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Opinion & Analysis

Three ways to hit longer drives

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Those of you who have read my article “How Far Should You Hit Your Golf Clubs” may remember this success story:

“With a 2-degree change in driver loft and some minor adjustments made to his swing path, angle of attack, etc., one of my amateur students went from being an already above-average efficient driver at 2.61 yards/mph to an extremely efficient one at 2.75 yards/mph. So with no change to his 102 mph swing speed, he increased his driving distance average from 266 to 280. Then after some swing speed training, he got up to 112 mph and can now hit drives around 307 yards with that same efficiency of 2.75 yards/mph. That’s 41 more yards!”

Let’s talk about the three reasons this student was able to achieve the extra 41 yards, because they can help every golfer add distance to their drives.

No. 1: Solid Contact

Hitting the ball in the center of the clubface is an important component to hitting the ball farther (and straighter, too). In his article “Impact Location by Handicap,” fellow GolfWRX Featured Writer Tom Stickney II included some great photos of typical impact dispersions broken down by a range of handicaps.

30
30 Handicap

25
25 Handicap

20
20 Handicap

15
15 Handicap

10
10 Handicap

7
7 Handicap

5
5 Handicap

0
0 Handicap

According to research data from Trackman, the typical 14-to-15 handicapper has an average club head speed of 93.4 mph and hits drives that go about 214 yards. A typical PGA Tour player swings at about 113 mph and hit his drives about 290 yards. That means the average driving distance efficiency for an amateur is 2.29 yards/mph and a tour player gets about 2.57 yards/mph.

Interestingly, PGA Tour players aren’t even the most efficient players. Although they are good ball strikers, they tend to hit the ball too low and with too much spin for maximum driving distance efficiency. LPGA players, on the other hand, get about 2.64 yards/mph. That means that the average golfer gives up in the neighborhood of 35 yards to an LPGA player, despite both of them swinging the driver at approximately the same speed of 93-to-94 mph. Part of this comes down to making better contact as already mentioned, so definitely work on your ball striking.

A cheap and easy way to check your impact location is with Dr. Scholl’s X Foot Powder Spray. Spray it on the face of your clubs so you can quickly see your impact pattern. It wipes off easily and causes no damage to your clubs.

No. 2: Optimal Launch Conditions

In the example above, my student was already a very efficient driver at 2.61 yards/mph. He has aspirations of playing on the Senior Tour in a few years, though, so he flew me to Texas to see if we could eek a few more yards out of him.

We went over to his local range and started hitting balls on the local pro’s Trackman. After a few drives, we determined that he was averaging 102 mph of club head speed, had an 8.9-degree launch angle and was generating 3382 rpm of spin using his 9-degree driver. I felt that we could get more distance out of him without even increasing his club head speed. Ideally, I wanted to increase his launch angle to about 13.8 degrees and decrease his spin rate to around 2508 rpm.

The easiest way to change spin rate if you make consistent contact is to change head loft. Using a bit of algebra, I estimated that we could bring his spin down and accomplish the first goal if we went from his 9-degree driver down to a 6.7-degree driver. We went over to Sellinger’s Power Golf, which carries low-lofted drivers, and we asked for a driver that measured 6.7-degrees (it was actually stamped 6). The nice thing about Sellinger’s is that they carry a good selection of low-lofted drivers and they can often get you a specific head loft. Some top-tier custom club fitters such as Tom Wishon can do this as well.

With the lower-lofted driver, the student and I went back over to the range and started measuring his drives with the new head. His average spin came down to the desired range, so our first goal was complete. Next, we faced the second part of the challenge. He was already hitting the ball low with the 9-degree driver, but now with the 6.7-degree driver he was hitting it even lower. To get him to launch it higher, we had him tee the ball higher and position it slightly more forward in his stance. Due to the D-Plane, we also had him swing slightly more in-to-out. After some practice, we arrived at the precise teeing location and swing direction that we needed for him to swing freely and achieve our desired launch angle of close to 14 degrees.

