Distance is an extremely important aspect of becoming a better golfer. Perhaps you’ve seen this graphic put out by the folks at Trackman.
Notice that as golf handicaps go up, the average driver club head speed (and thus distance) goes down. Thus, one can deduce that more distance is a must in order to become a better player.
On the PGA Tour, players that keep their cards generally run in the +4 to +6 handicap range. The PGA Tour average club head speed is about 113 mph with the low man usually being around 105 mph.
“You can’t come out here [on the PGA Tour] with a 90-mile per hour swing speed and expect to compete.” – Lee Janzen
So, if you were to extend the graphic from above out a little further, this fits right in with the PGA Tour, too. Further, I looked at the scoring averages of the top-20 players and the bottom-20 players on the PGA Tour. And if you compile the low rounds of the day shot during each tournament round, that averages out to be approximately a 63.3 scoring average with a 302.8 yards/drive driving distance.
|Scoring Average||Driving Distance|
|Top 20 Players on Tour||69.757||298.3 yards/drive|
|Bottom 20 Players on Tour||72.556||287.5 yards/drive|
As you can see, even within the confines of PGA Tour-level golf, distance matters to scoring. Knowing the importance of distance, I’d like to share with you a three-part series on some of the ways you might get more distance in its application to you playing better golf. The series will take cues from the longest hitters on the planet, competitors in the World Long Drive Championships.
“Distance is far more of an indicator [of success] than accuracy.” — Sean Foley
We’ll also draw my own personal experience of competing in 2003, 2006, and 2007 with a competitive long drive of 421-yards and peak club head speed in the low 140s, my experience being the go-to-guy for swing speed training as well as a Top 100 Most Popular Instructor, and the many conversations, interviews, etc., I’ve had with the top long drivers in the world via Swing Man Golf.
Specifically, the three areas we’ll look at are technique, equipment, and golf fitness.
Let’s get started with Part 1: Technique.
Long Drive Techniques
From a swing technique standpoint, these are some of aspects of the golf swing that you may wish to consider employing in your golf swing. Although you can integrate some of these swing aspects on your own in to your swing, I should caution you in doing so. Generally, I’d recommend working with a qualified professional, whether they are a PGA Professional or not, and/or someone who has the specific knowledge and experience with helping you achieve whatever is your specific goal.
For example, one of our Swing Man Golf experts is Adam Young, whose GolfWRX articles you can read here. Adam knows more than any other instructor I’ve ever come across regarding practice and learning within the application to and confines of playing golf. He’s a smart guy.
Or if you’re in the UK, you might work with someone like Lee Cox, who coaches numerous long drivers, including two-time World Long Drive Champion Joe Miller.
First, let’s look at setup.
Open Your Lead Foot
I’ve written about this previously in more detail in this GolfWRX article, but basically, I advocate that most golfers should open up their lead foot up a bit toward the target.
Most people are a little more flexible turning their feet outward than inward. So, if you set up in this manner, you’ll probably still be able to make a sufficient length back swing, but you may then be able to fire through the ball a bit better while keeping balance and minimizing the risk of injury to your lead knee, lead hip, etc.
On a side note, this is a good place to briefly mention stance-width. Many long drive guys stand so wide that it similarly compromises their balance (and thus ball-striking). It also exposes them to potential injury.
If you open your rear foot as I did in the picture above, that’s a pretty good width. John Daly, Mike Austin, and Sam Snead are also good examples of not going so wide that they lose balance.
A Strong-Looking Grip
If you want to hit it farther, it’s often best to employ a “strong-looking” grip. I say “strong-looking” because it’s possible that you could turn your lead arm in your shoulder socket such that from a face-on viewpoint the grip looks strong, but the wrist position is still neutral. It would only look strong in 2D because of how your arm is oriented in your shoulder socket and not because you turned your hand.
In any case, a strong or stronger grip can help you get the club head get back to square at impact when swinging fast. It can also can simplify the back swing and downswing by eliminating a level of pronation and supination (wrist rolling) needed to get the club face in a good impact position. You can learn more about actions of the wrists and forearms in one of my previous GolfWRX articles here.
With a strong-looking grip, you can simply make a simple chopping motion (ulnar and radial deviation) with your lead hand back and down to impact… and either a chopping motion or throwing motion with your trail hand depending on whether that trail hand grip has a strong or neutral-looking grip, respectively.
Often, if you hear announcers and instructors saying that someone’s club face is “closed” or “shut” at the top of the back swing (I’m not really a fan of these terms, but that’s for another article) from a down-the-line viewpoint. It may be an indication that the golfer set up with a strong looking grip.
