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Opinion & Analysis

More Distance Off the Tee (Part 2 of 3): Lower Body Training

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The lower body in the golf swing is the engine that makes everything run. Swinging without it is like attempting to drive a car without an engine. Catch a downhill and sure… it may roll for awhile. But as soon as you encounter a hill, you stop moving. It’s kind of like most amateur’s golf swings. They compensate OK for awhile and think they’re making progress with their totally upper body driven golf swing. Then they lose it.

Related: More distance off the tee Part 1 (Upper Body Training) 

Losing your swing is not as unthinkable or shocking as many people in the golf industry would like you to think. It’s certainly not as dramatic or difficult to fix, either. As long as you are neglecting to use your lower body in creating the rotation necessary to swing the club and the rotary power to make sure the ball goes somewhere consistently, you are doomed. You will live on the roller coaster of good and bad rounds, found and lost swing thoughts and many lost golf balls. But hey, at least you’ll get a lot of strokes in your next club championship, right?

If you haven’t already read about the four major areas necessary for rotation in the golf swing and taken the tests to see how you do on them, that is what you need to do right now before reading any further. If you have looked at your rotational abilities and you are doing OK, then let’s continue on.

When it comes to creating power from the ground via the lower body, it’s all in the legs. The test that’s easiest to use when figuring out how much “pop” you may have is the vertical jump test. Average PGA Tour players jump between 18-22 inches, while LPGA players are between 16-20 inches. Long drive competitors often jump over 30 inches!

It’s simple to make an assumption that vertical leap has something to do with how much power a player can generate. In fact, the R-value that we have found with this relationship is above 0.85… for all you statistics buffs out there. The reason this occurs is because vertical leap is the simplest forms of assessing a person’s ability to generate ground reaction force, which propels them upward.  If you look at the force plate data in golfers, it is very clear that one of the critical components in generating club head speed is also the ability to create larger ground reaction forces.

So if you look at your vertical and you can only jump 13 inches, you probably have some power to gain. Conversely, if you jump 30 inches and only swing 95 mph, there are probably some other issues that you need to address (technique, upper body power, sequencing, equipment etc). But if you are that golfer with a less than impressive vertical leap, check out a couple of the exercises below to start working on your lower body’s ability to generate power. As with all power training, increasing your base level of strength will also help with exercises such as squatting, deadlifting and all other variations of lower body strength training.

For the sake of this article, I am going to assume you’re already doing all that and give you three of my favorite drills that we use with our golfers to improve their ability to generate better lower body power in the golf swing. Remember, no more than six in a set. Try to go all out on every rep.

180-Degree Jumps

The key here is to load into the inside of your loading foot and try to explode up as high as you can. When you land, control the deceleration and then explode back up into the air as high as you can.

Caveman Throws

This is a great option for those of you who would like to avoid high impact exercises like jumps. Triple extension is the single most powerful move we have as athletes. When we extend at the ankles, hips and knees in a coordinated and powerful movement, the force and speed that can be unleashed is quite impressive. Have fun with this one and just make sure you get out of the way of the ball.

90-Degree Box Jumps with Slam 

This one is for all you higher-level athletes out there who want to really get after it. Slam the ball on the outside of your foot to increase your load into the ground and then explode up onto the box as high as you can.

If you have knee issues, I would recommend avoiding the jumping exercises above and sticking to lower-impact exercises. There are, of course, lots of other options to increase your lower body power, but these are some of the most effective and simple to integrate. Enjoy!

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Chris Finn is the founder of Par4Success and a Licensed Physical Therapist, Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, Titleist Performance Institute Certified Medical Professional and trained to perform Trigger Point Dry Needling in North Carolina. He is regarded as the premier Golf Fitness, Performance & Medical Expert in North Carolina. Since starting Par4Success in 2011, Chris has and continues to work with Touring Professionals, elite level juniors & amateurs as well as weekend warriors. He has contributed to numerous media outlets, is a published author, a consultant and presents all over the world on topics related to golf performance and the golf fitness business.

10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. Kit Lefroy

    Feb 9, 2018 at 12:42 pm

    A word of caution – 180 degree jumps and box jumping are potentially dangerous for seniors or anyone with knee problems. Great power exercises, but be careful.

    • the dude

      Feb 9, 2018 at 1:00 pm

      yeah…not to mention if you “catch” your foot on the box while going up and across….you could fall right on your head….and break ……your pride.

  2. Randy Bernard

    Feb 9, 2018 at 11:29 am

    Good stuff, Chris! One question: In the slam before the box jump, why doesn’t the slam begin with a squat, to fully engage the glutes and the quads? (Just to be clear, I don’t mean that the starting position is a squat but that the first motion is to squat, then explode up into full extension, then slam the ball.)

