have ever received as an instructor was the recommendation to investigate Mike Adams and BioSwing Dynamics. Mike, E.A. Tischler, and Terry Rowles have done extensive research both with tour-level players as well as club golfers and have developed a way to test or screen each athlete to determine not only how their golf swing will look, but also how they will use the ground to create their maximum speed. This screen can be completed with a tape measure and takes about five minutes, and I have never seen results like I have since I began measuring.

For example, a golfer with a greater wingspan than height will have a golf swing that tracks more to the outside during the backswing and intersects the body more towards the trail shoulder plane during the backswing. A golfer with a shorter wingspan than height will have a swing that tracks more to the inside and intersects the body closer to the trail hip plane. Also, a golfer with a greater wingspan than height will have a more upright dynamic posture than a golfer with a shorter wingspan than height who will be more “bent over” at the address position.

Sport coats and golf swings

Have you ever bought a sport coat or suit for a special occasion? If so, pay attention to whether it is a short, regular, or long. If you buy a long, then it means that your arms are longer than your torso and you can now understand why you produce a “steeper” backswing. Also, if you stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart and your middle-finger tips touching the top of your kneecaps, you will have perfect dynamic posture that matches your anatomy. If it appears that you are in a taller posture, then you have your second clue that your wingspan is greater than your height.

Translation to improvement

Using this and five other screens, we can help the athletes understand a complete blueprint of their golf swing based off their anatomy. It is due to the work of Mike, E.A., and Terry that we can now matchup the player to their swing and help them play their best. The reason that I believe that most golfers are better than they think is that most golfers have most of the correct puzzle pieces already. By screening each athlete, we can make the one or two adjustments to get the player back to trusting their swing and feeling in control. More importantly, the athlete can revisit their screen sheet when things misfire and focus on what they need to do, instead of what not to do.

We are all different and all have different swings. There is no one way to swing a golf club because there is no one kind of golfer. I encourage every golfer to make their swing because it is the only one that fits.

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How golf should be learned

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With the COVID-19 pandemic, golf is more popular than ever. Beginners being introduced to the game often find that golf is very hard, much harder than other sports they have played. To simplify the golf swing and make the game easier, it needs to start with a concept.

Golf should first be learned from a horizontal position. If the ball was placed four feet above the ground on a large tee, players would naturally turn in an efficient direction with the proper sequence to strike the ball on the tee.

Take for example, a person throwing a ball towards a target. With their eyes out in front of them? having an awareness to the target, their body would naturally turn in a direction to go forward and around towards the target. In golf, we are bent over from the hips, and we are playing from the side of the golf ball, so players tend to tilt their body or over-rotate, causing an inefficient backswing.

This is why the golf swing should be looked at as a throwing motion. The trail arm folds up as the body coils around. To throw a ball further, the motion doesn’t require more body turn or a tilt of the body.

To get the feeling of this horizontal hitting position or throwing motion, start by taking your golf posture. Make sure your trail elbow is bent and tucked with your trail shoulder below your lead shoulder.

From here, simply lift your arms in front of you while you maintain the bend from your hips. Look over your lead shoulder looking at the target. Get the clubhead traveling first and swing your arms around you. Note how your body coils. Return the club back to its original position.

After a few repetitions, simply lower your arms back to the ball position, swing your arms around you like you did from the horizontal position. Allow your shoulders, chest and hips to be slightly pulled around. This is now your “throwing position” in the golf swing. From here, you are ready to make a downswing with less movement needed to make a proper strike.

Note: Another great drill to get the feel for this motion is practicing Hitting driver off your knees.

Twitter: @KKelley_golf

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Instruction

Why you are probably better at golf than you think (Part 1)

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Golf is hard. I spend my career helping people learn that truth, but golfers are better than they give themselves credit for.

As a golf performance specialist, I give a lot of “first time working together” lessons, and most of them start the same way. I hear about all the ways the golfer is cursed and how s/he is never going to “get it” and how s/he should take up another sport. Granted, the last statement generally applies to an 18-plus handicap player, but I hear lots of negatives from better players as well.

Even though the golfers make convincing arguments for why they are cursed, I know the truth. It’s my job to help them realize the fates aren’t conspiring against them.

All golfers can play well consistently

I know this is a bold statement, but I believe this because I know that “well” does not equate to trophies and personal bests. Playing “well” equates to understanding your margin of error and learning to live within it.

With this said, I have arrived at my first point of proving why golfers are not cursed or bad golfers: They typically do not know what “good” looks like.

What does “good” look like from 150 yards out to a center pin?

Depending on your skill level, the answer can change a lot. I frequently ask golfers this same question when selecting a shot on the golf course during a coaching session and am always surprised at the response. I find that most golfers tend to either have a target that is way too vague or a target that is much too small.

The PGA Tour average proximity to the hole from 150 yards is roughly 30 feet. The reason I mention this statistic is that it gives us a frame of reference. The best players in the world are equivalent to a +4 or better handicap. With that said, a 15-handicap player hitting it to 30 feet from the pin from 150 yards out sounds like a good shot to me.

I always encourage golfers to understand the statistics from the PGA Tour not because that should be our benchmark, but because we need to realize that often our expectations are way out of line with our current skill level. I have found that golfers attempting to hold themselves to unrealistic standards tend to perform worse due to the constant feeling of “failing” they create when they do not hit every fairway and green.

Jim Furyk, while playing a limited PGA Tour schedule, was the most accurate driver of the golf ball during the 2020 season on the PGA Tour hitting 73.96 percent of his fairways (roughly 10/14 per round) and ranked T-136 in Strokes Gained: Off-The-Tee. Bryson Dechambeau hit the fairway 58.45 percent (roughly 8/14 per round) of the time and ranked first in Strokes Gained: Off-The-Tee.

There are two key takeaways in this comparison

Sometimes the fairway is not the best place to play an approach shot from. Even the best drivers of the golf ball miss fairways.

By using statistics to help athletes gain a better understanding of what “good” looks like, I am able to help them play better golf by being aware that “good” is not always in the middle of the fairway or finishing next to the hole.

Golf is hard. Setting yourself up for failure by having unrealistic expectations is only going to stunt your development as a player. We all know the guy who plays the “tips” or purchases a set of forged blades applying the logic that it will make them better in the long run—how does that story normally end?

Take action

If you are interested in applying some statistics to your golf game, there are a ton of great apps that you can download and use. Also, if you are like me and were unable to pass Math 104 in four attempts and would like to do some reading up on the math behind these statistics, I highly recommend the book by Mark Broadie Every Shot Counts. If you begin to keep statistics and would like how to put them into action and design better strategies for the golf course, then I highly recommend the Decade system designed by Scott Fawcett.

You may not be living up to your expectations on the golf course, but that does not make you a bad or cursed golfer. Human beings are very inconsistent by design, which makes a sport that requires absolute precision exceedingly difficult.

It has been said before: “Golf is not a game of perfect.” It’s time we finally accept that fact and learn to live within our variance.

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