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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. He now directs his own school, The Dennis Clark Golf Academy at the JW Marriott Marco Island in Naples, Fla.. He can be reached at [email protected]

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

What you can learn from Steve Elkington

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When you think of great golf swings from the past and present time, Steve Elkington’s golf swing instantly comes to mind. His playing career has included a PGA championship, two Players Championships and more than 50 weeks inside the top-10 world golf rankings. This article will examine not only key moves you can take from Elk’s swing but learning to take your swing to the golf course.

As opposed to looking at a swing frame by frame at key positions, viewing a swing at normal speed can be just as beneficial. This can give students a look at the sequence of the swing as one dynamic motion. Research also suggests learning a motion as one movement as opposed to part-training (stopping the swing at certain points) will enhancing learning.

When viewed at full speed, the simplicity of Elk’s swing is made clear. There is minimal motion as he gets more out of less. This swing pattern can correlate to a conversation he once had with five-time British Open winner Peter Thomson.

When asking Thomson keys to his golf swing and it’s longevity, Thomson explained to Elk, “You have to have great hands and arms.” Thomson further elaborated on the arms and body relationship. “The older you get, you can’t move your body as well, but you can learn to swing your arms well.”

So what’s the best way to get the feel of this motion? Try practicing hitting drivers off your knees. This drill forces your upper body to coil in the proper direction and maintain your spine angle. If you have excess movement, tilt, or sway while doing this drill you will likely miss the ball. For more detail on this drill, read my Driver off the knees article.

Another key move you can take from Elk is in the set-up position. Note the structure of the trail arm. The arm is bent and tucked below his lead arm as well as his trail shoulder below the lead shoulder – he has angle in his trail wrist, a fixed impact position.

This position makes impact easier to find. From this position, Elk can use his right arm as a pushing motion though the ball.

A golf swing can look pretty, but it is of no use if you can’t perform when it matters, on the golf course. When Elk is playing his best, he never loses feel or awareness to the shaft or the clubface throughout the swing. This is critical to performing on the golf course. Using this awareness and a simple thought on the golf course will promote hitting shots on the course, rather than playing swing.

To enhance shaft and face awareness, next time you are on the range place an alignment stick 10 yards ahead of you down the target line. Practice shaping shots around the stick with different flights. Focus on the feel created by your hands through impact.

Twitter: @kkelley_golf

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Dennis Clark: Hitting from the turf

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I have seen as much as 4-5 MPH increase in clubhead speed when my students hit form a tee compared to hitting off the turf. Why?  Fear of FAT shots.

First question: Are you better hitting off a tee than on the turf?

Next question: When you play in a scramble and you have the option of dropping in the fairway or slightly in the first cut, do you choose the rough-especially when hitting over water or sand?

The answer to all these the same: Because the vast majority of golfers do not have a bottom of the swing arc safely in front of the golf ball consistently.

Consider a PGA Tour event, Korn Ferry, Champions Tour, LPGA Tour, whatever…You might see missed fairways, missed greens, hooks, blocks, etc. but we rarely, if ever, see a FAT shot. They simply do not hit the ground before the golf ball. Of course, there are exceptions, into the grain on short pitches, for example, but they are just that-rare exceptions. On the other hand, go to any golf course and watch average golfers for a while. Fat shots are not uncommon. In fact, they, or the fear of them, dominate most golf games.

The number one mistake I have seen on the lesson tee for over 35 years is unquestionably a player’s inability to control the bottom of the golf swing. I have seen everything from hitting 4 inches behind the ball to never reaching the bottom at all It has been my experience that that hitting fat shots is the number one flaw in most golf swings.

Let’s start with this fact: elite level players consistently reach a swing bottom (low point) some 3-4 inches in front of the golf ball-time after time after time. This happens for a variety of reasons, but the one I’d like to look at today is the position of the golf club at impact with the golf ball.

