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Opinion & Analysis

Phil Mickelson’s 6 mph clubhead speed gain just scratches the surface of what pros can achieve

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The AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am is always one of my favorite tournaments, in part because I lived there most of 2004-2006, and it brings up such nice memories.

At the top of the list of memories, of course, is meeting my future wife. I also remember jumping off my couch in 2004 when Phil Mickelson notched his first major at the Masters. I sprung off the couch in Carmel when he made that putt, similar to how he jumped in the air at Augusta National’s 18th green.

Anyway, I wanted to write today to talk about Phil Mickelson. As a long-time Phil fan, I was happy to see him pick up his 44th PGA Tour win and fifth victory at Pebble Beach.

As has been widely reported, at 48 years old, Phil’s club head speed had recently jumped up 6 mph. He led the field in driving distance at the Desert Classic, was leading in driving distance in Phoenix through that Friday’s cut, and his club head speed this year is averaging 120.92 mph, up from 116.48 mph in the 2017/2018 season.

As is becoming more well known, driving distance and clubhead speed are key factors in scoring potential, so the increase bodes well in Phil’s quest to reach 50 career PGA Tour wins and possibly pick up that missing U.S. Open trophy when he goes back to Pebble Beach in June.

While 6 mph in nine months is almost unheard of by overall golf and golf fitness industry standards, especially considering the average distance losses with age, I can say confidently: Quite frankly, he’s really just scratched the surface.

I’ve covered this in some of my other articles, so I’ll just refer you there for the details, but Phil’s win and swing speed gains are a good time for me to remind you that achieving 12-16 mph in 30-45 days is highly achievable with the right training. More is even there for the taking if you’re willing to put in a little elbow grease. I’ve even had some golfers go from the 90s all the way up in to the 130s and 140s.

Here are some starter keys.

Practice swinging faster

This may sound overly simple, and I suppose it is, but largely no one outside of professional long drivers do it. Gaining speed is similar to improving at other skills in that you’ll get better just by practicing.

Phil and a number of other tour players are starting to tap in to part of the speed equation here.

Part of the whole basis of Phil’s training has been practicing swinging faster with SuperSpeed sticks. The fact that he’s doing this type of training is good, although it doesn’t really matter so much whether you swing a heavy club, a light club, something with air resistance, etc.

The main thing is just that you are practicing swinging faster, and putting some time in to it as with any other component of your game like full swing, chipping, putting, etc.

Strengthen your downswing muscles

Based on his results and without knowing the full details of his training, a big key that he appears to be missing is doing something to strengthen his downswing muscles.

Every golfer, whether you are long drive champion or low swing speed amateur, starts at zero mph at the top of the backswing and gets to whatever speed they achieve at impact.

Long drivers tend to be very strong, but not necessarily big. Two-time World Long Drive Champion, Jamie Sadlowski, is a good example of this. He can do 480-pound hexbar deadlifts for reps. That takes tremendous strength in his hands, forearms, lower back, glutes, and hamstrings.

At my fastest, I could swing in the low 140s, and it’s no coincidence that I could also do over 700-lb half squats.

Were Phil to supplement his swing speed reps with doing more to specifically target gradually increasing the strength of his downswing muscles over time, there’s no reason why he couldn’t be swinging at Cameron Champ’s 130 mph level, or higher, even at 48 years old. Look no further than Senior World Long Drive Champion “Fast” Eddie Fernandes to find a guy who in his mid/late 40s and that can regularly swing in the 140s.

For that matter, Phil aside, there’s no reason why ANY tour player couldn’t be swinging at those speeds with proper training. Tour pros are definitely more fit that they used to be. That’s good, but the golf fitness industry is still very young and fit doesn’t necessarily mean fast.

To learn more about how to train to be fast, check out my other articles, visit Swing Man Golf, and/or work with an instructor or fitness trainer who is swing speed training certified.

Now is as good as time as any to get going on some swing speed training. By the time the Masters rolls around in April, you could easily be 30-40 yards longer and get your season started off with a boom.

 

 

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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 creator of Sterling Irons® single length irons, and has caddied on the PGA TOUR and PGA TOUR CHAMPIONS. Two of his articles for GolfWRX are the two most viewed of all time. 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 shot 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 helped millions of golfers and focuses primarily on swing speed training. Typically, Jaacob’s amateur golfers and tour players 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 – Millions of views!!!

