A full, well-timed release of the club – the right hand and forearm rolling across the left through impact – is essential to pounding powerful drives.
Many underlying factors can conspire to cause a golf swing release that"s too early, producing tops, fat shots and hooks, or too late, resulting in a slice or push.
To instill proper timing and rotation in your release, practice the golf swing “split-grip drill,” a staple in every golf instructor"s bag of tips. It’s usually performed without a ball and is remarkably effective at demonstrating what a good release feels like:
- Using any club, place your left (top) hand on the grip, then the right, with 2-3 inches separating them. It’s OK if your bottom hand touches the shaft.
- 2. Make a series of half-swings – the right arm should cross naturally over the left as the swing bottoms out in the impact zone.
- 3. Repeat regularly – daily, if possible – to learn and maintain the correct release.
The golf split-grip drill can be practiced at home and cures a variety of ills, since a proper release is necessary to hit solid golf shots with woods, irons or hybrids.
Unlocking the Mystery of the Golf Swing Release
If there is one area of the golf swing that is more-misunderstood than any other, it is probably the release. Most golfers understand that they need to release the club through impact to square the club face and send the ball toward the target, but the majority fail to grasp just how they should be doing it. Golf swing release timing is crucial to the success of your shots, so this is a point that is worth spending some time and effort on in order to get it right. When the golf swing release point is too early or too late, the ball will fly to the right or left of your target. Get your golf swing release timing just right however, and you can hit some beautiful shots.
When done correctly, the release just happens without a conscious thought or effort on your part. In fact, it has to be done that way if you are going to hit the right golf swing release point because the swing is too fast to actively try to control the release through the ball. If you try to manually manage this part of the swing, you will almost certainly be left with a golf swing release too late to do any good. Think of the release as something that is set up by the rest of your mechanics – if you put all the pieces in the right place, the release of the club will be natural and automatic through the hitting area.
So how do you know what kind of condition your release is in currently? It is important to analyze your current release pattern if you want to make the necessary adjustments going forward to improve your game. Following are a few different ball flights that you could be seeing in your game, along with the probable release that goes along with them.
- Slice. The dreaded slice usually is connected to a premature release in the downswing. When you let the club go early, the club head will slide across the ball from outside-to-inside at impact. This is the classic pattern that leads to a slice. The reason that most slicers hit the ball high and short (along with the slice) is that they are releasing the club early. If you have struggled with a slice in your own game, working on fixing your golf swing release point should be high on your to-do list.
- Push. Golfers who push the ball out to the right (for a right handed golfer) usually aren’t letting the club release at all. This is commonly referred to as a ‘hold on’ swing. That means that you are holding on to the angle that you have between your hands and the club through impact without letting the club head release. You can also think of this as being a golf swing release too late to help save the shot.
- Hook. A golf swing release wrist action that is too aggressive through the ball can result in a hook. This is usually accompanied by an inside-out path that starts earlier in your downswing. When you bring the club from the inside and then let your golf swing release wrist action happen too actively through the shot, a hook is the only outcome that you will see.
Obviously, there are many more ball flights possible on the course than just these three. However, those listed above cover the majority of amateur golfers who are struggling with their swing. Below, we will walk through the proper way to release the golf club and address some of the common mistakes that the average golfer makes.
Note that everything below is based on a right handed golfer, so please be sure to reverse the directions if you play left handed.
Setting Up for a Proper Release
Just like everything else in the golf swing, the ground work for a good release is developed from the moment you take your stance. A good address position will make it easier for you to release the club properly because the rest of your body will be in the right place to facilitate that movement. Players with a bad set up position often stand no chance to achieve a good release. Get your set up right and the chances of letting the club release nicely through the ball go way up.
As it relates to the release of the club, one of the key set up elements that you need to get right is your grip. Of course, the grip is the only place where your body is actually connected to the club, so it is important that this aspect is technically correct. The key to the grip in this case is the right hand. Many golfers think that the golf swing release right hand action needs to be powerful and aggressive, but that isn’t really the case.
