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More Distance for Golf (Part 3): Long Drive Fitness

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Professional Long Drivers Tend to Be Very Strong

In Part 3, the final part of my “More Distance for Golf” series, we’re going to talk about what you can do to get longer from a golf fitness standpoint.

Catch Up: In Part 1 of the series, I wrote about some of the technical aspects of the swing you can employ for more distance in your golf game that were based on cues from professional long drivers, In Part 2, I shared some things that could help you get more distance from an equipment standpoint.

Long Drive Golf Fitness

In all of the interviews I’ve done with my professional long drive colleagues and friends via Swing Man Golf, just one of them said they swing as fast as they do naturally. The lone exception, who said his distance was natural, told me in the interview that he’s in the gym 5-6 days/week. So whether they realize it or not, every single long-drive guy is doing or has done something from a golf fitness standpoint to be able to swing faster to generate more ball speed. So what are some things they do… and that you can do?

Practice Swinging Faster

First, simply practice swinging faster. This may sound obvious, but virtually none of the golf world does it outside of professional long drivers. It makes perfect sense, too.

If you think about wanting to get better at something, you practice it. If you want to get better at playing the piano, you sit your butt down at the piano and start clacking away. The same goes for building club head speed. If you want to get faster, you need to spend some time trying to swing faster. A few tips I’d point out when doing this are:

1. Track Your Speed. In general, results are better when you have some sort of measuring device to track your speed. In this way, you also make sure you are pushing yourself on your training swings. It also feels good over time as you see the speeds go up. Although Flightscope has a function on it where you can measure the speed of what you are swinging without needing to hit balls, I typically recommend the Sports Sensors Swing Speed Radar. It’s lightweight, travels and packs up well, is accurate enough, and it’s much easier on your wallet than buying a full out launch monitor.

2. Remember, accuracy matters. Swing as fast as you can while still retaining good fundamentals and control. If you’re going to build speed, it’s important that it be “keep-your-ball-on-the-golf course” speed.

3. One way is fine. You can swing opposite-handed if you want for the sake of body balance or “being able to stop the speed you are trying to build on your dominant swinging side,” but it’s not necessary. Some aspects of training  are important for training both sides, but practicing swinging fast is not one of them. If you focus on good clean balanced finished positions, that can suffice for training to “stop what you start”.

4. Take Your Time. Don’t rapid fire the swings or rush to look at the radar. Make a swing, check your balance at the end, take in what you did, then look at the radar if you want and re-set for the next swing. This also gives your body a little break between swings to make sure you are going at peak speed for each swing. Do too many in a row, and the speed starts dropping off. The same rhythm you would use for hitting balls on the range is a decent guideline.

5. Range balls are optional. You can hit balls if you want, but if you do, don’t worry as much about what the ball does or where it goes. Remember, this is an exercise for more speed.

6. Training clubs can help. From a swing speed training standpoint, there are overspeed-type training aids (for example, Super Speed Golf or the Speed Whoosh). Then there are those that provide wind resistance (a Swing Fan, section of a pool noodle, etc) and heavy clubs. Heavy clubs are okay provided you swing them fast, but use caution because you want to stay injury-free. Typically, I prefer the other two types. Whether you incorporate training aids is up to you. The important thing is that you are spending time trying to swing faster.

Get Stronger

Second, work on getting stronger over time… a lot stronger. Long-drive guys tend to be very strong. They’re not necessarily big, but strong. For example, two-time World Long Drive Champion Jamie Sadlowski weighs just 165-175 pounds, yet he has done hexbar deadlifts (a rack pull is similar and more highly recommended) for reps with over 480 pounds on the bar. That requires a strong everything: hands, forearms, lower back, butt, hamstrings, etc. I’ve swung in the low 140s when I used to compete, and when I was at my strongest I had built up incrementally to 700-pound half squats.

Also, although it helps to be strong in all aspects of the swing, the most important place is in the downswing. Remember, all of us — whether world long-drive champion or senior club player — start at 0 mph at the top of the backswing and get to whatever speed you are at impact.

While there are lots of good way to build golf swing strength, isometrics are a nice easy place for anyone to start. I wrote about that for GolfWRX here.

If building speed is your primary concern, make sure the exercises closely mimic your golf swing for best distance gain results. And keep the reps down. For example, you might do 3-6 sets of two repetitions versus three sets of 10, 8, and 6 reps.