The club is leaning forward, toward the target, the hands are ahead of the club head, never straight up over it, never behind it-always, always leaning forward is the only way to consistently bottom out in front of the golf ball.   

A player cannot hit a ball consistently from the turf until he/she learns this and how to accomplish it. For every golfer I teach who gets into this position, I might teach 50 who do not. In fact, if players did not learn how to “save” a shot by bailing out on the downswing (chicken wing, pull up, raise the handle, or come over the top, (yes over the top is a fat shot avoidance technique) they would hit the ground behind the golf ball almost every time!  Hitting better shots from the fairways, particularly from tight lies, can be learned, but I’m going to be honest: The change required will NOT be easy. And to make matters worse, you can never play significantly better until you overcome the fear of hitting it fat.. Until you learn a pattern where the bottom of the swing is consistently in front of the ball, the turf game will always be an iffy proposition for you.

This starts with a perception. When first confronted with hitting a golf ball, it seems only natural that an “up” swing is the way to get the ball in the air-help it, if you will. The act of a descending blow is not, in any way, natural to the new player. In fact, it is totally counterintuitive. So the first instincts are to throw the club head at the ball and swing up to get the ball in the air; in other words, it makes perfect sense. And once that “method” is ingrained, it is very difficult to change. But change if you must, if your goal is to be a better ball striker.

The position to strive for is one where the left wrist (for a right-hander) is flat, the right is slightly dorsiflexed, and the handle of the golf club is ahead of the grip end. Do your level best to pay attention to the look and feel of what you’re doing as opposed to the flight of the golf ball. FEEL that trail wrist bent slightly back, the lead wrist flat and the hands ahead. It will seem strange at first, but it’s the very small first step in learning to hit down on your tight lies. If some degree of that is not ultimately accomplished, you will likely always be executing “fit in” moves to make up for it. It is worth the time and effort to create this habit.

My suggestion is to get on a Trackman if possible to see where you’re low point actually is, or perhaps you may just want to start paying close attention to your divots-particularly the deepest part of them. I’m sure you will get into a pattern of bottoming out consistently in front of the ball when you begin to learn to get the hands ahead and the club head behind. And best of all, when this becomes your swing, you will lose the fear of hitting the turf first and be free to go down after the ball as aggressively as you like.

Ok, so how is this accomplished? While many players are looking for a magic bullet or a training aid which might help one miraculously get into a good impact position, I dare say there is not one. It is a trial and error proposition, a learn-from-the-mistakes kind of thing achieved only through repetition with a thorough understanding of what needs to be done. The hardest thing to do is IGNORE the outcome when learning a new motor skill, but you must do it. A couple of things you might try:

  • Start with 30-50 yard pitch shots, paying close attention to the hands leading at impact. Again ignore the outcome, look only at the divot.
  • Hit a TON of fairway bunker shots. Draw a line in the sand 3-4″ in front of the ball and try to hit it.
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Instruction

What you can learn from the rearview camera angle

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We often analyze the golf swing from the face-on view or down-the-line camera angle. However, we can also learn how the body moves in the swing from the rearview or backside view.

When seeing the swing from the rearview, we can easily see how the glutes work. The trail glute actually moves back and around in the backswing. This means the glute moves towards the target or towards the lead heel. Note the trail glute start point and endpoint at the top of the backswing.

To some, this may seem like it would cause a reverse weight shift. However, this glute movement can enable the upper body to get loaded behind the ball. This is where understanding the difference between pressure, and weight is critical (see: “Pressure and Weight”).

This also enhances the shape of the body in the backswing. From the rear angle, I prefer to have players with a tuck to their body in their trail side, a sign of no left-side bend.

This puts the body and trail arm into a “throwing position”, a dynamic backswing position. Note how the trailing arm has folded with the elbow pointing down. This is a sign the trailing arm moved in an efficient sequence to the top of the backswing.

Next time you throw your swing on video, take a look at the rearview camera angle. From this new angle, you may find a swing fault or matchup needed in your golf swing to produce your desired ball flight.

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