Casting the golf club from the top of the backswing, also known as an early release, is a problem plaguing scores of golfers. Its most common side effects include thin shots, fat shots and a loss of power.
When the hands lead the downswing, bad things happen. The wrists unhinge too early, causing the swing to bottom out before reaching the ball. Instead of storing energy in the forearms and wrists until the last second, the early releaser leaks most of his power well before impact.
Try these practice tips if you suffer from an early golf swing release:
- Swing a weighted club. The additional weight forces the lower body and core to engage, preventing the hands from dominating, and instills the feel of the club dropping into place from the top.
- Hit an impact bag (similar to a beanbag). Many pros use this drill to create a delayed release.
- Rehearse a ¾ downswing, holding your wrist cock from the top of the swing until the hands reach hip-height. Do this several times in a row, then make a complete swing with the same motion.
These drills will help cure an early golf swing release, and get your lower and upper body in sync and leading the hands into the ball, rather than the other way around.
Tips to Cure an Early Golf Swing Release
The release is one of the most-elusive parts of the golf swing to understand. It happens so quickly during the downswing that you cant really control it intentionally – rather, you have to make sure all of the other parts of your swing are in order so that the release can happen on its own. Many amateur golfers struggle with an early release, meaning the angle that has been created between your arms and the club is released prematurely. When this happens, you will be wasting club head speed that could have been better used if it was deployed right at impact when the club head meets the ball. The golfers who are able to hit the ball the longest are those who can store up the power they have created in their swing and then unleash it at the perfect moment to maximize club head speed through the shot.
For most golfers, the problem of an early release stems from a desire to rush down to the bottom of the swing and hit the ball. Whether it is nerves or just a lack of practice, many amateur players want to hurry up and hit the shot as soon as they complete their backswing. Needless to say, this is far from ideal. There should be no hurry on the downswing, as the ball isn't going to go anywhere. Instead, the downswing should be a gradual building of speed as your body uncoils and turns toward the target. Once your lower body and torso have had a chance to rotate through the shot, the club can then be released and maximum power will be achieved.
Fixing your early golf swing release will take some time, but it can be done. The key is understanding the chain reaction of events that has to take place in order to properly time your release. If there are other problems earlier in the swing leading to the early release, those will need to be fixed appropriately first before the release problem can be resolved. In the golf swing, each step builds upon the last, so one problem early on can have a devastating effect on the rest of your swing. Taking the time to work through all of your fundamentals is the only way to clean up your swing from a mechanical standpoint and get the release working properly.
All of the instruction contained below is based on a right handed golfer. If you play left handed, please be sure to reverse the directions as needed.
Signs that You Have an Early Release
You don't want to start trying to fix your early golf swing release if you don't have one in the first place. While this is a problem that does plague many golfers, obviously there are many other players who are able to time the release correctly and don't need to work on this issue. Therefore, it is smart to take the time to analyze your swing and figure out if you are in fact dealing with an early release.
If any of the following three signs are present in your game, there is a good chance that an early release is something you will need to correct.
- Hitting the ball fat. In golf, a fat shot is one where the club hits the ground prior to hitting the ball. Obviously, this is not the goal when swinging the club, as you want to strike the golf ball first prior to taking a divot out of the turf. If you find that you are hitting a lot of fat shots throughout a given round, chances are that you have some degree of an early release. When you release the club early and your hands push the club head down toward the hitting area, your body wont have enough time to rotate out of the way and get through the shot. That means that your center of gravity will be too far behind the ball, and the club will strike the turf first. It will be difficult to ever consistently strike the ball solidly unless you are able to eliminate the early release from your swing.
- Ball flight too high. On the shots where you are able to successfully make solid contact, you may find another problem caused by an early release – a ball flight that is too high. It is important to understand that hitting the ball high isn't always a bad thing, but rather it depends on the specific trajectory that the shot takes. When your ball flight starts out lower to the ground and then climbs high later in its flight, that can be a good sign that you are making nice contact and generating plenty of backspin. However, a ball flight that heads high into the air almost immediately off the club face is an indication of an early release. This becomes a problem because the shot wont carry very far before coming back down to the ground, and it usually wont have enough backspin to hold its line properly.