From a simple 2.3-degree change in driver loft and some slight technical adjustments, we got him up from 266 yards per drive to 280 yards per drive, which is about the maximum amount of distance he could expect under normal average conditions from a club head speed of 103 mph.

Here are 5 steps for how to apply this to your own game.

  1. Find a Doppler Radar launch monitor such as FlightScope or Trackman in your area and get some basic averages for yourself for club head speed, launch angle and spin rate.
  2. Visit a club fitter who can find out the exact loft of your driver (remember, it’s not always what’s stamped on the head).
  3. Use the table below and some algebra to estimate the precise head loft you need to achieve your ideal spin rate. All else being equal, going up in loft will add spin. Going down in loft will take off spin.
  4. Get the precise driver loft that you need.
  5. Using a Trackman or other launch monitor, play with your tee height, ball position and swing direction until you achieve your goal launch angle from the next table below.

Screen Shot 2014-12-26 at 12.40.42 PM

Teeing the ball higher, farther forward in your stance and swinging a bit more in-to-out can help you hit higher drives. Teeing up lower, farther back in your stance and swinging a little less in-to-out can help you bring the launch down.

Screen Shot 2014-12-26 at 12.42.42 PM

No. 3: Faster Swing Speed

Once you are hitting the ball solid and have optimized your launch conditions as described above, you can gain additional distance through swing speed training programs such as mine, Swing Man Golf. That’s how my student added another 27 yards to his 280-yard drives, getting him up to an average of 307 yards per drive. With his excellent driving efficiency and now above average clubhead speed, this student won’t be losing anything to the field and he is well on his way to achieving his goal.

Have fun launching the ball farther!

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Jaacob Bowden is a Professional Golfer, PGA of America Class A Member, Top 100 Most Popular Teacher, Swing Speed Trainer, the original founder of Swing Man Golf, the co-creator of "Sterling Irons" single length irons, and has caddied on the PGA TOUR and PGA TOUR CHAMPIONS. Formerly an average-length hitting 14-handicap computer engineer, Jaacob quit his job, took his savings and moved from Kansas to California to pursue a golf career at age 27. He has since won the Pinnacle Distance Challenge with a televised 381-yard drive, won multiple qualifiers for the World Long Drive Championships including a 421-yard grid record drive, made cuts in numerous tournaments around the world with rounds in the 60s and 70s, and finished fifth at the Speed Golf World Championships at Bandon Dunes. Jaacob also holds the championship record for golf score with a 72 in 55 minutes and 42 seconds using only 6 clubs. The Swing Man Golf website has more than 8,000 members and focuses primarily on swing speed training. Typically, Jaacob’s website members and amateur and tour player clients will pick up 12-16 mph of driver swing speed in the first 30 days of basic speed training. You can learn more about Jaacob, Swing Man Golf, and Sterling Irons here: Websites – JaacobBowden.com & SwingManGolf.com & SterlingIrons.com; Twitter - @JaacobBowden & @SwingManGolf & @SterlingIrons; Facebook – Facebook.com/JaacobBowdenGolf & Facebook.com/SwingManGolf & <Facebook.com/SterlingIronsGolf; Instagram - Instagram.com/JaacobBowden YouTube – YouTube.com/SwingManGolf – More than 2.8 million video views

10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. Pingback: How Much Distance is Lost With Age? - Dan Hansen Golf Instruction

  2. Bob Gom

    Jan 5, 2015 at 11:52 am

    Some great stuff….would love to hear your thoughts on the pic of the two lowest handicaps.

    Notice (mainly on the zero cap) how the marks go from lower on the face (heel) to the center to higher (toe)

    One can pretty much draw a line at 45 degrees (approximate) threw the center of the ball marks from heel to toe.
    This head is a TM SLDR it seems and like many of the past TM offerings, I feel are to up right in lie angle. Does this example not prove this?

    It’s obvious that the person who used this club strikes it very well, but as he misses slightly towards the toe, the shots climb up the face and the opposite when they strike it off the heel. Looks to be two face lines (grooves) different in height or about 1/2″ difference. If the head was flatter, you might see one groove difference between all these shots and on a straighter line horizontally and I bet slightly better numbers.

