After a few decent but underwhelming seasons on the PGA Tour, Webb Simpson enjoyed a breakthrough year in 2011.
He made a serious run at player-of-the-year honors with a pair of late-season victories, marking himself as one of America's most talented young pros.
Much attention was paid to Simpson's use of a belly putter during a year when elongated putters made a breakthrough of their own. But Simpson's swing is worth studying, too. The North Carolina native is a throwback to “handsy” players, like his fellow Wake Forest product Lanny Wadkins, and does things a bit differently from most of his peers.
The important thing is, it works for Simpson.
Simpson's signature: Left wrist is extremely hinged at the top of the backswing, and Simpson creates a huge angle between the left arm and club shaft – called “lag” – as he approaches the ball.
Simpson starts with a fairly strong left-hand grip (the hand rotated to his right, on top of the club). Paired with a pronounced forearm rotation, this creates a “cupped” or concave wrist position at the top of the swing, when Simpson's wrists have hinged more than the average pro's.
As his arms complete the backswing, Simpson's lower body has already begun shifting toward the target. This combination causes the wrists to hinge even more as he pulls down with the arms. Simpson achieves such a powerful lag, also called “downcock,” that the shaft is vertical to the ground when his hands reach hip height moving toward the ball.
Simpson unloads the club very quickly from this point, with all that stored energy producing a great deal of power and distance. He's also somewhat unusual in that he hangs back through impact, with his head and upper body farther behind the ball (to his right) than many others.
Why it works for Simpson: Like Garcia, Simpson is blessed with exceptional flexibility and strength. Beyond that, it's the split-second head start of his lower body to initiate the downswing that creates the acute angle between left arm and shaft. With this much lag, impeccable timing is required to deliver the clubhead to the ball in a square position. Obviously, Simpson has this aspect down pat.
How it can work for you: A strong grip, like Simpson's, promotes a strong hinging of the wrists on the backswing. Test your grip by looking at the back of your left hand at address. If you can see three knuckles, that's a strong position. If two or fewer knuckles are visible, simply roll the hand over the club until you can see the third one. (The right hand should rotate in unison with the left.)
Perhaps counter-intuitively, the lower body is key to maintaining (and even increasing) your wrist hinge into the downswing. It's imperative to begin the downswing with the left leg and hip (for righties), as opposed to starting down with the arms and hands.
Simple practice routines to improve your lag and release include:
- Swinging a weighted club or practice aid designed for the purpose. The extra weight will force you to use the legs to make a proper swing.
- Repeatedly hitting an impact bag (or beanbag chair), placed where the ball would normally sit, with your driver or other club.
- Practicing a partial downswing, holding the angle between the left arm and shaft as you rotate the hips and pull the arms toward the ball. Start by swinging very slowly, then speed up as you get a feel for the drill.
Webb Simpson Powerful Downswing Lag
At 30 years of age, Webb Simpson has already had an impressive PGA Tour career. He has one major championship to his credit – the 2012 U.S. Open – along with three other Tour wins. Simpson had plenty of success as an amateur golfer, including three All-American awards while playing for Wake Forest University. However, many accomplished amateurs have gone on to struggle at the professional level, but not Simpson. He has steadily built his PGA Tour career and has proven that he belongs among the very best players in the game. As a testament to the quality of his play, Simpson has made the cut in 12 of the 18 major championships in which he has competed.
Obviously, you don't reach the impressive level that Simpson has reached without a great golf swing. Even by taking just one look at Webb Simpson's golf swing, it is easy to see why he has been able to have such success in the pro game. He has a classic build for a pro golfer – over six feet tall and slender. Using that long frame, he is able to generate nice power with a flowing, smooth golf swing. While Simpson is not among the longest hitters on the PGA Tour, he still manages to move the ball out there nearly 290 yards off the tee on average. With plenty of distance and reliable accuracy, Webb Simpson is up to the challenge of competing on all of the Tour's difficult courses.
One of the key ingredients in building a powerful golf swing is using plenty of lag. Almost every pro golfer does a great job of using lag to generate speed, and Simpson is no exception. In fact, he probably creates more lag than the average Tour player, something that can easily be seen when watching his swing from the 'face on' camera angle. As the club comes down toward the ball, Simpson is able to lag the club head well behind his hands in order to generate a tremendous angle between his left arm and the shaft of the club. He holds that angle nicely as the swing continues, and that stored up energy is only released once his hands get down over the ball. The result of all of this lag is a swing that looks rather effortless, yet is still able to send the ball great distances down the fairway.
The downswing lag created by Webb Simpson is something that you should try to copy for your own swing. Even if you are never able to hit the ball out there 290 yards off the tee, you can still add distance and consistency to your own game by improving your lag. Simply by doing a better job of maintaining the angle in your downswing, you can add speed to your swing – which will directly translate into more distance. Most golfers think they need to totally rebuild their swing in order to hit the ball farther, but that simply isn't true. If you can follow the lead of Webb Simpson and create as much lag as possible in the downswing, you can unlock plenty of new power without making any other changes.