    • Chris Finn

      Feb 10, 2018 at 1:54 pm

      Thanks Randy. The slam starts extended as much as possible to increase the force that is applied through the outside leg as much as possible before the jump takes place. Because of stretch shortening principles, the more force you can apply through the tendons and soft tissue into the ground prior to the concentric explosion phase the more energy the athlete will have available to exert into the ground as they push up into the jump. By starting with more of a rotation into the hip as you squat instead of just a standard sagittal plane squat, it is more multi-planar and pre-loading the rotary sling that is necessary to complete a rotational jump. Let me know if this makes sense. If not we can chat further. Great question! – Chris

      • Randy Bernard

        Feb 17, 2018 at 7:57 pm

        Thanks, Chris. That all makes sense, now that I see the rotational part of the slam. I think I was probably moving (i.e., looking) too fast the first time and missed that. I’ll give it a try next time at the gym here in Asheville.

  3. The dude

    Feb 8, 2018 at 8:08 pm

    Why do people give this a shank???

    • CB

      Feb 9, 2018 at 1:37 am

      Because you never saw and, never will see, guys like Colin Montgomerie do it, and he’s still playing great, so why does anybody ever need to do any of these at all

      • The dude

        Feb 9, 2018 at 3:51 am

        Haha!…..fail

        So …. Mrs Doubtfire is your standard huh?,,,,it’s obvious you have never trained your body to perform better…you’d be pleasantly surprised if you did.

        • CB

          Feb 9, 2018 at 9:32 pm

          No thanks, I don’t to end up breaking my knees or my back or ribs or whatever like all them super athletes. I’d rather have a bit of a belly, feel relaxed, play fairly OK, make decent money, win a major or two and chill like Jason Dufner. And then have a career in the Senior circuit like Colin. I’d be OK with that. I don’t want to be fake like Eldrick and try to hump all them fake ladies and have no back or legs left and be left lonely. No thanks

        • Ross

          Feb 10, 2018 at 10:07 am

          Monty is one the best ball strikers about and always has been

          Monty is another name for God

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The 19th Hole: Host Michael Williams plays Shinnecock Hills and reports back

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Host Michael Williams reports on his visit to Media Day at Shinnecock Hills, the site the 2018 U.S. Open, where he played the course. How are the current conditions? He weighs in on the Unlimited Mulligan Challenge made by Dave Portnoy of Barstool Sports that day, as well. Also, famed Architect David Kidd talks about how he created Bandon Dunes at the age of 25, and Steve Skinner of KemperLesnik gives his views on the health of the golf business.

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Opinion & Analysis

An early look at the potential U.S. Ryder Cup Team

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With the Masters and the Players Championship complete, I wanted to examine the statistics of the current leaders in Ryder Cup Points for the U.S. Team. Over the history of the Ryder Cup, the U.S. Team has relied on pairings that were friends and practice-round companions instead of pairing players that were more compatible from a statistical standpoint. This has led to disappointing performances from the U.S. Team and top players such as Jim Furyk performing poorly at the Ryder Cup, as he is ill-suited for the Fourball format.

After a disastrous 2014 Ryder Cup where the U.S. Team lost by a score of 16.5-11.5, the U.S. decided to use a more statistical approach to Ryder Cup play. According to my calculations, the 2016 U.S. Team’s pairings were the closest to optimal that the U.S. Team has compiled in the last seven Ryder Cups. And not surprisingly, the U.S. Team won 17-11 over the Europeans.

Since there are several months to go before the Ryder Cup, I won’t get too much into potential pairings in this article. Instead, I will focus more on the current games of top-12 players in U.S. Ryder Cup Points Standings and how that translates to Ryder Cup performance.

About the Ryder Cup Format

In the Ryder Cup, there is the Foursome format (alternate shot) and the Fourball format (best score). There are distinctly different metrics in the game that correlate to quality performers in each format.

In the Foursome format, short game around the green performance is usually critical. In a typical stroke play event such as The Players Championship, short game around the green performance usually has a much smaller impact on player’s performance. But in a match play, alternate-shot format the opposite has been true. My conclusion is that with the alternate-shot format, more greens in regulation are likely to be missed. The team that can save par and extend holes is usually likely to come out on top. The European team has mostly dominated the U.S. team over the past 20 years in the Foursome format, and the European teams typically are stronger with their short game around the green.

Other factors involved with Foursome play are Red Zone Performance (shots from 175-225 yards) and being able to pair the right players together based on how they each play off the tee and with their approach shots from the rough. For example, a pairing of Phil Mickelson (who misses a lot of fairways) and Zach Johnson (who is not very good from the rough) would likely be a poor pairing.

