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How do LPGA Tour players hit their drives so straight?

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As a teacher, I have had the privilege of coaching both men and women golfers through the decades, and I’ve found that there are both similarities and significant differences in the approach to teaching golf to each gender.

When coaching male golfers, I often need to keep tabs on the amount of strain used in the swing, especially with the driver. On a scale of 1-10, the strain level used should be around 3-4 to get a velocity and compression of 7-8. Think about it as your second serve in tennis. Tom Watson was an expert at this. 

When I ask my new male students to rate their level of strain, they often answer 8-10… and that is after I describe 10 as a separated rib (which, by the way, you see more often than you would think on the professional tours). Using this level of strain is the equivalent of flooring a race car on a wet track; there is a red line there for a reason! It’s the same with your body; you need to be aware of your limits.  

Because men generally have more muscular density than women, they can take a golf club and yank it around like a big dog with a rag doll. This is generally not the case for women. They respond to the weight of the golf club and flow with it, rather than against it. As a result they develop better timing and rhythm in their swings, which leads to them hitting more fairways.

Like a lumber jack with a heavy axe, all golfers should learn to use the weight of the golf club to deliver the blow. Watch the video above to learn more.

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Shawn Clement is the Director of the Richmond Hill Golf Learning Centre and a class A PGA teaching professional. Shawn Clement was a 2011 and 2015 Ontario PGA Teacher of the Year nominee and was also voted in the top 10 (tied with Martin Hall at No. 9) as most sought after teacher on the internet with 65 K subscribers on YouTube and 29 millions hits.

17 Comments

17 Comments

  1. OW

    Mar 18, 2017 at 3:41 am

    Shawn, thank you very much for the Driver lesson. I’m looking forward to the long iron/fwy lesson. I’m a ~10 hp golfer and hit my mid and long irons decent, but struggle with fairway woods from the turf. I’d really like to see a lesson on fwy’s from the turf. Thank you.

  2. Wrong

    Mar 16, 2017 at 8:37 pm

    With no disrespect at ALL to the women on the LPGA tour, they are sharp and incredibly talented and could beat most everyone from any tee box…but the reason the women hit it straighter is because they swing way slower. Its simple math. Who has the potential to hit it more crooked, the 22 year old who carries it 330, or the 75 year old who nukes his driver 200? Clearly the latter. Also, next time you go to a tough golf course play it from three tees up from the tips. 99% of courses lose their intimidation factor off the tee box when your tees are so forward. You are closer to the fairway, don’t have gorse or valleys to carry, and it’s just a more comfortable shot to hit. So yeah….when you’re swinging your driver at 95 MPH it’s pretty hard to put too much gnarly side spin or block / pull it off the planet. Plus the tee boxes are relatively stress free from a mental stand point. Again, the women on the LPGA tour are incredibly talented, and once off the tee box it squares up with with the guys. But it goes without saying that they play an easier game off the tee box.

    • Ian Muir

      Mar 17, 2017 at 1:27 pm

      The LPGA tournaments are not played from three tees up as you say – they typically play 6,800 yard tracks which will be akin to longer courses than you play in the monthly medal. This week in China at Mission Hills it’s 7,300 yards and they’re still shooting 65s.

      The rationale about women’s golf at the elite level is misunderstood (my daughter is 16 years old and plays off +3 and carries her drives 255 on the fly…270 with run-out most typically yet averages 67 around a 6,100 ladies course /6,990 men’s course). Like all elite ladies/girls she thinks her way around and uses the right clubs to yardages which she knows like a pro. She can beat me (and I’m off +1 handicap) playing off level from the men’s tips more often than I beat her.

      Amateur men (that’s not the elite variety but you and your mates) typically try to emulate Dustin or Rory as it’s all about swagger. You’ll think you hit your irons farther than you actually do and you don’t course-manage very well at all. It’s quite simple really, it’s not all about distance. My nephew is 20 years younger than me and averages 320 yards off the tee with driver (with a 3 handicap) but despite being 40 yards past me most times never wins even when in receipt of 5 shots. Why? Because he tries to power his irons and rarely hits better than 40% GIR…I manage 70% GIR and therein lies the difference. Wake up and realise it’s not all about distance off the tee or hitting your 56* wedge 140 yards.

      • Andrew Cooper

        Mar 18, 2017 at 12:16 pm

        Trackman tour data: LPGA average driver carry distance 218 yards v PGA Tour average 275 yards. Swing speed averages LPGA 94mph and PGA Tour 113mph.
        LPGA courses set up on average between 6200 and 6600 yards.