In fact, the golf swing release right hand motion can be relatively passive, as the club will want to release on its own as long as your body as turned through the shot correctly – and you have held the angle on the way down with your left hand properly. Therefore, your right hand grip should be as relaxed as possible at address. If you are squeezing the grip of the club with your right hand before starting the swing, you will likely use that hand too much during the swing. What that means is an early release, and a probable slice.
With your right hand grip properly relaxed, the other pre-shot element you need to get right is the flex in your knees. This is crucial for a variety of reasons, but it is really important to facilitate a release through impact. Having flexed knees enables your lower body to drive through the downswing and rotate aggressively toward the target. This is key to getting the club to release. Without that rotation toward the target, there won’t be any reason for the club to release unless you just throw your hands at the shots – which is exactly the kind of release that you are trying to avoid.
There is more to a good address position than just these two points, but these are the two that are particularly important for a good release to occur. The relaxed right hand grip will give the club the freedom it needs to rip through the hitting area, and your flexed knees will allow your lower body to drive through the shot. Combining those two elements can have a powerful affect that could lead to some of the best shots you’ve ever hit.
Letting it Happen
It is a tremendous challenge to know that you have to let the club release during your golf swing, but also that you can’t really do anything about actively making that happen. The reason that so few golfers ever learn the proper release in the swing is that there is such a fine balance between letting the release happen and not having it happen at all. You need to get the club and your body in the right position for a full release, and then allow it to occur. It is a tricky proposition to say the least.
There are three specific elements of your swing that need to be executed correctly in order for you to have the club releasing as it should through the hitting area. If you miss on even one of these three points, a successful release through the ball is unlikely to occur.
- Full shoulder turn going back. Getting a full shoulder turn in the backswing sets the stage for everything that is to come later. If you are unable to turn your shoulders all the way back, you won’t have enough room behind the ball to build up speed and generate the angles that you need in order to create a full release. Most golfers come short of their full shoulder turn potential because they are in a rush to get back down to the ball. Remember, rhythm and timing are your friends, and you need to take plenty of time in the backswing to get your body in position to strike. The ball isn’t going to go anywhere while you are taking your backswing, so there is no need to rush. Make a full turn back away from the ball while maintaining your balance and the flex in your knees. This will probably set the stage for the next step.
- Hip rotation going forward. The transition of your golf swing from back to forward should be handled by your hips. As the club is approaching the top of the swing, you should start to rotate your hips to the left to allow your entire body – and the club – to change directions. It is absolutely crucial that this change of direction happens with your hips, and not your hands. When you use your lower body to change directions and start the club moving forward, you give yourself the best possible chance at building speed. Most of the power in your golf swing should come from your lower body, so you need to get it working toward the target in plenty of time before the club gets to impact. If you were to start down with your hands first, the lower body wouldn’t have enough time to get involved before the ball was struck. Make sure it is your hips that are getting the forward action started, and you will be a step closer to that perfect release.
- The lag. This is the big mystery surrounding the full release of the club through impact. As you are coming down toward the ball, the club should be ‘lagging’ behind your hands, and the rest of your body. What this looks like is the club forming a roughly 90* angle with your left arm during the downswing. The longer you can hold that angle as you approach impact, the more power you will have stored up and ready to be released. Most amateur golfers start to lose that angle right from the top of the backswing – while most pros hold it off until the last possible moment when the club starts to release itself naturally. If you are able to use your hips to rotate your body toward the target, and resist the temptation to take over too much control with your hands, you can achieve this lag position. You want to feel like your are pulling down toward the ball with the back of your left hand, and that your right hand is just along for the ride.
It takes work and plenty of practice to teach yourself how to lag the club correctly. However, this is the one skill that there is really no substitute for on the golf course – if you learn how to lag the club, a whole new world of shots becomes available to you. If not, you will always be limited in how far and how accurately you can hit the ball. With good lag in place, and proper body rotation through the shot, you shouldn’t have to worry about the release any more – it should just happen as a natural byproduct of all the work you have already done within the swing.