You can also move to relatively heavy, explosive power-type moves rather quickly if your form is good and you’ve spent a few sessions working up to what’s considered heavy for you. Of course, do use good sense and pay attention to your body and what you are doing. There’s no reason to hurt yourself. Working with a qualified pro, coach, or trainer can help. Move up in resistance or weight whenever you can safely do so.

Lengthen Your Backswing

Finally, as was mentioned in Part 1, a longer backswing has a greater potential to hit the ball farther. That being said, a longer back swing may or may not be what’s best for you. It depends a little bit on your goals and what you want to do, so you may want to consider thinking about the pros and cons and/or discussing with your instructor before jumping in.

If a longer backswing is a direction you want to go, I’d recommend a couple things. First, work directly on the range of your backswing length. That’s the most important one because it hits all the areas you need in the precise way you’ll use them. For example, you could go to the top of your backswing in front of a mirror and take a few slow deep breaths. As you breath out, feel the tension seep out of the tight spots in your body and allow yourself to go back slightly farther. There’s no harm in doing this multiple days per week if you want.

You could also use a band and ever so slightly walk yourself out away from the anchor point to help get your body to rotate farther back away from the ball.

IsometricsGolfFitnessSecond, beyond working specifically on your backswing, focus on things that will improve the range of your neck rotation (your ability to keep your head on the ball while swinging back). You can also work on the range of your torso rotation and hip rotation.

So there you go! Hopefully, this long-drive series has provided you with some insight in to what you can do add distance at any age or skill level through improvements to your technique, equipment, and body.

For more information, visit Swing Man Golf and/or start working with a qualified long drive expert near you.

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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

9 Comments

9 Comments

  1. Nick W

    Sep 19, 2017 at 5:50 pm

    What’s a 700 lb Half Squat?

  2. asugrad1988

    Sep 18, 2017 at 2:26 pm

    Could you just put some of those weighted donuts on the end of an old club and still get the same effect as the devices you talk about in your story?

    • Jaacob Bowden

      Sep 18, 2017 at 3:42 pm

      Yeah, that would fall under the category of practicing swinging fast. Be careful with the heavier type stuff though. Be safe. Don’t spend too much time swinging slow…your power could actually go down if you add/convert strength but it’s slow twitch type muscle. Use the radar for speed feedback to track your progress as well.

    • RonMcD

      Sep 19, 2017 at 2:18 pm

      Weighted training clubheads are the worst thing you can do to your swing. Just because you can swing a weighted club does not mean you can swing a light club properly. This is stupid logic by ignorant people on how to train and strengthen.
      Swinging a weighted club will injure your hands and wrists and even your shoulders if overdone with higher speed ballistic swinging. If you want to swing a weight put the weight on your forearm wrist…. one of those strap-on or flexible donut rings specifically made for wrist weighting.
      Swinging a weighted clubhead is outright stupid, biomechanically.

  3. Nick

    Sep 18, 2017 at 2:02 am

    Come on Jaaco…. tell the truth about ‘strong’. You don’t need excessively strong arms and hands because they mostly flail around the body.
    It’s shoulder strength that is important because your shoulders must transmit all the energy from your body — feet, legs, hips, torso, in order to torque your shoulder span. And shoulder torque is what flings the arms, hands and lastly the club at high speed. Speed is all about rotation, not ‘hitting’ the ball with the club, arms and hands.
    Okay, you gotta have stronger arms, wrists, and hands to stabilize the swing at the joints, but certainly not massive body building arms. In fact, it can be argued that massive arm mass will slow down your clubhead swing speed. Think of that!

    • Jaacob Bowden

      Sep 18, 2017 at 11:31 am

      I am telling the truth. Strength matters. 🙂

      We are sometimes taught to have supple arms and just let them go along for the ride. But rather I think that is just a signpost pointing to not over swinging. In my testing, this is around 92-95% of your current max. If you were to truly let the arms and hands go along for the ride and, at most, only stabilize the swing, speed drops off tremendously. The arms and hands do much more than simply flail around the body. Yes, shoulder strength is important, but so are the strength of your arms, wrists, and hands. There is much more hit with those parts of the body than you might think.

      As you move between the various groups of golfers, for example, senior ladies -> senior men -> average amateurs -> tour players -> long drivers…there’s an overall correlation in their strength. There are other factors involved but I would definitely take the strength of a professional long driver over Mr. and Mrs. Havercamp.

      I also never said you need massive body building arms. In fact, I even said “They’re not necessarily big, but strong.” You can get a lot stronger without getting bigger. Muscle takes up less space than fat, so you could even get significantly stronger and get smaller. And even if you are bigger, you can still be incredibly flexible and mobile while still being big if you make sure to train to retain or enhance those things.