All of the instruction below is based on a right handed golfer. If you happen to play left handed, please reverse the directions as necessary.
Why is Lag So Important?
Lag is easily one of the most-difficult concepts for amateur golfers to understand. Not only do most players not understand how to create lag in their swings, they don't even understand why they should worry about it in the first place. The average golfer thinks they just need to swing their arms down into the ball as fast as possible in order to create long drives and powerful iron shots. Unfortunately, it isn't that simple. If you hope to add significant distance to your shots and increase your swing speed effectively, you will need to maximize the efficiency of your swing. That means ensuring that the fastest point in your swing is right at the bottom – and that means learning how to use lag correctly.
Nearly every golfer successfully creates the angle needed in order to lag the club. When you swing up to the top of your backswing, there will be an angle of 90* or more formed between your left arm and the shaft of the club. Creating that angle is not difficult, and most golfers are able to do it successfully – even if they aren't thinking about it at all. However, it is the holding of that angle that is of the utmost importance. Players like Webb Simpson are able to hold that angle well into the downswing, only releasing the lag right at the bottom. Most amateur golfers, on the other hand, begin to release that angle right from the top of the swing, meaning they are wasting all of the potential speed that they have built up in their swings. Instead of using that speed at impact, it is thrown away early in the downswing and it cannot be recovered.
Think about it this way – the moment at which the golf club is fully extended away from your body in a straight line with your left arm is likely to be the point at which the club head is moving the fastest. Naturally, then, you want that to occur simultaneous to making contact with the ball. When you can bring those two moments together into one, you can instantly add power to your game. Again, if you watch a video of Webb Simpson making a golf swing, you will see that his timing is perfect in this regard. As he comes into the ball, he is using up that angle that was held so beautifully in the downswing. All of the stored up energy is released, and the ball is launched down the fairway. On the other hand, if you were to release the angle early and have your left arm and club shaft line up prior to impact, you will have wasted the fastest moment of your swing and the club will be slowing down from there on up to your finish position.
It is important to hold your lag in the downswing because it is the only way to maximize the power in your golf swing. Many golfers chase extra yards by working on their fitness or changing things like stance and grip, but it really comes down to the lag you are able to maintain coming into the ball. If you waste your lag early in the downswing, you will never live up to your distance potential – however, if you can learn how to manage that angle correctly prior to impact, you could start to launch the ball farther than ever before.
What Does Your Lag Look Like?
You shouldn't just assume that you don't know how to lag the club head in your current golf swing. Whether your current amount of downswing lag is good or bad, you need to get a clear picture of the situation before you work on making an changes. If you are already lagging the club properly, you will need to find other ways to add yardage to your game. Of course, if you aren't lagging the club the right way, it will be good to know that for a fact so you can then set about working on improving your technique with confidence.
The best (and really only) way to get a clear evaluation of your downswing lag is to take a video of your golf swing. In the same way you can get a great look at Webb Simpson's swing by watching it on video, you can get that same great look at your own swing by doing the same thing. Fortunately, it is extremely easy to take video these days, thanks to the proliferation of cell phones over the last few years. You probably already own a smart phone with a video camera, so there should be no additional cost associated with recording your own swing. Simply head to the driving range with a friend who is willing to help out, and you can have your video ready to watch after just a few swings.
For the purposes of evaluating lag, it is best to take your video from the face on angle. This look will give you the chance to clearly see the angle between your left arm and your club shaft, so you will be able to watch that angle develop all the way down toward impact. If you are losing the angle early, the proof will be right there in front of you on the video. In fact, you can even watch the video of your own swing side by side with Webb Simpson's swing in order to spot the differences.
To give yourself the best possible look at your swing, it is a good idea to use the driver when recording video. With the long swing arc that is used with the driver, you will have plenty of time to get a good look at your lag coming down into the ball. The club isn't lagged quite as much when hitting a wedge, so you might not be able to see how you are doing with a short club in your hands. Hit a few drivers and maybe some long irons, and then take the video back home to review.
There are really two separate things you want to look for on your video, each of which are highlighted below.
- Amount of lag. As your swing transitions from backswing to downswing, you need to check to ensure that you are creating enough lag to begin with. At the top of the swing, you should have set an angle of at least 90* which you can use to start down. That angle might even increase slightly as you start the downswing, but it should be at least 90* when making the transition. If you aren't getting a full set at the top, you need to work on your hand and wrist action in the backswing to set that angle properly. Without getting a good set at the top, it is going to be difficult or even impossible to lag the club well coming down. Get the angle fully set at some point during your backswing so you know that it is in place when you start to come down.
