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A Great Drill to Learn the Proper Release

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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As an independent contractor based in Scottsdale, Arizona, Todd Dugan provides video swing analysis as a player gift to groups hosting golf tournaments and also is available for private instruction. * PGA Certified Instructor * Teaching professionally since 1993 CONTACT: [email protected] vimeo.com/channels/todddugangolf

8 Comments

8 Comments

  1. baba booey

    Oct 18, 2017 at 4:32 pm

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

    • Todd Dugan

      Oct 18, 2017 at 5:33 pm

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

  2. Todd Dugan

    Oct 18, 2017 at 10:55 am

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

  3. Greg V

    Oct 18, 2017 at 9:11 am

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

  4. wilson

    Oct 18, 2017 at 2:18 am

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

    • Todd Dugan

      Oct 18, 2017 at 10:58 am

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

  5. surewin73

    Oct 17, 2017 at 10:46 am

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

    • Terry

      Oct 17, 2017 at 3:40 pm

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

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Instruction

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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Instruction

How to stop 3-putting and start making putts

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When we are 3-putting we are ‘stuck in the box’. This means that when we are standing over the putt the second before we make our stroke everything happens to ‘go downhill.’ When this happens, depending on your playing level, things can become a bit erratic on the putting surface.

When a 3 putt happens, it is typically because you failed to do something before you made your stroke. The large majority of my 3 putts happen when I am not completely SOLD on the line of my putt, aka not committed. Questioning anything over the ball will lead to 3 putts.

Here is a breakdown/checklist on how to approach the green and get your ball in the cup without hesitation.

1. It starts with the approach shot into the green and the decision of direction you make to enter the hole. Scan the entire green with your eyes on the walk-up. Left to right and right to left. Look for a few seconds before you step onto the putting surface. This helps determine the high side and the low side, or if the green is relatively flat. Don’t be picky, just look and make a decision.

2. Once you get to the ball, mark it. Take 3 steps behind your ball mark. Now you must pick a line… Left, Center, or Right of the cup. (Skip step 3 if you know the line) It should take seconds but for those that are not sure it will take longer. Understand that every putt has a statistical level of difficulty. So to increase the odds, players must avoid putting in the unsure mind, and take the time to figure out a line. I also find that people who are 3 putting are overly confident and just not committed aka too quick to putt.

3. To commit, you must find the angle of entry into the cup. Walk up to the hole and look at the cup. How is it cut? Determine if it is cut flat or on a slope angle. This will help you see the break if you are having a hard time. Then determine how much break to play. Cut the hole into 4 quarters with your eyes standing right next to it. Ask yourself, which quarter of the cup does the ball need to enter to make the putt go in the hole?

I encourage using the phrases ‘in the hole’ or ‘to the hole’ as great reinforcement and end thoughts before stroking the ball. I personally visualize a dial on the cup. When my eyes scan the edges, I see tick marks of a clock or a masterlock – I see the dial pop open right when I pick the entry quadrant/tick mark because I cracked the code.

Remember, the most important parts of the putt are: 1.) Where it starts and 2. ) Where it ends.

4. To secure the line, pick something out as the apex of the putt on the walk back to the mark. Stand square behind the ball mark and the line you have chosen.

5. To further secure the line, place your ball down and step behind it to view the line from behind the ball. Don’t pick up the ball mark until you have looked from behind. When you look, you need to scan the line from the ball to the cup with your eyes. While you are scanning, you can make adjustments to the line – left, right or center. Now, on the walk into the box, pickup the mark. This seals the deal on the line. Square your putter head to the ball, with feet together, on the intended line.

6. To make the putt, look at the apex and then the cup while taking your stance and making practice strokes to calibrate and gauge how far back and through the stroke needs to be.

7. To prove the level of commitment, step up to the ball and look down the intended line to the apex back to the cup and then back to the apex down to your ball. As soon as you look down at the ball, never look up again. Complete one entire stroke. A good visual for a putting stroke is a battery percentage and comparing your ‘complete stroke’ to the percentage of battery in the bar.

8. Look over your shoulder once your putter has completed the stroke, i.e. listen for the ball to go in and then look up!

If you find a way that works, remember it, and use it!

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