Monday, November 15, 2010

Please Release Me, Let Me Go!

Release is the moment of truth!  It is that feeling of ease and power combined.  It is the motion that makes golf a bit like powder skiing - the word that best describes it is ahhh.  When the average player feels a great release of the golf club, it is what brings that player back to the course or the driving range for more.  So how do you do it?  What is release?  Simply stated, when you release the club, you have effectively used a lever.

Check out this footage of Iron Byron and you will get an idea of pure leverage used to hit a golf ball.
Iron Byron
This link will also take you to a pro who uses this as a method for teaching.  I get the idea, but really?  If we all had a stable fulcrum in the front of our chest, one arm that bent both ways at the elbow and someone who oiled us regularly, then I could see the reasoning behind this approach, however, I think the thing we should be taking away from this machine is simply the lever system of the back swing and release.

This machine does a great job of setting the angle between the shaft and its arm, it creates momentum by dropping the club from the top and it releases the lever and the momentum at the bottom of the swing as the club head passes the center of the machine.  Here are the things that I believe golfers should take away from watching the mechanics of a much simpler machine than the human body.

First, the arm of the machine and the shaft of the club form a straight line at impact.  That straight line gives the club maximum release and therefore maximum speed.  In golf, speed = power.  If you look at yesterday's blog, you will see that many golfers release the club too early and throw the club head or hang on to the angle too long by moving the handle of the club laterally.  They never achieve that straight line that the machine achieves.  Why?  There are so many reasons.  Lack of strength, lack of understanding, too much or too little grip tension and a fixation on hitting vs. swinging are all reasons I see daily.  Check out this video and you will see an example of a great release:
Ricky Fowler Face On
If you can stop it right at the :28 second mark, you will see the perfect straight line needed for maximum speed.  Ricky Fowler is currently 45th in driving distance stats on the PGA Tour with an average drive of 292.9 yards.  He is 5'8" and weighs just 150 lbs.  His swing is the perfect example of speed = power.

Okay, so it is one thing to talk about it or to watch, but how do you do it?  First, it is important to understand that your hands are what creates the load on the golf club to impart force.  The hands create acceleration and direction of your clubhead and therefore your ball.  If your hands are in charge, they need to have a good grip on the club.  (We will talk about what is a good grip in an upcoming blog.)  That grip pressure needs to be reactive to the forces you put on it during the swing.  Think of this example.  You are vacuuming your house with a heavy vacuum.  Your hand is firm on the handle, but not tight.  However, when you get to the maximum extension point of your sweep, your grip pressure will be much firmer.  You can use any example where you create force with your hands, such as shoveling snow or chopping wood.  In all actions, your arms are soft, but strong, which allows your hands and wrists to be firm when needed.  When you arms are too tight in any of these activities, it ruins the chain of movements and puts a lot of tension in your shoulders.  Golf is exactly the same. 

When I hear people give advice about grip pressure, I think much of it is misplaced.  Occasionally, I will see a person hanging on too tightly, but more often it is that their elbows are locked or their arms are tight, giving them loose hands and floppy wrists.   These golfers often let go of the club at the top of their swing, because something has to give.  Many of them actually let go prior to or right at impact also, thus taking away the force that creates the straight line we are looking for at impact.  If your hands are what provides the force in the leverage system of the golf swing, they should be in control at all times, not barely hanging on. 

Some people who don't release the club correctly are under the impression that your hands need to be in front of the club head at impact.  That is true, but the design of the club will take care of that for you.  If you try to make that happen instead of releasing at the ball, you will never get as much speed as you could and your power will be lacking.  Another problem, especially for new golfers, is the idea that the club is for hitting not for swinging.  When that is your intention, your hands will usually stop too soon and the club head gets thrown too early.  If we used the instincts we develop when we are kids swinging on swings, we would quickly understand that acceleration through the bottom of the arc doesn't end until we reach the end of our momentum.  That instinct used in the golf swing allows the hands to maintain their speed and deliver the club head at the bottom.

I hoped today's discussion of release helped.  The idea of allowing the club and your arms to form a straight line at impact is a great visual for you to take to the range the next time you practice.  The next blog will be about short game.  By the way, the golf course now has about a foot of snow on it.  It is winter in Vail!

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