    I hear and read about Toe Droop, but to me this is a clear case of a lie being to upright…thoughts?

  3. other paul

    Jan 3, 2015 at 11:09 am

    I decided to buy into Jaacob’s swing speed program. And then tried to hard and hurt my left shoulder. Oops. But I gained yards after doing the exercises one time (6yardd past my previous record, measured on the same launch monitor, old record was 280, beat it 4 times up to 286). Going to take a week off golf to let my shoulder repair, then back at it again. I like the program so far.

  4. TR1PTIK

    Dec 29, 2014 at 7:30 am

    No doubt from reading this that ball contact and spin rates are keeping me from hitting the ball farther. The few times that I’ve been able to get in front of a launch monitor I was launching on average between 13-15 degrees with somewhere around 105mph club head speed. My spin rates are usually somewhere in the upper 2000-lower 3000 RPM range which I would expect is largely due to gear effect. According to the Zepp Golf sensor I’ve been toying with I can now swing the club somewhere around 110mph quite comfortably – though I’m not sure I trust that number – and some of my longest drives would indicate that I’m very capable of breaking the 300yrd barrier with some regularity if I can strike it more consistently. My longest drive last season was 324 yards that I tracked using the GolfShot app on my phone. I had at least one other tracked drive over 300 yards and several that were just under, plus a few more that weren’t tracked, but were at least very close to the 300 yard mark. Looks like some Dr. Scholl’s foot spray and range time are in my immediate future.

  5. other paul

    Dec 28, 2014 at 10:03 pm

    I would love to see some more articles on over speed and long drive training. I swing just over 100mph and would love another 10-15mph. I jumped in a hot tub recently and then hit balls. I was hitting it over 300 yards immediately. I got a taste of effortless power and I want more.

  6. alan

    Dec 28, 2014 at 8:31 pm

    i did a couple weeks of overspeed training after reading a thread here and picked up substantial gains. really surprised it isnt talked about more often.

    caution-i wouldnt recommend overspeed training to a high capper, there are other things(center face contact) that imo a higher capper should worry about.

  7. DaveMac

    Dec 28, 2014 at 8:07 pm

    Thanks for the article, I liked the launch conditions vs swing speed tables. I have to say the solution to get your student into his optimum launch window, seemed extreme. It required a dangerously low driver loft ( I can’t see many amateurs hitting a 6.7 degree driver straight, unless straight OB counts). It also required a complete change in driver setup and AoA.
    There must be a more straight forward way of hitting the magic numbers!

  8. The dude

    Dec 28, 2014 at 3:43 pm

    Speed training…..most under appreciated technique for hitting the ball longer…period

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Opinion & Analysis

Skateboarding legend Steve Caballero on why golf is cool (Bonus: must-watch golf trick)

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GolfWRX recently spent time in Los Angeles, California where we investigated skate culture, and why so many skateboarders are starting to play golf. There is much, much more content that we will release in the coming weeks from this journey, but we thought this was an interesting place to start.

Spear-headed by Bert Lamar of Iliac Golf, who grew up skateboarding and snowboarding (ever heard of Lamar Snowboards? that’s him), we spoke with skateboarding legends Steve Caballero and Tony Hawk about the golf-skateboarding relationship.

Steve spoke with Bert about his recent introduction into the world of golf, what’s drawing him in, and how skateboarding is similar to golf. Enjoy a transcription of that conversation below (edited for brevity), and check out our trick golf shot with him at the bottom of the story!

Fun fact: Steve Cab is the inspiration behind the Vans Half Cab shoe (“half-Cab” was a trick that he invented, and he also advised Vans to make a mid-height shoe that was given the same name).

Skating, music, art and… golf?

