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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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Opinion & Analysis

I’m practicing. Why am I not getting better at golf?

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We all want to improve our golf games; we want to shoot lower scores, make more birdies and win bragging rights from our friends. As a result, we practice and invest many hours in trying to improve. However, do we improve as quickly as we want to? Is there something we’ve been missing?

“The secret is in the dirt,” Ben Hogan said. And he was right. To date, not one golfer has become an elite player without investing thousands of hours in improving their golf game. And yet, there are thousands of amateur golfers who practice every week and don’t get better. What is the difference? To me, this is a very interesting question. What underpins how or why we learn? Furthermore, how can we super-charge our rate of learning? 

To super-charge our learning, we must first realize that practice itself does not make us better at golf. This is an empty promise. It is close to the truth but incorrect. Instead, practice, when done correctly, will cause changes in our body to make us more skillful over time. This is a subtle, but important difference. There is no magic type of practice that universally builds skill, however, there are a handful of factors that can speed up, slow down or even stop your progress.

Remember: “You are not aiming to hit 50 balls; you are trying to become more skillful.”

There are the two major factors that stop golfers improving. Try not to view them as switches that are on or off. Instead, view both factors as sliding scales. The more you can fine-tune each factor, the faster you will improve your golf.

1) Give your body clear and precise feedback

What is 2 + 2? Imagine if you were never given the answer to this question at school. If you weren’t, you would never know the answer. Similarly, imagine you made a golf swing and the instant you hit the golf ball it disappeared. How would you know what to do on your next attempt to hit a straighter shot?

In both cases, feedback is the missing ingredient. Feedback comes from the shot outcome, watching the ball flight and many other sensations we get during our golf swing. As soon as our body does not have clear and precise feedback our learning will stop.

When we first learn to play golf, the feedback required to improve is simple – did the ball move at all, and did it get airborne? As we progress, we then need more precise feedback to keep developing our skill.

As a 20 handicapper, we need to know if the ball finished 10 or 15 yards right of our target. When we become an elite player, the requirement for feedback becomes even more stringent. The difference between a wedge shot landing 103 or 107 yards becomes important. This type of feedback, known as knowledge of results, is focused on the result of your golf shot.

“If your body can’t tell the difference between two outcomes, you will not make any changes – learning will not occur.”

To learn, we also require another form of feedback, known as knowledge of performance. In essence, your body needs to know what it did to cause “x.” Relevant practice drills, training aids and videoing your swing are all useful ways to increase feedback on performance. The best form of feedback, however, is an internal understanding of your swing and how it causes different ball flights. This is an implicit skill all great golfers master, and a by-product of many hours of diligent practice, refinement and understanding.

Many golfers hit a brick wall in their golfing journey when their practice stops providing the precise feedback they need to keep improving. They may not have enough information about their shot outcome, or they may not understand how the golf swing causes various shots. Both will completely halt your golfing progress.

Next time you practice, think of ways you can obtain clearer feedback. You don’t need Trackman by your side (although this can be helpful), but pay attention to where your shots finish during putting and chipping practice and note these trends. Find landmarks behind your golf range to gauge the lateral error of your long shots.

If you’re working on your swing path through the point of impact, one way of obtaining feedback on your performance is to place a bottle or a second ball on the ground. To put it simply, if the bottle/ball flies, you’ll know you’ve made a bad swing. Another way, if you are trying to improve your iron striking, is to place a towel one inch behind the ball to indicate whether or not you have hit the ground before the ball. These ideas are not mind-blowing, but trust me; they will speed up your rate of learning.

2) Make your practice suitably difficult

When you first go to the gym, lifting the lightest weight you can find is fine. But how much would your fitness improve if you were still lifting that same weight 12 months later? Now think of how your golf practice has changed over the past 12 months. If you were asked, could you explain the level of difficulty of your practice?

The reason many golfers can’t answer this question is they don’t have a good measure of success when they practice. Most golfers don’t have a quantifiable way to say “that shot I just hit was or wasn’t good enough.” Even fewer golfers have a way to say “this week my practice performance was 20 percent better than last week.” If you fall into this category, try the following game the next time you practice your long game.

Structure your practice so that you have set target zones (10 yards and 20 yards wide) with points for hitting each zone (3 and 1 points respectively). Take a set amount of balls (20 balls) and see how many points you can score with a 6-iron and a driver (10 balls with each). Each week, play this game and track your progress. We’ll call this game the “WRX Range Challenge.”