On the PGA Tour, think of guys like Ryan Palmer or Boo Weekley as examples of this.
A Long Backswing
If you look at average backswing length, long drivers will have a longer backswings than tour players, who will be longer than amateurs. Check out this picture of professional long drivers Ben Tuaone, Patrick Hopper, and Jim Waldron of Tour Striker from left to right. Those are some long swings!
Jim not only gets the club past parallel relative to the ground from this viewpoint, but he is past perpendicular! Amazing! Being able to swing this long doesn’t necessarily mean you will hit the ball all over the planet. I recall that in one previous study that I did, about one-third of PGA Tour players take the club past parallel. You can be an excellent ball striker and still have a long backswing.
The most popular example is probably John Daly, who has had a great golf career employing a very long back swing. Recently, I had the opportunity to caddy for Andre Bossert in the Senior PGA Championship, and we played the final round with John. His speed isn’t quite what it used to be, but the length of his backswing still helps him be as long as anyone in his peer age group.
Being able to swing longer with control fits more in the category of golf fitness, so we’ll cover that in the Part 3.
Let the Trail Leg Straighten and Lead Foot Come Off the Ground
That being said, if you want to lengthen your backswing without going through the golf fitness work, one way is to allow your trail leg to straighten in the backswing and let your lead heel come off the ground with an everted lead ankle. You’ll see this in older swing styles, most notably with Sam Snead.
Swing this way basically lets your hips turn farther back, which lets your upper body turn farther back. That lets the backswing lengthen, which can lead to longer drives.
As TPI has also noticed, long hitters tend to have very high hands at the top of the back swing. Personally, I’ve always tended to have more of a lower-handed, flat backswing, but I can tell you I can swing faster from a higher-hand position at the top of the backswing.
I didn’t fully realize this until one day I was messing around on Kenn Hundley’s Long Ball Trainer (formerly the Golf Swing Emulator), which is basically a gym machine you can use to make weighted swings. I made my normal flat swing and was able to pull a certain amount of weight around my body in the downswing down to impact. After Kenn adjusted the tilt of the machine so my hands had to be higher at the top of the back swing, I could pull much more weight “down” in the downswing versus “around” with my normal flatter swing, which makes sense because you get a gravity assist. Sure enough, I tried the same higher-hands motion with my driver and my speed went up.
Parametric acceleration in the golf swing basically means that in the downswing, prior to and through impact, you provide an upward pulling force to the club, and this can then give the club a bit extra whip through impact.
You can do this in several ways. For example, you might pull with your lead arm so that it’s bent at impact. It generates sort of a chicken wing look like you see with two-time World Long Drive Champion Jamie Sadlowski. Another way is the two-foot “jump” through impact that is professed by some, and you’ll see that a bit in long drive when golfers are literally off the ground with both feet. On force plates, the pressure measurements go dark because the guys are airborne.
I don’t really like either of these movements, though, because I think they are hard to control and they mess with the low point of your swing, which makes good, consistent ball-striking more challenging. If a person is already functional doing either of those, fine, but I wouldn’t advise intentionally trying to incorporate either one.
My preferred way is a one-foot “jump” with a simultaneous tuck, or side-bending, of the trail side. In the downswing, as you get shifted over to your lead side, you push the lead shoulder up using your lead leg (but without jumping off the ground). At the same time, you crunching your trail side and bring the trail shoulder downward.
From a face-on view in 2D, it might look like the taboo Reverse-C position that we are supposed to stay away from, but in 3D it’s side bend. Once you get through the ball, you can stand up. There’s no need to have any dramatic back bend.
Plus, this combo move helps preserve the relationship of your C7 vertebrae to the ground, which dictates where your low point is located while still allowing you to use your legs to leverage power to the golf ball through your spine and take advantage of parametric acceleration.
Lots of Hand Hit
The last thing I’ll mention in Part 1 is the amount of hand “hit” you see with golfers who drive the ball long relative to their size (think of the small golfer who hits it far). This is also true of golfers who are long hitters but don’t look like they’re swinging fast like Fred Couples or Mike Austin.
Note in the photo above of Mike Austin that his arms move only about 180 degrees in this photo, yet the club moves over 360 degrees in the same amount of time. There’s no trying to hold off the release in order to maximize compression. Rather, this is some serious hand slap!
I remember when Mike was in his 90s before he passed away, he would do this thing where he had me hold out my hand and he’d move his left arm through the range shown above and slap my outstretched hand. The first time would be “holding off the release,” and it felt like someone was giving me a soft, low five. The second time would be with some wrist flick and, man, that would sting my hand! That’s the kind of hurt that can be put on the ball.
As Mike used to say, “Don’t impede the pendulum.”