I’m traveling a lot around the world. Skating, I do a lot of artwork these days. So I’ve been traveling to Japan, and I’m going to France in two weeks, to ride motorcycles, skate, do art, play some music… I’m kind of all over the board when it comes to being creative, and just kind of expanding my capabilities and possibilities of things, and now golf has become a new challenge for me. My oldest brother used to play golf with my dad, and that’s something that they shared together, and my brother’s been trying to get me to play golf for probably around 10 years. And I’ve just always said “no, no, no, I’m too busy”… I ride dirt bikes, I mountain bike, I skate for a living. [I started playing golf] to please my brother. I was like, “you know what, ok”…. We went out and hit some balls, [at] the range, and I definitely got a feel for what it takes to hit the ball and try to focus on what you’re doing and it really, really struck me; it is very challenging, and it kind of reminds me of skating in little ways.

How is skateboarding similar to golf?

Just technique, body position, repetition. I know golf is a very difficult sport, and I just knew if I indulge myself into it… I like challenges so anything that I get into I’m gonna focus on and that’s all I’m gonna do; I’m gonna eat, breathe and sleep golf… I know that golf is a little bit more safer than skateboarding in terms of bodily injury and getting hurt; breaking a wrist or your leg or concussion.

What makes golf cool?

I think what makes golf cool is the fact that you need to put work in and just to be good at it. You have to put a lot of time and focus into it. And I think what it is, you have to have that personality of wanting to challenge yourself at something. It’s something you can do on your own, something you can do with a group. That’s kinda why it reminds me of skating because it’s kind of the same thing, like, one day I’ll be able to do an “air” three-feet out, the next day, I can’t even grab my board…

Are you a natural at golf?

It’s a thing where I get into arguments with my older brother; I don’t believe in natural talent, everything is learned.

So, how about that trick shot, huh?

Our own editor Andrew Tursky and legend Steve Caballero collaborated on a golf trick shot during the interview session. Actually, this only took a couple tries. It turns out Steve is a good putter when using the wheel of his skateboard.

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Podcasts

Gear Dive: Mizuno’s Chris Voshall speaks on Brooks Koepka’s U.S. Open-winning irons

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Mizuno’s Chief Engineer Chris Voshall speaks on how Brooks Koepka was the one that almost got away, and why Mizuno irons are still secretly the most popular on Tour. Also, a couple of Tiger/Rory nuggets that may surprise a few people. It’s an hour geek-out with one of the true gems in the club biz. Enjoy!

Related: Brooks Koepka’s Winning WITB from the 2018 U.S. Open

Listen to the full podcast below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

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Opinion & Analysis

Hear It, Feel It, Believe It: A Better Bunker Method

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The following is an excerpt from Mike Dowd‘s upcoming novel, “Coming Home.” 

After picking the last of the balls on the driving range, Tyler cornered Mack as he hit a few shots from the old practice bunker to wind down at the end of the day. Mack was hitting one after another, alternating between the three flags on the practice green and tossing them up about as softly as if he was actually lobbing them each up there underhanded.

Tyler just stood there, mesmerized at first by the mindless ease with which Mack executed the shot. Bunker shots, Tyler silently lamented, were likely the biggest hole in his game, and so after Mack had holed his third ball in a couple of dozen, Tyler finally decided he had to ask him a question.

“What are you thinking about on that shot, Mack?” Tyler interrupted him suddenly.

Mack hit one more that just lipped out of the closest hole, paused a few seconds, and then looked up at his protégé in what Tyler could only interpret as a look of confusion.

“What am I thinking about?” he finally replied. “I don’t know, Tyler… I’d hate to think how I’d be hittin’ ‘em if I actually started thinking.”

Tyler gave Mack a slightly exasperated look and put his hands on his hips as he shook his head. “You know what I mean. Your technique. I guess I should have said what exactly are you doing there from a mechanics standpoint? How do you get it to just land so softly and roll out without checking?”

Mack seemed to be genuinely considering Tyler’s more elaborately articulated question, and after a moment began, more slowly this time, as if he was simplifying his response for the benefit of a slightly thick-headed young student who wasn’t getting his point.