Set a goal for how many points you want to achieve. This goal should be challenging, but not impossible. When you reach this goal, make your target zones smaller and repeat the process. This way you can track your progress over time. As you make the target zones smaller and smaller, your body has to continually refine your swing to make it more effective.

Summary

We all want to improve our golf. We all want to get better at a quicker rate. The two factors discussed here are obvious and yet are not addressed by many golfers when they practice. Next time you head to the range or practice ground, ensure you have clear feedback on your shot outcome and golfing technique. Make your practice measurable, suitably difficult and enjoy watching your scores progress.

If you do try out the WRX Range Challenge, let us know. Post your score and a photo: #WRXrangechallenge @GolfWRX and me @golfinsideruk on Twitter and Instagram.

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The 19th Hole: What it’s like to play golf with a goat caddie

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Live from Silvies Valley Ranch in Oregon for the Grand Opening of McVeigh’s Gauntlet and the debut of its goat caddies (yes, goats), host Michael Williams shares his experiences using a goat caddie. Guests include course architect Dan Hixson and Seamus Golf founder Akbar Chistie.

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

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Opinion & Analysis

Bobby Clampett: “The 2 big problems with club fitting”

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Four million golfers are still quitting golf in the United States each year. My concern about this trend has led me to write several recent articles for GolfWRX. I’ve shared my thoughts because I believe much can be done to help golfers better understand the game, and most importantly, improve their games in ways that are not being done today.

The high frustration level of golfers is a leading cause of their giving up the game. I’ve talked about how I’ve learned this playing in over 200 pro-ams in my five years on the Champions Tour. I’ve discussed the sources of this confusion: style-based golf instruction with an over-abundance of swing tips, as well as confusing and conflicting swing theories offered on television and internet sources, etc. Another cause for concern that no one seems to talk about involves the way club fitting is typically done in our industry. While there are many examples of how improper club fitting causes issues and frustration, there are two main areas that desperately need to be addressed by fitters and even club manufacturers.

Problem 1: Clubs Designed to Correct a Slice

The first culprit is clubs that are designed to correct a slice. I’ve had several first-time students take lessons with me this season who had been recently fit for clubs from a wide range of club fitters. Some of these students had significant out-to-in swing paths through impact and all were chronic faders/slicers of the golf ball. The clubs recommended to them were “anti-slice” clubs. All the grips were small (standard size), and the woods (especially the drivers) were upright with the sliding weights put in the heel. The irons were “jacked-upright” as much as 8 degrees. All of these adjustments were made for the purpose of building in the ability to hit hooks.

Many of the woods with today’s improvement in technology can be easily altered with sliding or interchangeable weights. Adding weights into the heel slows the heel down through impact and allows the toe to close faster. Thinner grips also encourage the golfer to have more active hands and forearms causing the toe to close faster. While some of today’s adjustable woods do allow for a small bit of upright lie adjustment, it would be good if manufacturers went back to longer hosels that can be more lie-adjusted.

If the lie of the club is upright, more “hook” is built into the club through the principle that “loft is hook.” Additionally, the more the available “loft” of the club, the more the upright angle increases hook. So a set of clubs built 8 degrees upright has a very different directional profile with the 4-iron than with the wedge. This is a fact a well trained and experienced club fitter will take into consideration and properly apply.

Without correction, a wedge that is 8 degrees upright will really go left, while the 4-iron won’t have as much correction. Additionally, the uprightness of the club significantly reduces the sweet-spot, making the club less forgiving by increasing the chance that the ball will be struck lower in the face (which has a worse effect on long irons than short irons). Gear effect has now been proven to exist even in irons, and low-in-the-clubface hits will cause a gear effect fade, magnified with lower lofted clubs, even if the face and path are square. So, the uprightness of the club creates a bigger pull/hook in the wedge and the effect doesn’t really work in the longer irons. If fitters are going to use this approach, then short irons should be bent less upright and long irons more upright, but even so, this will reduce the sweet-spot in the longer irons and most golfers will really struggle to get the ball into the air since most of their hits will be low on the clubface.

I’ve had playing lessons with some of these students and have clearly seen how much farther to the left shots go when teeing the ball up, such as on a par-3. With the contact higher in the face, the contact has “zero” gear effect. The upright lie angle, combined with the loft of the club, sends the ball with a pull-hook way off target. This alone is enough of a source of confusion and frustration to send some golfers home, back to the tennis courts, to the card room, or whatever else might take the place of golf.