- The slice. There is a reason that many golfers struggle with both a slice and an early release – the two are directly linked to one another. If you fight a slice off the tee (or with any of your clubs), there is a high probability that you have some degree of early release in your swing. When the club is released too early in the downswing, it gets outside of the proper swing path and has no choice but to move back across the ball at impact. This imparts that dreaded left to right spin that you want to avoid, and the ball slices quickly away from the target and off to the right. While it is terribly frustrating to watch shot after shot slice to the right, there is good news – when you fix the early release, you will probably have fixed the slice as well.
If you decide that one of more of these three elements is present in your game, there is a good chance that an early release is to blame. Rather than being frustrated at the technical flaws in your swing, look at this as an opportunity to get better. Take the necessary steps to fix your early release and better ball striking could be waiting just around the corner.
How to Solve the Problem
None of the outcomes that you are going to receive from having an early release in your golf swing are good ones. In order to get your game on track and start hitting good shots hole after hole, you are going to need to eliminate that move as quickly as possible. Solving the early release comes down to understanding what is causing it, and then making the adjustments necessary to get rid of it once and for all.
Like any other change you make in your golf game, it all needs to start on the practice range. Work on the proper mechanics on the range before you ever head out onto the course and the transition to your new and improved swing will go much smoother. If you were to rush onto the course after just one or two practice sessions, you would most likely undo any progress that you had made up until that point.
While you are probably most excited to get rid of your early release so you can hit your driver farther, it is best to start by working on your wedge swing. The swing with your short clubs is slower and simpler, making it easier to change. Once the new techniques are engrained with your wedges, you can slowly work your way up to the driver. It will require some patience to keep your driver in the bag as you work on improving your swing, so commit yourself to the process and trust that you will see good results in the end.
To get started, grab your pitching wedge and set aside about ten range balls to hit. Before making your swings, however, you are going to make a modification to your grip. Often the early release is caused by too much right hand action in the downswing – so we are going to make it difficult for you to use your right hand at all while the club is coming down. Take your address position with your grip as usual. Then, before starting your swing, unwrap the fingers of your right hand so they are no longer on the club. The palm of your right hand should still be touching the grip on your pitching wedge, but that is all. Your right hand will be in an open position, meaning that it has very little control over the movement of the club. Your left hand grip should remain as normal.
With your new grip, try hitting a few shots. The results of these shots could be somewhat unpredictable, so make sure you are standing in a place on the range where it is safe to hit some poor shots (i.e. a shank). Also, don't try to hit the first few at full speed – just make a controlled swing and learn the feeling of swinging the club down through impact without much input from your right hand. Assuming you have been releasing the early up until this point, this modified grip is going to be a big adjustment. Make practice swings in between each shot to improve your feel as you go. Hopefully, with each shot that you hit, your results will get a little bit better.
If you are struggling with this drill, remember that your lower body needs to be in charge of the downswing. Rotating your body toward the target will provide the club with the power it needs to swing through the hitting zone. Since your right palm is still on the club, it can still provide power when it is necessary – right at impact. However, having your fingers unwrapped should prevent that power from being used too early. There is no doubt that this can be a challenging concept for many players to grasp, but the results can be amazing once you find the right feeling.
After hitting some shots on the range with your modified grip, go back to hitting some shots with your regular grip (still using the wedge). You will have better control over the club with your normal grip, so you should hit better shots. However, try to retain the feeling that you have learned in the drill above and dont allow your right hand to take over the downswing. When the left hand pulls the club down into position, along with the lower body rotating toward the target, great shots soon become possible.
Use a Punch Shot to Demonstrate Your Improvement
One of the best ways to determine if you are making progress in curing your early release is to hit some punch shots on the driving range. A punch shot is something that is difficult to hit for a player with an early release because they wont be able to create the downward angle that is so important when trying to hit the ball low to the ground. If you are able to stand on the driving range and hit some beautiful punch shots that fly low and straight, you will know that the early release has been cured.
