Even the best golf swings can look completely different from one another. (Think Rory McIlroy vs. Jim Furyk.) But all pros share a powerful move that produces long drives and crisp iron shots: the late release.
Releasing the club is the action that occurs as the clubhead approaches the ball, when the wrists unhinge and the right forearm rotates over the left (for right-handed golfers). Where most amateurs leak power by releasing the club early, pros store energy and deliver crushing blows by delaying the release until the last possible instant.
If your mechanics are sound, the late release doesn't require conscious effort. It results from a properly sequenced downswing led by the hips, torso and shoulders, with the wrist cock at the top of the backswing maintained as the arms swing downward.
Here's a drill to help ingrain a powerful release:
1. Set up to the ball with a middle iron and take the club back until the hands reach waist height, the wrists cocking the club up to form an “L” with the left arm.
2. Stop there.
3. Once comfortable, continue swinging up to chest height.
4. Begin the downswing with the left hip, swinging through to a chest-high finish. Repeat several times.
You should feel as though the left arm is pulling the club down toward impact, unloading the club into the ball. Drives will fly higher and farther and you'll “trap” the ball with the irons, producing a penetrating trajectory and lots of spin.
Golf Tip – Hold the Angle for Powerful Drives
Everyone wants to hit powerful drives – that much is obvious. When you can put power behind the ball off the tee, it enables you to place the ball well down the fairway, setting up short approach shots, and hopefully birdie opportunities. While power isn't everything in golf, it sure can help you turn difficult holes into easy ones. If you think that you need to be big and strong in order to hit long drives, you are terribly mistaken. In fact, just about anyone can hit the ball a long distance off the tee, as long as they use the right technique. Learning how to 'hold the angle' in your swing will unlock power you didn't know you had available.
As you swing the club down toward the ball, an angle is created between your left arm (for a right handed golfer) and the shaft of the club. This angle is very important. When that angle is released, all of the stored up energy in your swing will be used, and the club head will reach its fastest speed. Ideally, you would like that to happen at the same time the club head contacts the back of the golf ball. Therefore, having the ability to 'hold the angle' all the way down until impact is one of the main keys to hitting powerful drives.
Most amateur golfers waste that angle far too early in the swing, and they are left with weak drives as a result. It is natural a natural tendency to release that angle early in the downswing, as you feel like you need to get the club head to the ball as quickly as you can. However, when you rush to get the club head down to the ball, you will actually be costing yourself swing speed and power. Instead of losing the angle and using your hands to push the club head down toward the ball, you want to rotate your body aggressively toward the target while holding the angle as long as possible. When impact approaches, you will automatically lose that angle due to the force you have created in the swing, and maximum swing speed will be achieved.
Learning how to 'hold the angle' in your golf swing might be one of the most difficult tasks that you can encounter in this game. Most players never learn how to hold their angle in the downswing, which means they are stuck hitting weak shots from the tee. While it will likely take significant time and effort to learn how to use this technique, the payoff can be huge. Holding your angle can transform your ball flight into something powerful and accurate, allowing you to launch the ball down the fairway hole after hole.
All of the instruction contained below is based on a right handed golfer. If you play left handed, please reverse the directions as necessary.
Setting the Stage for a Great Swing
Before you can even think about creating a good angle between your arm and the shaft of the club, you need to make sure some other parts of your swing are in place. The golf swing is a complex process that includes a number of different elements. All of those elements have to work together correctly if you are going to hit good shots. So, even if you are able to create a beautiful angle between your arm and the club, you still won't hit good shots if the rest of your swing is flawed.
Following are three important points that can set the stage for utilizing a great angle to hit powerful drives.
- Balance at the top. As you transition into the downswing, you are really going to start accelerating the club with purpose. To do that successfully, your body needs to be well balanced as the club starts down toward the ball. Any loss of balance during the transition of the swing is going to be exposed when you reach impact, because you will be unable to strike the ball on the center of the club face. Balance should always be your number one goal in the golf swing, so address any balance issues you may have before working on the angle that you create with your left arm and the club.
