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.
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.
Second, 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.
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The Book That Almost Wasn’t a Book: Ben Hogan’s “Five Lessons”
“Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf,” written by Ben Hogan and Herbert Warren Wind, continues to be the largest selling golf instructional book in history. This year marks the 60th anniversary of the book, which was first published in 1957.
The story of how the book was published revolves around Sports Illustrated, which was owned by Time Magazine. The weekly magazine launched in 1954 as an experiment to see if an all-sport publication could survive. In 1956, the publication was on the brink of disaster, having yet to find its audience.
This is the backdrop against which Sydney James, the magazine’s managing editor, received a call from Ben Hogan. Hogan had an idea for an article. Would Sports Illustrated be interested?
James promised to get back to him shortly with an answer. And he did, telling him that the magazine would be very interested in collaborating with him, and that he would begin making the necessary arrangements to get the project off the ground.
James explained his plan to Hogan, which was to arrange for the magazine’s most talented writer, Herbert Warren Wind, and top-rated freelance illustrator, Anthony Ravielle, to visit Hogan in Fort Worth to further discuss his idea.
“Would that be agreeable” he asked?
“Yes,” Hogan replied. He would make himself available as needed.
Writer and Illustrator
Herbert Warren Wind, a graduate of Yale University, was not just a writer, but a literary craftsman. He was without question the finest writer of his time, contributing regularly as a columnist for The New Yorker magazine from 1941-47.
For his part, Ravielle was quickly earning a reputation as one of the most talented illustrators in the country. His expertise was drawing the musculature of the human body in life-like detail. And then having the unique ability to convey a sense of motion with the human form.
A Single Idea
A few weeks later, the two met with Hogan at his office in Fort Worth, Texas. They then made their way to Colonial Country Club. And once there, they walked out to a part of the course where they would not be disturbed. And then Hogan began to explain to the two men what he had in mind.
As they listened to his ideas for the article, they suggested that he consider a five-part series. What they proposed was a sequential pattern of lessons beginning with the grip, the setup, the backswing, and the downswing. The fifth chapter would be a summary and review of what had been presented in the first four chapters.
Hogan liked the idea and agreed immediately.
As Hogan began to explain his thoughts on the swing, Wind began to scribble in his notebook, not wanting to miss a single word. (In later years, when interviewing a subject, modern-day reporters would use a tape recorder, but at that time it had not yet been invented.)
Wind would at times stop Hogan to ask a question or to clarify an important point. And when he reached the point at which he couldn’t possibly absorb another thought, Wind gave way to Ravielle, who armed with a still camera, snapped one photograph after another, capturing the various positions that would ultimately mirror Hogan’s thoughts.
During the next few days, Hogan continued to elaborate on his theories about the golf swing and the logic behind them. As they finished, the three men agreed that they would meet again, either at the end of 1956 or after the first of the year.
After returning to New York, Wind began writing a rough draft of the five-part series. At the same time, Ravielle started working from the photographs that he had taken earlier. He began by drawing pencil sketches that he would later show to Hogan for his approval before moving on to the final version.
The three gathered together again for a week-long session in January 1957. Hogan was extremely impressed with Ravielle’s sketches, believing that he had managed to capture the very essence of what he was attempting to covey to his would-be readers.
The pencil sketches would be transformed a final time using a “scratch-board” technique that Ravielle had mastered. The scratch-board technique created a uniquely vivid picture, which invited the reader to reach out and touch the seemingly life-like image on the page.
Wind’s spirits were buoyed after meeting with Hogan a second time as he wrote, “Hogan had gone into a much more detailed description of the workings of the golf swing then we had anticipated. Moreover, he had patently enjoyed the challenge and had given it everything he had.”
On returning to New York, Wind and Reveille begin working together, side by side, laying out the text, the illustrations, and captions in page form for each of the five chapters.
As Wind recounted, “When an installment was completed and had gone through the production department, we airmailed photostats of the pages to Hogan, who was in Palm Beach getting ready for the Masters. I would telephone Ben at his apartment at an appointed time each week, and we would go over each paragraph line by line. A session usually took between 45 minutes to an hour.”
During these sessions, as they reviewed the copy, Hogan was insistent that each word and phrase precisely communicate exactly what he intended to say. Wind recalls one example, when he had written “that at a certain stage of the swing the golfer’s weight had shifted to his left side.” Hogan corrected, “Let’s not say left side,” Adding “That isn’t accurate. In golf, there’s no such thing as a player’s left side. At this point in the swing most of the golfer’s weight is on his left foot and left leg.”
Wind found these discussions exhausting as Hogan worked his way through the copy with a “fine-tooth comb.” As wind wrote, “After these protracted checking sessions with Hogan, I did some deep-breathing exercises to relax myself, but I also had the bracing feeling that even Sherlock Holmes wouldn’t be able to detect a smudged adjective or a mysterious verb in the text.”
As they were nearing completion of their work, Hogan asked Wind if he had any suggestions for the series name. As Wind recalls, “I thought for a long moment and then tossed up ‘The Fundamentals of Modern Golf?’”
Hogan mulled it over for a moment and then asked, “How about ‘The Modern Fundamentals of Golf?’” Wind agreed that the reversal in wording was a definite improvement. The series now, for the first time, had both a name and an identity.
The Magazine and the Book
The series was very successful, of course, boosting not only the sales of the magazine but also its circulation. The content of what would eventually become the book appeared in five installments beginning with the March 11, 1957 issue, which in Wind’s exact words, “sold like hotcakes.“
The book was released some five months later in September as a joint venture between Hogan and the magazine.
A Triple Play
Why has the book endured?
The first reason is because of the public’s fascinated with Hogan, not only as player, but as a man. He was a great ball-striker, maybe the best of all time, but there was more to the man than his ability to play golf. He is one of the more complex sports figures in the pantheon of great players. He was a man of secrets who preferred the shadows to the light.
The second reason is the wonderful prose of Herbert Warren Wind, which flows with ease from one paragraph to another, giving the reader at times the feeling of floating on air from one sentence to another.
The third reason is the illustrations of Anthony Ravielle, which describe in dramatic fashion the essence of what Hogan wanted to convey to the reader.
“Five Lessons” was then the collaboration of three men, each one of them the very best in their fields. They were, through luck and circumstance, thrown together in space and time. And maybe once joined together, they sensed the opportunity to create something very special with one purpose in mind — to write one of the best golf instruction books ever. And they succeed.
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