      • Dale Doback

        Mar 18, 2017 at 2:55 pm

        The ANA Inspiration at Mission Hills had several tee boxes forward of where I had to play a golf channel am tour event at 6400 yards. It was a phenomenal event but the course was setup around 6500 yards for a MAJOR. If you are correct Ian Muir, which I know for a fact you are not and if the LPGA played a course at 7300 yards Inbee Park would need 3 shots to reach every par 4 since she carries the ball around 210 yards. Thats awesome your Daughter can drive it 260 yards that will put her near top in distance on the LPGA and still dead last on the PGA Tour and Senior PGA tour. LPGA players are more accurate because they are about 60 yards shorter on average. You can hit the ball much further offline and still hit fairway the shorter you hit it.
        http://blog.trackmangolf.com/trackman-average-tour-stats/

      • setter02

        Mar 20, 2017 at 9:17 am

        Stopped reading after you talked about the yardages they play from, not even close. Please don’t think that what the card says is what they play, even more so in wet weather where the Ladies get no roll. Then you’ll see some events played at or below 6300 yards. Typically sub 6500, and even when they announce 6500, its usually below that.

  3. Guia

    Mar 16, 2017 at 7:34 pm

    Want to hit it straight???? Straight back, straight through.

  4. Jerry

    Mar 16, 2017 at 6:25 pm

    Rubbish. PGA tour clubhead speed stats show average and max clubhead speed within a few mph of each other. Gotta go after it to generate speed. Swinging easy is a bandaid for other swing flaws. Additionally with less distance you’ll pick up phony accuracy due to the geometry of a shot. The same percentage offline miss at 250 in the first cut is in the trees at 310.

    • Patricknorm

      Mar 16, 2017 at 7:36 pm

      I don’t think you understood what the writer said. There is a point of diminishing return when swinging a golf club, specifically a driver. Most pros will tell you they swing at about 80% because they want to be under control. Occasionally they swing harder but nothing near 100%. That’s reckless , especially if this is the way you earn income. Besides, if pros swung at or near 100% all the time their careers would be very short because of injuries or….too many missed cuts.
      Watching the Arnold Palmer Invitation today, Frank Nobilo pointed out that Brandt Snedeker was hooking the ball too much because he was swinging too hard. Like I said before, there is a point of diminishing return. That was what the author was trying to say.

      • Shawn Clement

        Mar 18, 2017 at 2:02 am

        Awesome Patrick! Exactly what I meant!! Thank you!

      • Bobby Bigshlawng

        Mar 20, 2017 at 5:14 am

        Whenever I have a driver in my hand I am going after it…when I do connect and hit a bomb..it makes me feel like I have a big Johnson

  5. Alex

    Mar 16, 2017 at 4:05 pm

    This method of creating speed works for you because you’re about 7 feet tall with a 10-foot wingspan. How about for those of us with short limbs and height?

  6. Golfwhiler

    Mar 16, 2017 at 2:57 pm

    The point matches up to experience. Speed and accuracy are at a nexus. Try hammering a nail. If you want to hit the nail dead center on the head with the middle of the hammer, the slower you swing the hammer the more accurate.

    Next, try hitting the nail with as fast as swing as possible. The chance of controlling swing path and therefore accuracy will diminish. For one thing, you’ll have to grip the hammer more firmly the faster you swing to compensate for centrifugal force pulling the club out of your hand.

    Tighter grip means tighter forearms and bigger muscle groups taking over. These are strength muscles and not fine motor skill muscles. This all translates into less control of swing path and face to path which factor into where the club face meets the ball. The latter are what determines accuracy to target.

    Course management involves knowing what your maximum driver distance off the tee is with enough accuracy to have a decent line into the layup or the green. My bet is that most casual golfers would do better on par 5s hitting 3w, 6i, 7i, W and two putting for bogey than Driver, two shots out of the trees, 3w, 7i, W and two putt for a triple.

  7. larrybud

    Mar 16, 2017 at 1:45 pm

    I’m not sold on the assumption. You need to measure “straightness” by degrees off line with similar swing speeds. If I hit it 230 off the tee and am 5 degrees offline, (which is 20 yards from center), and I “straighter” than if I hit it 330 off the tee and 4 degrees offline, which is 23 yards from center?

    Obviously if you hit it farther, it will go more offline with the same degrees of inaccuracy.