To use this test, start by hitting some normal shots down the range with your seven iron. Don't do anything different to this swing – just make your usual swing like you are trying to hit a standard seven iron shot on the course. Watch carefully how the ball flies through the air. Specifically, try to get a good idea of how high the ball is flying. Obviously you aren't going to get an exact measurement, but you should be able to get a good image in your mind that you can use later.
Once you hit a few regular shots, start hitting some punch shots with the same club. These shots should be hit toward the same target as your full swings, only they will fall short of the target because they are hit lower and with a partial swing. If you are unfamiliar with how to hit a punch shot, there are basically two adjustments that you need to make – move the ball back in your stance, and choke down on the grip of the club. Doing those two things should result in a nice low ball flight, as long as you aren't guilty of an early release.
So – how do your punch shots look? If the ball is still flying high into the air, you need to go back and do more work on your early release. However, if you are hitting solid shots that stay relatively low to the ground and fly straight at your target, the early release is likely gone from your swing. Make it a habit to hit at least a few punch shots during each practice session going forward. Not only will this help you watch for any signs of the early release, but it will also help you learn how to hit this valuable shot that can get you out of plenty of trouble spots around the course.
It is important that you don't get ahead of yourself and start trying this punch shot experiment before you swing is ready. Make sure that you have worked enough on your regular swing to have completely removed the early release before you start working on hitting punch shots to check your progress. You will likely be anxious to see how you are doing, but resist the temptation and only work on this part of the process when you are absolutely sure you are ready for it.
What to Expect Moving Forward
If you have successfully removed the early release from your golf swing, congratulations are in order – it is a major challenge, but your game will be far better for the effort. Speaking of your game, it is helpful to know what you should expect from your new swing when you do go back onto the course and start playing actual rounds of golf again. After all, as every golfer knows, taking your swing onto the course is a much bigger challenge than using it on the driving range.
Following are three things that you are going to want to watch for when you play your first few rounds of golf after removing the early release from your swing.
- Added distance. When you are able to hold on to your release longer and let the club go to full speed only when it reaches the hitting area, you will almost certainly achieve additional distance. Instead of wasting that power during the downswing, you will now be saving it up for use when it matters most. This is great news for your game, but there is one problem – there is no way to know how much distance you have gained. The only way to learn is through trial and error. Get out on the course, play some holes, and take notice of how much difference there is in your distance with various clubs. It is going to take some time to adjust to your new distance, but you should get the hang of it after only a round or two. It might help to make notes as you play regarding how far each club goes, so you can look back at those notes later when in the same situation.
- A new ball flight. If nothing else, your slice should be a thing of the past. Moving forward, you will have to see what kind of ball flight emerges as you most-common outcome when hitting different clubs. For some golfers, improving the release will mean they start to hit a draw with all of their clubs. Other players may fade the driver but hit draws with the rest. Again, there is really no way to know until you get out there and test it for yourself. Try not to force one specific ball flight, either – it is possible to play great golf with a fade or a draw, so just use what now comes naturally. As long as the ball is not slicing off to the right, you should be very happy with your progress.
- Greater backspin. When it comes to the short irons in your bag, expect to be generating more backspin now that you are hitting down through the ball properly. In your old swing, the club would actually be moving up through impact because of the early release, making it difficult to generate much in the way of backspin. Now that you have fixed that mistake, you should notice additional backspin being put on the ball – especially when you hit into the green from the fairway. Just like the previous two points, this will take some getting used to. Learn how the ball reacts when it lands on the green so you can make the adjustment and start planning for your newfound spin.
In time, getting rid of your early golf swing release will mean nothing but good things for your game. However, in the short term, your scores could suffer somewhat as you learn to make the transition and adjust to how much has changed with your game. Although the early release is a bad swing fault, it is still one that you had gotten used to and become somewhat comfortable with. Once that has been worked out of your swing, there will be plenty of adjustments to make, including the three listed above. The best way to make these adjustments is simply to get out onto the golf course and play. Watch your shots carefully, learn from your mistakes, and get better with each passing round. In reality, it shouldn't take long before you are fully comfortable with what your new swing can do and you are shooting the best scores of your golfing career.