The Common Mistakes
Unfortunately, there are plenty of common mistakes that average golfers make when it comes to the release of the club. These go deeper than just releasing the club too early or too late – rather, they relate to the way in which the player is trying to swing the club in the first place. Mechanical errors within the swing can make a proper release through impact essentially impossible to achieve. Following are three common mistakes that prevent many players from ever getting the club to release as it should.
- Trying to force it. Far and away this is the most common mistake relating to the release. The average golfer tries to force the club to release by using the right hand to throw the club head at the ball in the downswing. This is where so much trouble can start from. Not only will this method never been consistently timed properly, it also will cause you to lose power and accuracy when striking the ball. It might feel like the right thing to do, but forcing the club to release with too much right hand action will undo any other good things you have done in your swing. If you feel like you have to force the release of your club during the downswing, this is one of the first things you should work on correcting within your game overall.
- Cutting the backswing short. This was mentioned briefly above, but needs to be highlighted again because it is so costly to your swing as a whole. If you don’t give the backswing enough time to finish naturally, there are a variety of issues you will face. One is that the club will never get set properly in the first place, so lagging it on the way down becomes nearly impossible. Second, the lack of turn means there is less time in the downswing to build up speed and generate the momentum necessary to cause the club to release naturally. A full turn away from the ball creates both time and space – time for the club to get set properly, and space that can be used during the downswing to generate speed and power.
- Hips failing to rotate through. It is one thing to start the downswing with the hips, but it is another thing to carry that movement all the way through the shot to maximize your power. Many amateur players struggle to keep their lower body rotating correctly through the downswing and end up dealing with a loss of power and an outside-in swing path. When your hips stop moving to the left, your hands are forced to release the club early because they will have run out of space to swing down. Therefore, you are left with an early and weak release that usually sends the ball pulled to the left – if it isn’t sliced way off to the right. Either way, nothing good is going to come from lacking hip rotation in the downswing.
Those three mistakes are some of the ones most frequently faced by golfers struggling with their release. If you are having trouble figuring out what issues might be affecting you, the best option is to record your swing on video to see just what is going on in your swing – and what you might be able to do to fix it.
A Couple Drills
Doing drills is a great way to improve just about any aspect of your swing, and that includes your release. Below are two simple drills which you can perform on the driving range, either before a round or just during a normal practice session.
The first drill is one where you are going to hit some short shots with only your left hand on the club. The point of keeping a light right hand grip pressure is so important that it can be reinforced by taking your right hand off the club completely. If you only have your left hand on the grip at address, you will be forced to swing the club with your body and let the momentum of the swing release it through impact.
Use a short club such as a 9-iron or pitching wedge and hit about 10 shots with only your left hand. Obviously, you aren’t going to be able to hit these shots as far as you do with two hands, and you might even have trouble hitting the ball at all on your first few tries. As you work on this drill, focus on the role that your shoulders and hips play in moving the club back and through the swing. Hopefully, through some trial and error, you will start to feel how easy it is to accelerate the club through the hitting area by using the rotation of your body – even if you don’t have your right hand on the club. Once finished with the drill, go back to hitting some two handed shots and try doing so with the same kind of feeling as the one handed efforts.
The other lag drill for you to work on at the practice range is much the opposite from the first. In this drill, you are going to stand with your feet touching each other at address in order to take your lower body completely out of the equation. The idea is to hit the ball with only your hands and arms. With a 9-iron, try to hit the ball as far as you can without using your lower body, or even much shoulder rotation. You will quickly find that the only way you are able to do this is by lagging the club head behind your hands so it can release itself through the impact area. If you don’t build up lag in the club during this drill, you will have trouble hitting the ball more than 50 yards or so at best. Once you get comfortable with the feeling of how the club should lag in the downswing, move back to your normal stance and integrate that lag along with proper body rotation.
Getting the release right during the golf swing is one of the biggest differentiating factors between an accomplished golfer and one who is struggling to find consistency on the course. Don’t beat yourself up over it if you are having trouble mastering the release – it is a difficult concept to learn and implement into your swing. However, with the information included above, you should be on your way toward getting a better handle on it in the near future. Take plenty of time on the practice range to work on your release, and the motion should start to become more and more natural for you.