“You can’t think about technique, Tyler… at least not while you’re playing,” Mack replied. “There’s no quicker path back to your father’s garage than to start thinking while you’re swinging, especially thinking about technique. That’s my job.”

“Mack,” Tyler insisted, “How am I supposed to learn to hit that shot without understanding the technique? I’ve got to do something different than what I’m doing now. I’m putting too much spin on my shots, and I can’t always tell when it’s going to check and when it’s going to release a little. How do I fix that?”

“Well, not by thinking, certainly,” Mack fired right back as if it was the most ridiculous line of inquiry he’d ever heard. “A good bunker shot can be heard, Tyler, and felt, but you can’t do either of those if you’re focused on your technique. You feel it inside of you before you even think about actually hitting it. Watch, and listen.”

With that Mack swung down at the sand and made a thump sound as his club went through the soft upper layer of sand and bounced on the firmer sand below.

“You hear that?” Mack asked. “That’s what a good bunker shot sounds like. If you can hear it, then you can feel it. If you can feel it, then you can make it, but you can’t make that sound until you hear it first. Your body takes care o’ the rest. You don’t have to actually tell it what to do.”

Tyler still looked puzzled, but, knowing Mack as he did, this was the kind of explanation he knew he should have expected. Coach Pohl would have gone into an eight-part dissertation on grip, stance, club path, release points, weight transfer, and so forth, and Tyler suddenly realized how much he’d come to adopt his college coach’s way of thinking in the past four years. Mack though? He just said you’ve got to hear it.

“Get in here,” Mack said suddenly, gesturing to the bunker and offering the wedge to Tyler. “Now close your eyes.”

“What?!” Tyler almost protested.

“Just do it, will ya’?” Mack insisted.

“Okay, okay,” Tyler replied, humoring his coach.

“Can you hear it?” Mack asked.

“Hear what?” Tyler answered. “All I hear is you.”

“Hear that sound, that thump.” It was Mack’s turn to be exasperated now. “It was only moments ago when I made it for you. Can’t you still hear it?”

“Oh, remember it you mean,” Tyler said. “Okay, I know what you mean now. I remember it.”

“No, you obviously don’t know what I mean,” Mack replied. “I wanted to know if you can hear it, in your mind, hear the actual sound. Not remember that I’d made it. There’s a big difference.”

Tyler suddenly did feel kind of dumb. He wasn’t picking up what Mack was getting at, at least not exactly how he wanted him to get it, and so he sat there with his eyes closed and gripped the club like he was going to hit a shot, waggled it a bit as if he was getting ready, and then opened his eyes again.

“Okay,” he said suddenly. “I think I can hear it now.”

“Don’t open your eyes,” Mack almost hissed. “Now make it, make that sound. Make that thump.”

Tyler swung down sharply and buried the head of the wedge into the sand where it almost stopped before exiting.

“That’s not a thump,” Mack said shaking his head. “That’s a thud. You can’t even get the ball out with that pitiful effort. Give me that!”

He took the wedge back from Tyler and said, “Now watch and listen.”

Mack made a handful of swings at the sand, each one resulting in a soft thump as the club bottomed out and then deposited a handful of sand out of the bunker. Tyler watched each time as the head of the club came up sharply, went down again, hit the sand, and came back up abruptly in a slightly abbreviated elliptical arc. Each time Tyler listened to the sound, embedding it as he studied how the club entered and exited the sand. Mack stopped suddenly and handed the club back to Tyler.

“Now you make that sound,” he said, “and as you do remember how it feels in your hands, your forearms, your chest, and most importantly in your head.”

“What?” Tyler asked, looking back up at Mack, confused at his last comment.

“Just do it,” Mack said. “Hear it, feel it, then do it, but don’t do it before you can hear it and feel it. Now close your eyes.”

Tyler did as he was told, closing his eyes and then settling his feet in as he tried to picture in his mind what Mack had been doing. At first, he just stood there waggling the club until he could see the image in his mind of Mack hitting the sand repeatedly, and then he could hear the soft thump as the club hit the sand. He started to swing but was interrupted by Mack’s voice.