- Left arm extended. It is going to be difficult to create and hold a nice angle in the downswing if your left arm is stuck in tight to your body. As you arrive at the top of the swing, you want to have your left arm fully extended, while your right arm is kept in close to your side. A straight left arm at the top is what will give your swing width, and that width can be turned into power when you combine it with a good angle as you move toward the ball. The best way to achieve a straight left arm position is to allow your shoulders and torso to be in control of the early parts of the swing. Turn away from the target with your shoulders while your arms go along for the ride, and the position you reach at the top should be picture perfect.
- Relaxed grip pressure. Developing a great angle between your left arm and the club shaft is only possible when you use a relaxed grip pressure during the swing. Many golfers hold onto the club too tightly, which limits their ability to create the necessary angle for powerful drives. If you are used to holding on tight during your swing, it might take some practice to make you comfortable with a relaxed grip. To relax your grip pressure, start by hitting chip shots while keeping your hands very loose on the club. As you gain confidence, you can hit longer and longer shots until you are comfortable hitting a driver with a relaxed grip. Obviously you need to be holding the club tight enough to maintain control throughout the swing, so your job is to find a happy medium that provides both control and freedom.
A large portion of the challenge when it comes to holding a good angle in the downswing is simply getting all of the other pieces of your swing in order. Most golfers never take the time to work on their basic fundamentals, instead choosing to skip straight to the advanced parts of the swing. The problem with that plan is obvious – without a focus on the basics, you will never be able to execute the more advanced skills. Take your time to build a great base for your golf swing prior to working on the addition of a nice downswing angle.
The Isolation Drill
The golf swing happens fast. For most players, the entire swing will be completed in less than two seconds from start to finish. That means that there isn't much time to think, let alone to react to different things that you might be feeling in the swing. It is important to be fully committed to your swing mechanics before you ever put the club in motion, because there just isn't time to make adjustments after you start.
Since the swing happens so fast, the best way to learn new techniques is to break them down so you can work on just one thing at a time. After a period of learning how to make a certain motion, you can then take the step of incorporating that motion into your full swing. That is exactly the idea behind this isolation drill. For this drill, you are going to be working on only the ability to create and hold an angle between your left arm and the shaft of the club. You won't be making a full swing, because that would be too difficult at this point. Work through the drill and you will learn what it takes to use your angle properly. Don't rush to get back to full swings - take your time on this drill and only add this new technique into your full swing when you are completely comfortable with holding the angle.
To perform the isolation drill on the driving range, follow the steps below.
- Head to the driving range with a bucket of balls and your seven iron. Obviously you can bring your whole bag if you would like, but you will only be hitting the seven iron in this drill.
- Find a spot on the range where you are safely clear of other golfers. Since you will be making a modified swing during this drill, you might not be as accurate with your shots as you would be with a traditional swing. Specifically, make sure there is room in front of you to the right and left for any miss-hit shots to travel safely.
- Pick a target that you will use for this drill. The target should be less than 100 yards away - something in the range of 50-75 yards would be perfect.
- With your target selected, take your stance and prepare to hit the first shot. However, as you are taking your stance, you want to place your feet much closer together than they would be for a normal swing. Instead of moving your feet to shoulder width apart, only leave about eight inches of distance between your shoes. The purpose of the narrow stance is to take your lower body out of the swing. With your feet so close together, you won't be able to engage your legs or hips in the swing – which is exactly what you want for this drill.
- Now that you are set with a narrow stance, it is time to actually hit a shot. Rather than using your regular takeaway, you are actually going to set up with the club in a modified backswing position. Take your left arm back until it is parallel with the ground, and stop. While holding your arm parallel to the ground, use your hands to move the club until the shaft is pointing straight up to the sky. You should now be 'paused' in a position where your left arm is parallel to the ground and the club is pointing up to the sky (perpendicular to your left arm). While you hold this position, you should be also staying down in your stance with your knees bent and your head down on the ball.
- From your paused position, it is now time to hit the shot. Swing down toward the ball with the goal of holding the angle you have created as long as possible. Remember, you aren't trying to use your lower body at all during this drill – this should be an arms-only swing. You should have the sensation of pulling down toward the ball with the butt end of the club. As your hands get closer to the ball, the club head will start to release and you can use your right hand to rip through the shot aggressively. Even though you are only starting from a halfway back position, you may be surprised at how hard you can hit the ball when using this drill. If you feel the ball jumping off the center of the club face time after time, you will know that you are holding your angle successfully.