  8. Dj

    Mar 16, 2017 at 12:23 pm

    It seems that the women with higher swing speeds have the same issue of being a bit more inaccurate. Might be something to be said about new equipment and slower swing speeds to go along with their tempo and rhythm

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Instruction

A shockingly simple drill to hit the golf ball farther

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One of the biggest requests I get on the lesson tee is for more distance. Everyone wants to hit the golf ball farther. Obviously. That being said, there’s many things that go into producing distance, such as…

  • Swing Length — how long is the swing or how long does the club stay in the air before hitting the ball?
  • Swing Width — are you at full extension at during the swing or do you get soft arms?
  • Impact Point — the horizontal and vertical point of contact that influences gear effect, launch, and spin rate.
  • Spin Rate — how much backspin does the ball have?
  • Height — how high is the ball in the air?
  • Launch Angle — what is the angle of the ball off the face during impact?
  • Ball Speed — how fast does the ball leave the blade?

But one thing remains true: if you want more distance, then you must swing faster with all of the above being maximized for your current swing speed. So how do you create more speed? Simple — set up the drill as shown below.

Use between 6-to-10 balls and swing 100 percent all out with no regard for where the ball lands. Then repeat the drill and make your normal speed swing and you will find that your clubhead speed will slightly increase. Do this drill 5 to 10 times per practice session and you will train yourself to swing faster.

However, it’s up to you to figure out how fast you can swing yet maximize the qualities listed above so you can maintain consistent contact.

Remember, you don’t have to get complex to solve your distance problem. Try this first and see what happens!

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Your Body Is Your Most Important Piece Of Equipment; It’s Time For An Upgrade

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Clubs, balls, shoes, mental training, lessons. Golfers are always searching for the next thing that is going to transform their game. If a product has promise, golfers are like addicts; they must have it… regardless of the price. What’s usually ignored, however, is the most important piece of equipment for all golfers: their body, and how their physical conditioning pertains to golf.

Everything becomes easier by getting in better “golf shape.” You will likely hit the ball farther, have better energy and focus, fewer aches and pains, improved ability to actually implement swing changes and the durability to practice more.

When trying to improve your physical conditioning for golf, it would shortsighted not to mention the following requirements:

  1. Discipline: There will be times you don’t want to train, but should.
  2. Patience: Small, incremental progress adds up to big improvement over time.
  3. A Path: Make sure you use your time and effort efficiently by having a training plan that matches your goals.

If you can adopt these principles, I am confident you will be very happy with the return — even more so than the latest driver, putter or practice aid.

I like to compare having a well functioning body to a painter’s blank canvas. By ensuring you have adequate coordination, motor control, mobility, stability, strength and speed, you have the basic tools necessary for a high-performance golf swing. Of course, you will still need to develop a functional technique and specific skill level that matches your goals. On the flip side, if you are deficient in these areas, you are like a dirty canvas; your options are limited and you will need to make compensations to achieve anything close to the desired outcome. In simpler terms, movements that are universally desirable in the golf swing may be very difficult or impossible for you based on your current physical state.

Earlier, I mentioned the term “appropriate training,” and now I am going to discuss one of the ways to identify what this means for you as a golfer trying to use physical training to support a better golf game. The TPI (Titleist Performance Institute) Movement Screen is a great start for everyone. It is a combination of 16 exercises that are used to assess your current movement capabilities, identify limitations and provide you with your “Body-Swing” connection. The “Body-Swing” connection is a term coined by TPI that illustrates the link between physical deficiencies and potential swing tendencies based on its “Big 12” model. The Big 12 swing characteristics that TPI has identified are as follows:

  1. S-Posture
  2. C-Posture
  3. Loss of Posture
  4. Flat Shoulder Plane
  5. Early Extension
  6. Over The Top
  7. Sway
  8. Slide
  9. Hanging Back
  10. Reverse Spine Angle
  11. Casting
  12. Chicken Winging

It’s important to note these as tendencies rather than flaws, as great ball strikers have demonstrated some of them. When done excessively, they make high functioning swings more difficult and may make potential injury more likely. Rather than going through all 16 screening exercises (which would be a very long read), I have selected five that I feel provide a lot of useful information. They can often broadly differentiate the playing level of golfers.