“Can you feel it?” Mack said. “Don’t go until you can feel it.”

“Well, at first I could see the image in my mind of you hitting that shot over and over again,” Tyler said, opening his eyes and looking at Mack, “and then I could hear it. It sort of followed right in behind it.”

“Ah, the image is a good starting point, but you can’t just see it and hear it, you need to feel it,” Mack replied, pointing to his head. “Feel it in here, and then you can feel it here,” he continued, putting his hands together like he was gripping a club. “Now close your eyes again.”

“Okay,” Tyler said, not sure he was getting it, but finally bought in. He settled in again and began waggling the club until he could see Mack swinging and hear the subtle thump of the sand. He let it just loop in his mind, over and over again, until suddenly he could feel it like he was the one doing it, and then he swung.

Thump came the sound as the flange of his wedge hit the sand. It was his swing, but it was different, maybe not to the naked eye, but in the speed, the level of tension, and the release. He opened his eyes again, almost tentatively, and looked at Mack with a combination of curiosity and amazement.

“I felt it that time,” Tyler said in a voice that seemed to resonate within from somewhere in the past. It almost sounded like Jackie’s in its exuberance.

“Yes… good,” Mack replied patiently. “Now close your eyes and do it again, but make sure you can feel it before you pull the trigger.”

Tyler settled in again, waited until, like the last time, he could see it, hear it, and then finally feel it… Thump… Something was slightly different this time, though, and Tyler opened his eyes to notice Mack kneeling down next to him. He had quietly deposited a ball into the place where Tyler had swung. Tyler looked up in the direction of the green and the target flag he had been aiming toward just in time to see a ball slow to a gentle stop about four inches from the flag.

“How’d you do that?” Tyler said, almost in wonder now.

“I didn’t,” Mack replied. “You did. You just had to stop thinking. See it, hear it, and feel it. Once you feel it, you can believe it. Anything more is more than we need. Any questions?”

As Mack turned to walk up out of the bunker, Tyler just stood there shaking his head a moment, looking at the spot in the sand, and then back up at the green as if to confirm the ball he’d seen roll to stop was still there. “I guess I’ve still got a lot to learn.”

“Well… yes and no,” Mack said cryptically as he turned back to look at him. “You pretty much know how to hit all the shots, Tyler. You’ve hit every one of them at one time or another. You’ve just got to learn how to empty your head of all those instructions so you can focus on finding the shot you need when you need it. It’s in there somewhere.”

“It’s hard to explain,” Tyler said, “but a lot of times I walk up and think I somehow just instinctively know what shot to hit without even thinking about it. I just kind of see it and feel it. It’s when I start to analyze things a bit more closely, factoring in all the things I know are important to consider like the wind, keeping away from the short side, where I want to putt from, and the best trajectory or shot shape for the situation, that I often start to second guess that feeling.”

“Ever heard the saying paralysis from analysis?” Mack asked. “It pretty much describes those moments.”

“Yeah, I get it,” Tyler replied, “but all that information is important. You have to consider everything and not just make a rash decision.”

“Sure, information is important, but you can’t get lost in it,” Mack countered. “Whether it’s golf, or just about anything else in life, Tyler, you need to learn to trust your gut. You’ve hit hundreds of thousands of shots in your life, Tyler. All those shots leave a mark. They leave an indelible little mark that gets filed away in your brain subconsciously, getting stacked one on top of the other. And after years of playing the game, those stacks and stacks of shots create an instinctive reaction to each situation. It’s like gravity. It pulls you in a certain direction so much that most of the time you almost know what club you should hit before you even know the yardage. Trust that, Tyler. Go with it, and know that first instinct comes from experience. There’s more wisdom in those gut reactions than just about anything else.”

“Thank you,” Tyler said after considering it a moment. “I think that’ll really help.”

“You’re welcome,” Mack replied. “Now rake that bunker for me and clean the balls off the green. I want to get things closed up before dark.”

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