- Feel free to hit as many shots as you would like using this drill. While it is possible to hit shots with longer clubs, the drill is best suited for a seven iron. Be sure not to rush through the drill – take your time on each swing and focus on executing to the best of your ability.
The beauty of this drill is in its simplicity. You don't have to think about a number of different moving parts, because your arms are really the only thing moving. There is a chance that this drill will feel extremely odd at first, and you may have trouble making contact with the ball. That's okay – stick with it and you should start to see progress after just a short practice session. You have to step outside of your comfort zone in order to improve your swing, and this drill will force you to do just that.
Bringing It Together
The previous drill is great for learning how to hold the angle of the club all the way down toward impact, but you can't make your way around the course using half swings. At some point, you are going to have to incorporate this move into your full swing. Only when you can comfortably hold the angle in your downswing while also executing the rest of your mechanics will you be able to hit powerful drives down the middle of the fairway.
To put everything together into your full swing motion, try modifying the drill from above as outlined in the following steps.
- Get into the position that you used to start the previous drill by placing your left arm parallel to the ground while the shaft of the club points up to the sky. For this version of the drill, your feet should be their regular distance apart as you would have them for any other full swing.
- This time, instead of swinging down into the ball directly, you are going to swing up to the top of the backswing, and then transition into the downswing. This will be more like your regular full swing motion (the only piece missing will be the takeaway).
- Even though you have now added a backswing to the drill, it is still important that you focus on holding the angle of the club all the way down toward impact. If you allow that angle to release prematurely, all of the work you have done up to this point will be wasted.
Hit a number of shots using this partial swing drill until you are able to strike the ball solidly over and over. Once you are in control of your swing using this drill, the last step is to make a regular full swing while holding the angle of the club correctly. If you have done enough repetitions of the two drills above, you shouldn't have too much trouble transitioning into a full swing. Remember, you don't want to rush your takeaway or your backswing – the key is to get the club into the right position so you can create the angle that will be used in the downswing. Use a smooth tempo to take the club away from the ball and form your angle by the time your left arm reaches that parallel to the ground position.
At first, your results are likely to be a mixed bag. Some of your shots will explode off the club face and fly well down the range. Others, however, will be poorly struck and well off-target. Take the good with the bad, and commit yourself to improving gradually. Once you get a taste for how it feels to hit a powerful drive by holding the angle in the downswing, you will want to repeat that experience time and time again.
A Note about Confidence
This is a swing that requires confidence if it is going to be executed correctly on the course. As you are swinging down toward the ball with the club forming a great angle off of your forearm, you might feel like you aren't going to be able to release the club head in time to hit the ball. If you have those kinds of doubt in the downswing, your body will naturally release the club early just to find any kind of contact at the bottom of the swing. Obviously, that is a problem. In order to hold the angle for as long as possible, you need to have total confidence in your ability to execute the swing.
Confidence can only be gained through success, and the easiest place to find success is on the driving range. Make sure you are hitting plenty of balls with your improved swing so you can develop the confidence that you will need to take on the course. While the swing might start to come pretty easy on the driving range, it will be a different story once there are trees and water hazards waiting to catch your poor shots. The best way to handle the pressures of playing an actual round of golf is to build as much confidence on the range as possible. With a bubble of confidence around you when you step to the first tee, your chances of hitting a straight and powerful drive will have increased dramatically.
One other way to improve your confidence on the course is to fully immerse yourself in the process of playing good shots. Instead of thinking about your mechanics every step of the way, you should instead be focused on gathering all of the information you need to play each shot correctly. That means getting an accurate yardage, checking the wind, observing any hazards you need to avoid, etc. By fully committing yourself to making smart decisions based on what is in front of you, it's possible to distract your mind away from thinking about your new swing technique. All of the mechanical work for your swing should have been completed on the range – when you hit the course, your only concern should be shooting a great score.
Holding the angle between your left arm and the shaft of the club in the downswing is an advanced skill. However, if you wish to hit long, powerful drives on a consistent basis, it is a skill that you should learn. Most players are surprised by how much easy power is available to them when they start holding the angle longer in the downswing. Before you get too far into learning how to hold the angle, make sure that the rest of your swing fundamentals are in place. Adding this move to a swing that is already well-constructed will give you the chance to hit the best shots of your life.