1. Static Setup Posture

There is a lot of debate in golf instruction about what is the correct way to assume posture for the golf swing. Some prefer more rounded shoulders akin to what was common in years gone by: Jack and Arnie being good examples. Others prefer a more extended thoracic spine (less curved upper back): Rory McIlroy and Adam Scott are good examples. I’m not a golf instructor and clearly both types can hit great golf shots. I am more concerned with the lumbar spine (the lower back, which doesn’t seem to get as much attention when the setup is being discussed).

Note the difference between the spinal curvatures of Jack and Rory. I’m OK with either as long as the lower back is in a biomechanically sound position (explained in video).

An overly extended or arched lower back (which I demonstrate in the video) creates too large a space between the alignment rod and my lower back. This is a common issue I see, and it can lead to a lack of pelvis rotation, a lack of power due to the inability to effectively use the glutes and abdominal muscles and lower back discomfort. Cueing a slight posterior tilt (tucking the tailbone underneath you) often makes a noticeable difference in pelvis mobility, power, and comfort.

 2. Pelvic Rotation

Pelvic rotation is essential for X-factor stretch, the ability to increase the amount of separation between the pelvis and torso during transition (moving from the backswing into the downswing). This is often referred to as starting the downswing with the lower body/hips (while the torso is still rotating away from the target or is paused at the end of the backswing). It is critical for effective sequencing and power production. Increasing the separation between your pelvis and torso on the downswing increases what is known as the “stretch-shortening cycle” of your trunk and torso muscles, which is like adding more stretch to an elastic band and then releasing it. If you cannot separate pelvic rotation and torso rotation, it will be extremely difficult to be a good golfer.

In the video below, watch how Rickie Fowler’s pelvis rotates toward the target independently of his torso. This increases the elastic energy stored in his muscles and tendons, allowing for big power production.

 3. Lower Quarter Rotation

The Lower Quarter Rotation Test shares some similarities to the Pelvic Rotation Test, but one key difference is that it doesn’t require nearly as much motor control. Many people fail the pelvic rotation test not because of a mobility limitation, but because they can’t control the different segments of the their body and perform the action they want (motor control issue). The Lower Quarter Rotation Test, on the other hand, does not require anywhere near as much control and therefore looks more directly at the internal and external rotation mobility of the lower body. People who struggle with this test are more likely to sway, slide and have reverse spine angle.

DJ Top of backswing.jpg

I’m confident Dustin Johnson would do OK on the Lower Quarter Rotation test. Look at how well he can turn into his right hip.

 4. Seated Thoracic Rotation

This one usually resonates with golfers, as “getting a full shoulder turn” is something that golf media and players like to talk to about regularly. I think most people understand the concept of a sufficient shoulder turn being important for creating power. Restricted thoracic spine rotation can stem from a few different causes. A common one is excessive thoracic flexion (rounder upper back). To test this for yourself: 1) try the test in the video hunched over and 2) with your spine as long as possible. You should notice you can rotate farther when you sit extended.

5. 90/90 External Shoulder Rotation  

Many popular golf instruction pages on social media talk about the importance of shallowing the shaft in transition and trail arm external shoulder rotation. I understand the reasoning for this in terms of swing technique, but something that needs to be taken into consideration is whether golfers actually have the ability to externally rotate their shoulders. This is often not the case. Two interesting trends I have noticed with golfers and external shoulder rotation:

  1. A larger percentage of U.S. golfers compared to Irish golfers (the two countries I have worked in) tend to have much more trail arm external rotation available. This is mainly due to throwing baseballs and footballs in their youth, which doesn’t happen in Ireland.
  2. Shoulder external rotation, shoulder flexion, and thoracic extension really seem to reduce as golfers get older compared to other movements. Please take note of this and put some exercises into your routine that promote mobility and stability in the thoracic spine and scapula, as these are the foundation for sound shoulder mechanics. Thoracic extensions on a foam roller, relaxed hanging from a pull-up bar and wall slides with external rotation are some exercises I like to use.
MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Toronto Blue Jays

I think this pitcher would have enough external shoulder rotation in his golf swing.

I hope this article gave you some more understanding of how learning about your body and then working on its limitations might be beneficial for your golf game. If you have questions about the TPI Movement Screen or are interested in an online evaluation, please feel free to e-mail me.

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Let’s Talk Gear: Frequency and Shaft CPM

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When it comes to fine tuning a golf shaft and matching clubs within a set, frequency and CPM play a critical role in build quality and making sure what you were fit for is what gets built for you.

This video explains the purpose of a frequency machine, as well as how the information it gives us relates to both building and fitting your clubs.

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