In the Fourball format (lowest score), the best performers are high birdie makers and players that perform well on the par-4s, par-5s, and par-3s. Bubba Watson makes a lot of birdies and plays the par-4s and par-5s well, thus making him a good candidate for the Fourball format. The only issue with Bubba in the past is he has occasionally struggled on the par-3s. That can be resolved by pairing him with a player who makes a lot of birdies and is a strong performer on the par-3s. The reason for Jim Furyk’s struggles in the Fourball format is that he does not make a lot of birdies and is a merely average performer on the par-5s.

Note: All rankings below are based out of 209 golfers.

1. Patrick Reed

In the past, it has been difficult to get an accurate depiction of Reed’s game. He was notorious for either getting into contention or blowing up if he wasn’t in contention after the first round. He is now far better at avoiding those blowup rounds and remaining competitive regardless of how he well he performs at the beginning of the tournament. His iron play has been excellent, and since he is good on approach shots from the rough, short game around the green and he makes a lot of birdies and plays the par-4s and par-5s well, he should continue to be a great competitor in the Ryder Cup format. Given his inability to find the fairway off the tee, however, I would recommend pairing him with a quality performer from the rough in the alternate shot format.

2. Justin Thomas

On paper, Thomas should be Team USA’s toughest competitor as he has little in the way of holes in his game. He drives it great, hits his irons well from every distance, has a superb short game and can putt. He also makes a ton of birdies, plays every type of hole well and rarely makes bogeys. Like Reed, it would be advisable to pair him with a player that is a quality performer from the rough in the alternate shot format.

3. Dustin Johnson

DJ is the second-strongest performer on paper. The only thing that currently separates Justin Thomas from DJ is their Red Zone play. DJ has typically been a world-class performer from the Red Zone, however, and the data suggests that his ranking from the Red Zone should rapidly improve. He struck it well from the Red Zone in his last two events at Harbour Town Golf Links and TPC Sawgrass. And with his putting performance this season, he could make for a great competitor in this year’s Ryder Cup.

4. Jordan Spieth

Spieth has the metrics to be a strong Ryder Cup performer, as he strikes the ball well with his driver and his irons while having a superb short game around the green. His only weakness in the Fourball format is his performance on the par-3s, but that is due to his inability to make putts from 15-25 feet (198th). That is the crux of the situation for Spieth; can he get his old putting form back?

A look at previous great putters on Tour that inexplicably struggled with their putter shows that Spieth is going about his putting woes the correct way. He’s not making equipment or wholesale changes to his putting stroke. He is continuing to work with what made him a great putter just like Jason Day did last year when he inexplicably struggled with the putter early in the season… and then turned it around and regained his old putting form.

The question is, how long will it take for Spieth to regain his old form? Typically, players like Spieth that have a dramatic drop-off in their putting take about a year to regain their old form. He may not regain that form by the time the Ryder Cup takes place. If he does, Team USA is very strong with its top-4 points earners.

5. Bubba Watson

Bubba is off to a strong enough year to make the U.S. Ryder Cup Team, but the best bet for him is to stick to the Fourball format given his struggles around the green. Watson’s performance on the par-5s has not exactly been remarkable, but typically he’s one of the very best in the world on par-5s and can make a ton of birdies.

6. Rickie Fowler

Fowler has not been as strong in some areas of the game such as Red Zone, shots from the rough and putting as he has been in recent years. That makes him a little less appealing in the alternate shot format, but he still has a solid foundation to be a quality contributor in either format. The upside is if Rickie gets back to his old form with the putter and from the Red Zone, he should be a top-notch Ryder Cup performer because he is well suited to perform in either team format. At this time, he would be best suited to play with an accurate driver and very good performer around the green (i.e. Matt Kuchar) in the alternate shot format.

7. Brooks Koepka

There currently is not enough data on Koepka due to his wrist injury he suffered early in the season. Koepka is arguably the best bomber in the world who is also a great putter and a solid performer from the Red Zone. The main issue for Koepka has been his short game performance around the green. That would typically make for a weak partner in the alternate shot format, but Koepka was spectacular in the 2016 Ryder Cup. His combination of length and putting may make him a formidable Ryder Cup performer for years to come.

8. Phil Mickelson

As a statistical analyst for golf, I never quite know what I’m going to get from Lefty. This season Lefty has putted superbly, but his performance around the green has left a lot to be desired.

In recent Ryder Cups, he has been a quality performer in both the Foursome and Fourball formats. His recent success in the alternate shot format makes him a mandatory candidate, however, his inability to find the fairway means he would need a partner who is very good from the rough. The data suggests that his performance around the green should get closer to his old form as the season goes along.

