As a golf teacher and coach, I understand how important driving distance is. I have yet to have a student ask me if I can help them hit it shorter. As statistical analysis has continued to improve, the importance of distance and how advantageous it is has come to the forefront.
There are two primary ways to increase distance, especially with the driver. The first is to increase clubhead speed. This is what I see most golfers trying to do when they want more distance. They reason that the harder you swing the farther the ball will go. That’s sound reasoning, but it doesn’t always work. The second way, and arguably easier way to increase distance, is to increase your efficiency, because a more efficient swing creates more ball speed and better launch conditions, thus increasing carry and total yardage even with the same clubhead speed.
I find it much easier to improve distance among my students by attacking efficiency rather than speed. This is not to say that you cannot and should not try to increase speed, but speed without efficiency will have minimal impact on your overall yardage.
So what makes a driver swing efficient? Center contact and the proper launch conditions. If you struggle with both, don’t worry. I have a drill to help at the bottom of this story.
Ball speed off the center of the club face will always be higher than the ball speed from a mis-hit shot with the same clubhead speed. Also, off-center hits — especially with the driver — greatly influence the flight of the ball, and can cause a good swing to produce off-line shots.
- Worst place to hit the ball for ball speed: Low, heel.
- Best places to hit the ball for ball speed: Center, slightly high toe.
High launch, low spin is what you always hear is the secret to more distance — and it’s not so secret anymore to distance. While the statement is generally true, golfers need to match their launch angle and spin rate to their swing speed, as well as their angle of attack to get the absolute most distance off the tee.
As you can see from the Trackman tables below, every clubhead speed has an ideal launch angle and spin rate for maximum distance. A swing speed of 80 mph will not create optimal distance if it is matched with the optimal launch angle and spin rate of someone swinging 120 mph, and vice versa. Across the board, however, what’s apparent is how much more driver distance golfers can create when they hit up on their driver rather than down.
Optimal Launch Conditions for 75-95 mph Swing Speeds
Optimal Launch Conditions for 100-120 mph Swing Speeds
I’m routinely asked if the driver swing is the same as the iron swing, which requires a downward angle of attack because the majority of iron shots are hit off the ground. Although I do not always say this the answer is no, the swings are not the same. Trackman data, as well as video studies and pressure traces prove it.
The driver has the shallowest average attack angle of any club in the bag. We also see the most rearward head movement with the driver of all the clubs, particularly halfway down into impact. Ideally the head is staying back, allowing the driver to move in an upward fashion sooner. That’s what enables some golfers to optimize their launch conditions, contact and overall distance with the driver.
For some golfers this is an unconscious act, something they have developed over time through feel and adaptation. For those of you who struggle with distance and have poor launch conditions, however, the drill below is an excellent way to quickly get the correct feel for how the driver should move through impact for optimal launch conditions and total yardage.
Tee a ball up so that it is about 3/4 of an inch above the crown of the driver. Then place an alignment stick in the ground about 6 inches behind the ball and six inches above the ground. Lay another alignment stick on the ground 6 inches front of the ball to promote an upward move through impact. The swing back and through under the stick, trying not to hit it, while smashing a big drive.
This station will create an environment where you can only hit the ball solid by missing the sticks. Such feedback is critical to making this change.
WATCH: How slow-motion training can lead to more power and consistency
Eddie Fernandes has made big changes to his swing (and his power and consistency have gone up) by mastering the key moves in slow motion before he speeds them up. Everyone should use this kind of slow motion training to make real changes to their swing!
WATCH: What you really need to know to control the direction of your shots
In this video, Top-100 Teacher Tom Stickney shows you how to better control the direction of your shots by understanding how both the club face and swing path determine where your ball goes.
Stickney: There are many ways to pitch the ball that work
While surfing through some old swings, I found a great photo of two players hitting pitch shots at Augusta. Both are great pitchers of the ball but use differing techniques. It goes to show you that there is more than one way to get the job done and in fact it reiterates that there is really no “law” when it comes to what shot to play under certain circumstances.
Note: I did NOT say that one was better than the other; I said both work, but you must decide which style works better for you in the end.
In the photo on the left, the player in the white sets his wrists fully, but as we look at the player on the right (in the blue) you can see no wrist hinge at all. So, which is more correct? Both are!
The player on the left hits his pitch shots with more of a driving of the leading edge, which relies on a steeper angle of attack. The golfer on the right uses more of the bounce of the club and thus will come into the ball more shallowly. Not setting the wrists as much helps him to do so.
So, remember that you must experiment with both styles to find your best way…but don’t forget it’s nice to understand and learn how to use both!
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