Clubhead Lag: What It Is In Golf Swing + Drills to Help You Feel It

Learn Why Clubhead Is 'the Real Secret to Golf'

Thomas Bjorn swings during the final round of the 2007 World Golf Championships CA Championship
David Cannon/Getty Images

Yes, there truly is a "secret" of golf. Good players know it and use it almost subconsciously. The Golfing Machine, by Homer Kelley, describes this "secret" as "clubhead lag" and cites that "it is simple, elusive, indispensable, without substitute or compensation and always present."

What is clubhead lag? We've all heard this term, but few know what it means. Lag can be defined as the "trailing" or "following" of the clubhead behind the hands — that is to say, the hands ahead of the clubhead including at impact. (If the clubhead gets in front of the hands at impact — known variously as casting, flipping, scooping, flicking, an early release, and by other terms — distance and accuracy both suffer.)

In this article, we will focus on "clubhead lag" and its importance to the golf swing, and I'll give you a couple drills to help you get the feel of good lag.

Clubhead lag is simple because every club is designed for its shaft to lean forward (toward the target) ahead of the golf ball. When an iron is soled correctly, with both the leading and trailing edges on the ground, you will see that the shaft leans forward (toward the target). If soled incorrectly, the shaft will lean either backward (away from the target) or too far forward. When a club shaft leans backward or too far forward, the clubface loses its correct loft.

Clubhead lag is also elusive as it is not only the hands leading the clubhead, it is also the bending of the club shaft during the start of the downswing. The initial force of the hands moving toward the ground bends the club shaft. According to Mr. Kelley, "clubhead lag promotes even and steady acceleration, assuring dependable control of distance — any amount of deceleration during the down stoke dissipates clubhead lag." Therefore, constant acceleration is needed to ensure a lagging clubhead through impact.

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With Proper Lag, Iron Shaft Leans Toward Target at Impact

Clubhead lag - right and wrong looks
Chuck Evans

A prime example of a correctly lagging clubhead occurs when a tour player hits a shot. As the player starts his pre-shot routine the announcer tells us that the player has 193 yards to the flag and is going to hit a 6-iron. A 6-iron! A lot of players would love to hit their driver that far!

In every good swing with an iron at the moment of impact the club shaft is leaning forward (toward the target). The hands are in front of the ball and of the clubface — as in the photo above on the left — effectively turning the six-iron into a five- or four-iron.

When the club shaft is stressed and constant acceleration is used, the player gains control of the height and distance of all their clubs. Once this technique is properly applied, it becomes indispensable. The player can then rely on his ability to use the proper amount of lag pressure at any time.

The average golfer arrives at impact with the hands behind the ball and the club shaft leaning backward (as in the photo above on the right). This effectively adds loft to the club and turns that six-iron into a seven- or eight-iron. If you play golf with someone who is always complaining that their irons go the same distance, that player has a backward-leaning club shaft.

Clubhead lag is always present once the downstroke has begun. Good players use steady acceleration. Poor players over-accelerate, the hands reaching maximum speed before impact, thus losing the "lag." According to Mr. Kelley, "any over-acceleration or pushing away of the club will eliminate the lag, never to be re-attained for that shot."

Therefore, resist any attempt at throwing the hands at the ball or "flicking" the wrists near impact. Remember: The hands lead and the clubhead trails.

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Drills to Help You Get the Feel of Clubhead Lag

clubhead lag drill with wet towel
Chuck Evans

Here are some drills to feel, establish, and maintain clubhead lag.

What does "lag" feel like? It feels exactly like dragging a wet heavy string mop through impact. In this drill, I used a towel. Wrap the towel around the hosel of your club and place the clubhead on the ground, just outside of your trailing foot. Now try to use just your wrists to take the clubface to the ball.

This move is difficult at best and the shaft will be leaning backward. Now replace the club but this time rotate your hips, sternum, and target-side shoulder left of the target line. You'll notice a distinct sensation of dragging and a heavy pressure through the ball.

For the next drill, you can simply take a piece of rope and hold it like a club. Go the top of the swing and allow the rope to rest on the top of your right shoulder. As you start down, you will "feel" like the rope stays on the shoulder as you take your hands directly downward to the ball, or at the "aiming point." This is called "rope handle technique" in The Golfing Machine. The "end" of the rope will "lag" your hands.

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Using an Impact Bag (or Pillow) to Feel Clubhead Lag

clubhead lag impact bag drill
Chuck Evans

A properly lagging clubhead produces a strong downward thrust, which adds distance, trajectory, and consistency.

The majority of golfers do just the opposite. They try moving the clubhead with the wrists. This produces a "quitting" motion and the club moves upward toward impact instead of downward.

For a great drill use a duffel bag, pillow or impact bag like the one shown above. Take the club back to waist height with the club shaft parallel to the target line and horizontal to the ground. Now simply rotate the hips, sternum and left shoulder. This will bring the hands and body to impact position and the clubhead will be lagging.