9. Webb Simpson

Like Mickelson, it’s always a surprise as to what the strengths and weaknesses of Simpson’s game will be by the end of the season. Typically, he’s been a decent driver of the ball that is often a superb iron player and short game performer. With the anchoring ban, he has struggled with the putter up to this season. Lately, he has been an incredible putter that is struggling a bit with the irons.

Most of Simpson’s struggles with the irons have been from the rough, so a partner who finds a lot of fairways off the tee could be an excellent pairing in the foursome format with Simpson.

10. Matt Kuchar

Kuchar could be a very critical player for Team USA down the stretch. There are potential players on the team that could be valuable in the alternate shot format if they can find a teammate to find fairways off the tee to make up for their struggles on approach shots from the rough. Historically, Kuchar has been the most accurate off the tee of the players mentioned thus far.

This season, however, Kuchar has been underwhelming in his ability to find the fairway. The next most-accurate drivers of the ball that are near the top-12 in Ryder Cup points are Brian Harman, Bryson DeChambeau, Kevin Kisner and Andrew Landry, and none of them have nearly the experience in the Ryder Cup as Kuchar has. If Kuchar continues to miss fairways, his chances of making the team are not good unless he’s a Captain’s pick. If he cannot find the fairway, he has little-projected value as a member of the team. He is not making a lot of birdies, and his struggles on the par-3s and does not make him a favorable teammate in the Fourball format either.

11. Brian Harman

Harman’s value is that he has fairly decent Fourball metrics and his accuracy off the tee, putting, and iron play can work well with players like Fowler, Simpson, and Kuchar in the alternate shot format.

Harman has not performed that well from around the green using the Strokes Gained methodology, however; he ranks 15th on shots from 10-20 yards. I placed that metric in there as strokes gained takes into account all shots from less than 30 yards, but 10-20 yards is the most common distance range from which scrambling opportunities occur on Tour. Thus, Harman is an excellent performer from 10-20 yards and is only losing strokes around the green due to poor performance from 20-30 yards, and those shots occur less frequently on Tour. His struggles from 20-30 yards would also explain why his par-5 performance is roughly average, as that is the distance players typically finish from the hole when they go for par-5s in two and do not make the green.

And even though Harman is not very long off the tee (147th in Measured Driving Distance), he is a quality performer from the rough and thus he does not have to be tethered to another short-hitting, accurate driver in the alternate shot format.

12. Bryson DeChambeau

Dechambeau makes for a solid Ryder Cup candidate, as he has no outstanding weaknesses in his game this season as he appears to have rid himself of the putting woes that have hurt him in the past. I think he is better suited for the Fourball format, however, given how many birdies he makes. Pair him with a strong performer on the par-3s like Rickie Fowler or Phil Mickelson and it would make a very formidable duo in that format.

A pairing with Mickelson in the Fourball format would be intriguing given DeChambeau’s excellent driving. DeChambeau could hit first and — if he continues to drive it superbly — that would free up Mickelson to not worry so much about his woeful driving and focus more on making birdies. Perhaps a Fourball pairing with Bubba would make for a situation where DeChambeau could tee off first and pipe his drive, and then give Bubba a free rip to hit it as far as he possibly can and give them a sizeable advantage over their opponents.

31. Tiger Woods

I know I said I was only going to look at the top-12 players in Ryder Cup points, but the readers would inevitably ask about Tiger anyway. Furthermore, Tiger is an intriguing candidate for the team given his current game.

Tiger has struggled in both the Foursome and Fourball format. He seems to not play that great in alternate shot. In Fourball, it appears that he plays well by himself, but he is often let down by his teammates. The Europeans have always gunned for Tiger in the Ryder Cup, and it takes a special type of teammate to deal with the hysteria of having Tiger as their partner.

There are the makings of a very good alternate shot partner with Tiger, as his iron play and putting are still really good and his short game has been incredible this season. In the Fourball format, it would be advisable to find a strong par-5 performer, as Tiger’s performance on the par-5s has not been outstanding thus far. Having said that, I could see three excellent partners for Tiger in either format.

Patrick Reed has the numbers to be compatible with Tiger’s game, and he also has the track record of living up to the moment in the Ryder Cup. Dustin Johnson is can make up for Tiger’s possible big misses off the tee and can overpower a course with Tiger. And Phil Mickelson, whose game is compatible with Tiger’s, and could provide a symbol of the old guard working together to beat the Europeans.

There are certainly a lot of compelling possible pairings for Team USA, and there is still a long way to go before we start to see what pairings are available. The European Team looks like one of the strongest in years, and with all of the potential storylines for the 2018 Ryder Cup, it could be one of the greatest Ryder Cups of all time.

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