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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 JW Marriott Marco Island in Naples, Fla.. He can be reached at [email protected]

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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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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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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