In my last article, “Who is the Greatest Driver of the Ball, Ever?” we introduced the techniques that separate the longest drivers of the golf ball from most amateur and tour players. We established that the turning and thrusting system of the legs, pelvis and torso is the motor and primary energy generator in the golf swing. The supple arms wind tightly up and around this system on the backswing, and then simply react to it and unwind on the through swing creating a slinging effect. The energy from the turning and thrusting system is transferred through the arms and club shaft, creating tremendous escape force out to the club head. Being that the wrists are the key joints that connect the arms to the club, they understandably play a key role in the golf swing.
All too often I see players at the range, and even as part of a pre-shot routine, setting an angle with the wrists between the forearms and club shaft and preserving that angle in a pumping action as they rehearse their swing. Very often I’ll inquire with these players what they are doing and why, and it is always the same response:
“I want to hold the angle and delay my release for as long as possible, to create lag…you know, avoid the cast.”
This becomes the perfect place to begin our examination of the role of the wrists in the golf swing.
So let’s talk a little more about “lag” and “release,” as these are hot topics and much disputed in the world of golf instruction. How to generate lag and its importance is frequently debated in golf circles as it is widely accepted to be a key facilitator of club head speed. Modern swing viewpoints are that lag is created by “holding the angle” between the club shaft and forearms for as long as possible, or “delaying the release” of the wrists into impact.
The term “lag” is defined as “a failure to respond in a timely fashion to inputs.” “Holding” and “delaying” are terms describing restrictive forces requiring some type of tension, and indicate an interruption in movement. We would never ask someone cracking a whip or casting a fishing rod to “hold” or “delay” anything, in fact, we would encourage them to do just the opposite. Just as it would be absurd to suggest to the greatest sprinter in the world, Usain Bolt, to hold off on his top speed for the first half of the race, but then really turn it on towards the end of the race.
We only have so much time and circular path distance in the golf swing to maximize the speed of the club head, and we need to take full advantage of these time and distance parameters.
I prefer to describe “developing lag” as simply the full “loading” of the wrists, forearms and elbows. Maximum loading is the result of tension free wrists, forearms and elbows hinging and rotating their complete, natural range of motion. The more tension we have, the less likely these joints will move through their complete range of motion, and as a result loading will be decreased.
The facts are that in the downswing, the earlier and faster we begin “unloading” the wrists, forearms and elbows, the more time and distance there is to turbo charge the slinging arms that are reacting to the bigger circular forces being generated by the turning and thrusting system. Therefore, the trick is to completely load the wrists, forearms and elbows on the back swing — we don’t have to wait for the lag to be created on the downswing — so that we can unload and compliment the slinging action of the arms from the very top. This gives us more time and circular distance to advance the shaft and increase club head speed.
The importance of the turning and thrusting system serving as the primary energy generator (with the wrists, forearms and elbows serving as the turbocharger) can not be overstated. This is evidenced by comparing the top long drivers with the top PGA players. According to Dr. Greg Rose from the Titleist Performance Institute, PGA players have a rotational force of about 900 degrees per second and world class long drivers are at about 1300 degrees per second. At the same time, long drivers have considerably more thrust, which creates the hip vault that results in de-weighting them at impact as compared to most tour players, who are considerably “heavier” at impact. Combine these rotational and thrust force advantages with a more complete loading and an earlier unloading of the wrists, forearms and elbows results in the dramatic distance differences between the two groups.
A good visual to help understand how to release the fully loaded wrists, forearms and elbows earlier and faster is the chore of beating the dust out of a carpet hanging from a clothes line. For our purposes, we are going to use a golf club. Would you finish the chore faster by holding the angle of the wrists as the arms pull across the body, making contact with the carpet with the butt of the club and hand unit or left elbow? Or, would you be more effective using your turning and thrusting system to sling the arms into the carpet at tremendous speed, while the wrists, forearms and elbows unload considerably earlier serving to further advance the shaft so that the club head slams into the carpet? Just as the second scenario will get you finished with your chore faster, it will also help you increase your club head speed and distance.
Release is when the lag or load created begins to reverse itself, or “releases” into the mirror image. It is the moment these wrist, forearm and elbow positions reverse themselves that is considered the full “release” of the club.
Players who try to hold angles or practice “pump” drills to improve their release are fighting a losing battle. Every repetition they practice this technique is actually reducing the time and circular distance they have to build up speed. They are actually slowing their club head speed down by delaying the release. Instructors use this same “pump” drill on beginners to get them to eliminate “casting” the club. Casting the club being a bad thing is another age old instructional misnomer. Why do we cast a fishing rod? To get the lure (or in golf’s case, the club head) moving as fast as possible so it can fly further. The casting actions of the elbows and shoulders are very similar to the proper arm movements in the golf swing; they just occur in a different plane.
Note: Notice that I didn’t include the wrists, because casting uses a wrist pivot which needs to be avoided. More on this in a subsequent article.
Jack Nicklaus said, “There is no such thing as a cast, just a slow lower half.” So, as golfers wrongly try to eliminate the “cast,” what they should really be doing is focusing on activating and accelerating their turning and thrusting system.
In short, our turning and thrusting system is slinging the unwinding arms out to the ball, as the straightening of the right elbow, supination of the right forearm and unhinging of the wrists are turbocharging the club head and advancing it further along the circular path. We are slinging the arms and throwing the club head with the wrists at the same time — a key to the tremendous distance generated through the Wind and Sling golf swing.
Last month I posted “Who is the Greatest Driver of the Ball, Ever?” In it, I highlighted the accomplishments of the Legend of Long Drive, Mike Dunaway. Thank you for your overwhelming response. Sadly, my friend and mentor passed away on September 29th, 2014 at the age of 59. Please click here and check out the video tribute of his life and his love for golf.
Hit’em long and straight forever, Mike. Thank you for all you’ve done for me. Swing in peace.