- Position at impact. When you make contact with the golf ball, you want to have essentially a straight line running down your left arm and into the shaft of the club. If that straight line is not in place, you haven't released the club head correctly. Some players drag their hands through the hitting area, leading to a hand position that is well past the ball at impact. In this case, you would actually be missing out on an opportunity to use all of your lag, meaning you are leaving distance in the bag. Freeze your swing at the moment of impact to check this crucial swing position.
Most likely, you aren't lagging the club effectively with your current golf swing. If that is the case, don't worry - most amateur golfers don't have this technique in place in their game. You can learn how to lag the club further down into your golf swing, even if that means only making a minor improvement which leads to a few extra yards. You don't have to hit it like Webb Simpson to play good golf - as long as you are making improvements, you can feel good about the path of your game.
Learning to Lag
Teaching lag is notoriously difficult. In fact, if there was a golf teacher who could reliably and consistently teach his or her students the right way to lag the club, that teacher would likely make a lot of money. There have been countless books written and videos made on this specific topic within the game of golf, but still millions of amateurs fail to lag the club head correctly.
With that said, a large part of learning to lag the club is simply being aware of the importance of this technique. Now that you have watched the video of yourself swinging the club down toward impact, you have a good idea of what your lag looks like. Also, you have watched the swing of Webb Simpson, a professional who has great lag in his golf swing. With those two images in your head, you should be able to head back out to the driving range to work on the mechanics of your golf swing. Even without a specific drill in mind, you can begin to hit balls with the simple goal of adding more downswing lag to your swing. Keep that thought at the front of your mind for your next few practice sessions and hopefully you will begin to see progress with your lag. Try taking a new swing video from time to time in order to check for improvement. Hopefully, over time, you will find that more and more lag is lasting well into your downswing, before you release it all into the back of the golf ball.
While it is hard to pinpoint a specific drill that can help you master the art of the lag, there are a few swing tips that might help promote better lag in your downswing. Those tips are listed below –
- Light grip pressure. It is nearly impossible to create great lag if you are squeezing the golf club tightly at any point during the swing. Light grip pressure will allow you to let the club trail behind your hands as your body does the work of swinging down toward impact. Since the natural rotational forces present in your swing are really what do most of the releasing of the club, you don't need a tight grip to push the club head down to impact. Work on using a light grip pressure throughout your full swing (still tight enough to control the club, of course) and you should notice it is instantly easier to lag the club in the downswing.
- Always on balance. There isn't a single part of your golf swing that wouldn't be helped by improved balance. If you can keep your balance under control from the start of the swing all the way to the finish, you will stand a much better chance of hitting solid shots. Additionally, you will find it easier to lag the club when you are balanced because your body won't be fighting just to make solid contact. It is easy to make good contact when you are on balance, so you can allow yourself to focus on the task of lagging the club into the ball.
- Lower body movement in the downswing. While it might look like downswing lag is all about how you use your hands, it actually has a lot to do with how you move your lower body from the top of the swing. If you can get your legs moving right away at the beginning of the downswing, you will pull your arms down into position nicely. From there, good lag is simply a result of not getting in the way of the swing with your hands or wrists. You just have to let the swing continue to move to the left while keeping your hands quiet. Eventually, your hand will get over the top of the ball and you will then be able to unleash your power through the shot.
Using the three tips above won't completely solve the issue of missing lag in your swing, but they can certainly get you a lot closer to your ultimate goal. It is hard enough to lag the club when you are doing everything else right – it is nearly impossible when there are other flaws in your swing to deal with. Get these three points straightened out and you can expect to see better lag in your future.
The Matter of Trust
Trusting your golf swing is something that should always be a top priority on the course. Every player understands the importance of the mental game, and having trust in yourself is a big component of playing well between the ears. If you don't trust your swing, you won't be able to play good golf because you will always struggle in pressure situations.
When you are trying to lag the golf club more effectively, you will very likely run into another trust issue. As you swing down, it may feel like you need to release the club quickly or else you may miss the ball entirely. Many golfers get nervous as the downswing starts, so they throw their hands at the ball in an effort to make sure the club makes contact at the bottom. It should go without saying that this is a bad idea. You don't need to rush to release the club – in fact, the opposite is true. If you can delay that release, you can add speed to the bottom of your swing.
In order to find the trust that you need, head to the driving range as often as possible. Hitting balls on the range while you focus on lag is a great way to earn the trust that is required on the course. You don't have to worry so much about the outcome of your shots on the range, so you can simply make great swings and watch the ball fly. Once you head out to the course, the memories of those good swings made with plenty of downswing lag will help you hold your nerve even when facing difficult shots.
Webb Simpson has beautiful lag in his golf swing, and he has the rest of the game to go with it. When you combine a powerful and accurate golf swing with skill around and on the greens, you get a four-time PGA Tour champion and a one-time major winner (so far). Adding lag to your swing isn't likely to make you the next Webb Simpson, but it certainly could make you the best version of yourself out on the course.