  4. Markallister

    Sep 17, 2017 at 1:56 pm

    this is very good advice. the most important thing is to be strong. glad you see the truth.

    • RonMcD

      Sep 19, 2017 at 2:21 pm

      But at least half of all golfers worldwide are fat, decrepit and inflexible… and should not be attempting to play golf. Shuffleboard and holdem poker only.

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Podcasts

Mondays Off (Ep. 3): “Where does Tiger’s 2018 Tour Champ win rank among his 80 career wins?”

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Was Tiger Woods’ win at the 2018 Tour Championship one of the best victories of his career? Did this win complete the greatest comeback in sports history? Is Tiger definitely going to win another major? Can he still catch Jack Nicklaus? Club pro Steve Westphal and GolfWRX Editor Andrew Tursky cover everything Tiger Woods and more on this episode of the newly named “Mondays Off” podcast.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

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Opinion & Analysis

Tiger Woods completes arguably the greatest comeback story in sports history

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Sports have an uncanny way of teaching us about life. And there’s no greater life lesson than the athlete and the man who goes by Tiger Woods.

I first fell in love with golf while watching Tiger play the 1997 Masters with my father. Tiger is the reason that I, like millions of golfers throughout the world, including some of his professional contemporaries today, started playing and loving the game.

For basically his entire life, from the moment he appeared on The Mike Douglas Show at 2-years-old, until his world came infamously crashing down on Thanksgiving 2009, he was “perfect.” He was dominant, impactful, charismatic and invincible — what the world uncovered, however, was that his persona was a carefully crafted facade.

While he continued to play great golf despite injuries and surgeries through 2014, his Superman cape was tarnished, and his respect as a man was all but diminished.

From 2014 until 2017, the world watched Tiger Woods the athlete decay. He’d make minor comebacks after major back surgeries, but the letters “WD” replaced the number “1” next to Tiger’s name on leaderboards for years. And he also developed what was either the chipping yips, or an utter breakdown in his once-superior chipping technique. To all observers, aside from Tiger apologists, it seemed his golf career was likely over.

What was tragic for Tiger the athlete looked as though it’d turn into a tragedy for Tiger the man after his very public DUI in 2017 following his spine fusion surgery earlier that year. Tiger was completely vulnerable, and seemingly, completely broken. He was whatever the opposite is of his former self. Had he faded into oblivion after that, it would have been understandable, if not recommended.

But that’s not what happened. Despite every talking head in sports media saying Tiger was done (not that I didn’t agree at the time), Tiger waited for his back to heal upon doctors orders, then began his comeback to golf. It started with videos on social media of him chipping, then hitting irons, then his patented stinger.

In December of 2017, Tiger finished T9 in the 18-player field at his Hero World Challenge… a respectable finish considering what he had been through. As the season continued, he pieced together 4 consecutive rounds on many occasions, actually giving himself a few chances to win tournaments (the Valspar, Arnold Palmer, Quicken Loans and the Open come to mind). But his late-tournament confidence was clearly shaken; he was struggling to close the deal.

At the 2018 PGA Championship, Tiger had the attention of the entire sporting world when it looked that he had a serious chance to win his 15th major. But ultimately, he finished runner-up to a superior golfer that week in Brooks Koepka. All things considered, the week was a win for Tiger and his confidence… but it wasn’t a win.

The questions changed after the PGA Championship from “Can Tiger win again?” to “When will Tiger win again?”

Well, that question has been answered. Tiger Woods won the 2018 Tour Championship. Is it a major? No, it’s not. Some say the event itself is essentially just a money grab for the best 30 players of the season. But that’s the thing; the tournament hosts the best 30 players of the season all competing for big money. And you can bet it matters to the players on top of the leaderboard.

Tiger’s Tour Championship victory doesn’t mean he’s going to beat Jack’s record. Because he probably won’t. And maybe he won’t even win another major, although he’ll surely be the betting favorite at the 2019 Masters now. But, to me at least, his win marks the completion of the greatest comeback story in all of sports. And not only that, the conclusion to an important life lesson — don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.

No athlete has been written off more than Tiger Woods, especially in the era of social media that gives every critic in the world a microphone. No athlete has reached a higher high, and a relatively lower low than Tiger Woods. He went through it all — a broken marriage, public shaming, legal issues, a deteriorated skill set, surgeries, injuries, and arguably most impactful of all, humanization.