Additionally, golf clubs that are set to “lie angles” that are not square will not cut through the grass (when taking divots) as they are intended to do. For example, using the example above, if the lie angle of the club is set too upright and the shot is hit a little fat, the heel of the iron will dig or hit into the grass first, usually causing the heel to slow down while the toe of the club speeds up, thus closing the face and causing a big pull/hook. Different grass types, different firmness of grasses and different density of grasses can have differing effects, leading to increased inconsistencies of golfers and greater frustration levels.

Some club manufacturers have built game-improvement irons with bigger sweet-spots (with lower CG’s and higher MOI’s). When club fitters make the lie angle “off-square,” this improvement immediately is canceled and, in most cases, completely nullifying any benefit the game-improvement design can provide. The poor golfer who just spent thousands of dollars getting new equipment comes to the realization that the clubs didn’t work that well after all, and his/her 16 handicap is not dropping.

The real answer to game improvement lies in improving the golfer’s impact first, then getting clubs to match his or ideal impact or the impact they are striving to attain. Then, and only then, will the golfer get the full and just reward for improving one’s impact. Simply trying to buy a new game by getting a new set of clubs just doesn’t work. One must work with an instructor who truly knows what proper impact is and is diligently directing the instruction to improve their impact first. Then they can have a knowledgeable club fitter fit clubs to that proper impact. Unfortunately, in our industry, instructors and club fitters rarely work together. Golfers are continually being fitted to their improper impact and thus effectively playing with clubs with smaller sweet spots that are ill-designed for what they were originally intended to do.

Problem 2: Fitting Irons for Distance

The second problem that seems to be growing in the industry is the focus on increased distance with the irons. I don’t mean to be too blunt here, but who cares how far you hit an 8-iron! Today’s pitching wedge is yesterday’s 9-iron. My pitching wedge is set at 49 degrees, and my 9-iron is 44 degrees (about the standard loft for today’s pitching wedge). The only two clubs in the bag that should be designed for distance are your driver and your 3-wood. All the other clubs should be set for proper gapping and designed to improve consistency and proximity to the hole. That’s why my pitching wedge is at 49 degrees and I only hit it 120 yards (exactly 16 yards farther than my 54-degree sand wedge). Most of my students hit a pitching wedge 20 yards farther than I do, but I drive the ball 30-40 yards farther than they do. When they get into the 7-irons through 4-irons, their gaps narrow. They have a 175-yard shot, and they don’t know what club selection to make since the 7, 6, 5, and 4 irons all go somewhat similar distances.

When I dig a little deeper, I start to find significant differences in spin rates. Like most pros on the PGA Tour, my 7 iron spins about 7000 rpm, I launch it around 17.5 degrees and carry the ball about 158 yards with 88 mph of clubhead speed. OK, I’m retired from playing competitive golf and I’m 58 years old, so I don’t have that youthful club head speed anymore. When I try some of the new products that are the top sellers today, I start launching the ball slightly higher but my spin rate drops below 6,000 rpm. Suddenly, I’m hitting my 7-iron 170 yards like my 6 iron. But is this better?

Yes, my peak height gets slightly higher (I do like that), and the ball won’t roll out much differently, even with the lower spin rates. So, what’s the problem you ask? When I start to look at distance control numbers and proximity to the hole, I clearly see higher distance dispersions and thus proximity to the hole gets worse. Learning to hit the ball flag high is one of the key separators between top PGA Tour Players and those a notch or two below. It’s also a key element in lowering scores. So, greater distance with my irons actually makes my game worse and it does the same with my students, too, because accuracy and ability to get the ball consistently closer to the hole is negatively impacted.

What avid golfers are really wanting is game improvement. They want to see their handicaps go down, shoot their lowest scores, create personal bests. Sure, there is a bit of “wow factor” they like to have with the new, shiny equipment, but the people I give lessons to and have played with in all these pro-ams want a better game! How are they going to get that when the golf industry separates teachers and club fitters? Where can golfers go to get the whole experience of tying in their swing improvement that creates better impact with their equipment properly set up?

If you want to see your scores get better, the best way to do so is to work with a qualified golf instructor who knows how to improve your impact while keeping your style of swing. You want to work with a club fitter who understands that the lie angles of the irons should be set to square, and that proximity to the hole is more important in the irons than distance. Only then can you get the biggest game improvement and take full advantage of hitting better shots with a better impact.

Improve your impact, improve your game; it really is that simple!

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