Tiger Woods came back from not just a 28-3 deficit on the scoreboard (Patriots-Falcons reference), and he didn’t score eight points in 9 seconds (Reggie Miller reference, sorry Knicks fans and sorry Dad), and he didn’t get hit by a bus (Ben Hogan), but he got hit hard by the bus of life, and he now stands tall in the winner’s circle.

Maybe that’s why sports teaches us so much about life; because sports is life. Not in the way that nothing else matters except sports, but in the way that sports is played by imperfect humans. When the ball goes in the air, or onto to the tee, or the starting bell rings, nothing is certain and nothing is given. And when things are looking bad, like really really bad, it’s how you respond that truly matters. Isn’t that what life is?

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Courses

Ari’s Course Reviews: Sand Hills Golf Club in Nebraska

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There are so many fantastic golf courses throughout the world, and it’s all of the incredibly varied fields of play that make the game so great to me. The most random places in the world can be home to some of the best golf courses. When deciding which course to write about next, it seemed natural to write about my personal favorite course in the world., which happens to be in a very unexpected place.

If you told me I could go anywhere in the world for a round of golf tomorrow, I would be blazing a trail to the area just south of Mullen, Nebraska and playing Sand Hills Golf Club. Sand Hills opened for play on June 23, 1995 and is one of the most natural golf courses you can find anywhere in the world. There was very little dirt moved and most of the money spent building the course was spent on installing irrigation. The course is built entirely on sand, and was designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw. Bill Coore speaks on the design here.

For a bit more background, here’s an old CBS Sunday Morning segment on Sand Hills…

The course lies in the middle of the Sand Hills region of Nebraska, which makes up about one-third of the state. The area has huge, natural dunes everywhere that are much more reminiscent of Scotland or Ireland than the flat part of Nebraska along I-80 that most people associate with the state. Because of the firm, mostly fescue, sand-based fairways at Sand Hills, and the ever-present wind, the course plays like a links course though the bent grass greens rival any top country club for speed and purity. In fact, the fastest greens I have ever seen in person were at Sand Hills in late September.

The course has a tasteful amount of variety and challenge. The three par 5s are of the best sets in the world and include 1) a fantastic mid-length par 5 starting hole that is one of the best starting holes in golf, 2) a very reachable but exacting hole in the 14th, and 3) in my opinion, the best long par 5 in golf, the 613 yard 16th.

The par 4s vary from the long uphill 485-yard monster 18th, to the 7th, which at less than 300 yards still sees a lot more 5s and 6s than 3s. The par 3s are masterful starting with the 3rd playing a little over 200 yards downhill to a sprawling side hill green where you can hit driver one day and 7 iron the next. The 6th is 185 yards slightly downhill to maybe my favorite green on the course with definitely my favorite hole location in the front left of the green to a semi-blind spot in a little bowl.  The 13th is a 215-yard uphill monster that can be the hardest hole in relation to par on the course. Lastly the 17th is a 150-yard work of art to a little triangle shaped green and is definitely in the discussion for best short par 3 in the world.

Aside from a great variety in distance of the holes, the topography also presents an amazing amount of variety on the ground. Due to the random nature of the bounce of the ball, the undulating and random fairway contours, and the wind that can blow in literally any direction, the course never plays the same twice. There are just so many great holes out there that I really wouldn’t argue with any of the 18 holes being someone’s favorite. Personally, I can’t name a favorite as it seems to change every time I think about it. The routing is fantastic with both 9s returning to Ben’s Porch, which serves as the home base for the course where people eat lunch, have a post-round drink and generally enjoy one of the best views in all of golf. The course has a good amount of elevation change but is a dream to walk with very short green to tee transitions. It simply is as close to perfect as you can get in my mind.

While the focus of my reviews are on the golf course and not the amenities, I would be remiss if I did not mention the down-to-earth, welcoming people that make up the staff at Sand Hills. Any time I’ve been lucky enough to be at the club I have felt more like I was visiting family and friends than a golf club. When you combine the welcoming and friendly atmosphere of the club, some of the best food in the world and my personal favorite golf course to play anywhere in the world, you have an experience so special its hard to put into words.

Enjoy the collection of photos below from Dan Moore, and make sure to check out my other reviews in the links at the bottom of the page!

Hole No. 1

Hole No. 2

Hole No. 4

Hole No. 8

Hole No. 9

Hole No. 13

Hole No. 14

Hole No. 16

Hole No. 18

Ari’s Other Course Reviews

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