12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. Patricknorm

    Feb 14, 2019 at 8:01 am

    Going on the Titleist Performance Institute webpage , there are a few things that stand out with players who swing above 130 mph. First is lower body strength, hence the half squats, dead lifts. The other metric is your vertical jump., which is a measure of lower body power. The other metric is your ability to throw a ball or a javelin. Similar motion to hitting a baseball, tennis ball or golf ball.
    The common factor to hitting a golf ball a long way , is ones lower body strength. Mickelson mentioned he was working on this aspect years ago and it’s no surprise along with his over speed training, he’s increased his clubhead speed. Tiger Woods clearly has been hitting the gym hard post lower back surgery and the results on the course speak for themselves.

  2. JJ

    Feb 13, 2019 at 11:10 pm

    Half squats..? Who does half squats?

    • Alec

      Feb 14, 2019 at 1:32 am

      Not to mention, that based on the pin position in the rack in the picture he posted, he was doing quarter squats at best.

  3. X

    Feb 13, 2019 at 10:54 pm

    Scratches the surface? What on Earth are you blathering about?
    They’re athletes. This is their job. They had better try every bit of everything they can to stay in shape and to gain more to win more. Otherwise, why bother?
    This is what we would expect from the top guys. Looking at it from our amateur fan perspective, if they’re not doing this to improve and winning, then we all can see that they just fall off the map and that’s how obvious it is. We don’t need any of this explained.

  4. undercover

    Feb 13, 2019 at 10:04 pm

    This article is spot on. I was a college athlete and I’ve been a sub-scratch handicap player for nearly 30 years. I turn 50 later this year and I started worrying about losing speed and distance as I get older. I still play competitive tournament golf and often times against young college players. So, I been weight training and speed training a few years ago and find that I’m now swinging on average 121 MPH. I work on muscles that deal with the golf swing. I’ve gained muscle mass, speed and endurance. I would have to say core and lower body training has been key (box jumps are a must). For the skeptics, the majority of touring pros and college players are doing speed training to supplement their strength training. Jump in and give it a try, it works.

  5. Simms

    Feb 13, 2019 at 5:04 pm

    Nice article…no doubt we see the younger players men/women in better shape and hitting the long drives…our 4 some followed a girl the other day that played the black tees and was over 270 on every driver hole..when we talked she was from South Korea 26 and been golfing sense she was 14..what was scary…her boyfriend was hitting over 300 yards every hole…thank goodness he could not putt.

  6. Aaron Roth

    Feb 13, 2019 at 2:50 pm

    Well… what are the “downswing muscles”?

    • Jaacob Bowden

      Feb 13, 2019 at 3:33 pm

      We all swing the club differently, so, it depends…but, for example, some for me personally are:

      – Trail Chest, trail triceps, and trail forearm (mostly palmar flexion – think slapping) – throwing motion
      – Lead lat and lead forearm (mostly ulnar deviation – think chopping) – pulling motion
      – General core, lower back, and butt
      – Lead leg – internal hip rotation, quad, adductor
      – Trail leg – external hip rotator, hamstring, abductor, and calve

      Click on my author page and peruse some of my older articles. I get in to some other details there.

  7. Nathan Andersen

    Feb 13, 2019 at 2:39 pm

    Agree wholeheartedly with everything you say (especially given your qualifications).

    However, I think with all of this, do you think it would be desirable for Phil to pick up that speed? A 2-degree open face at impact is much more harmful at 140 mph SS compared to 122 SS, so although you hit it further, you miss more fairways.

    I think an amateur going from 100 to 115 definitely wants that, but, at 122 (or 128, wherever he currently is), adding that distance may be more penal than for an amateur given the course differences.

    • Jaacob Bowden

      Feb 13, 2019 at 3:23 pm

      I get where you are coming from but having more speed at your disposal never hurts.

      At that point, it comes down to a course management decision and understanding your shot dispersion.

      If the area where you are hitting is big enough to safely contain your shot dispersion, it becomes a big advantage. You may be able to carry trouble and take more aggressive lines that others cannot which leads to shorter clubs in to greens and strokes gained over the season.

      This won’t be the case in every situation, but sometimes the opportunity will be there to take advantage of the extra length.

      In other cases where it would be too penal as you mentioned, the person with the extra speed can just take less club and hit to a strategically more safe area. Jamie, for example, will often hit irons off the tee to put the ball in play. You can see this is his Arccos stats. Cameron Champ will do the same. I was watching some highlights the other day of Cameron and he was simply hitting 3-wood where others were hitting driver. In other spots where it was safe for him, he would bomb driver way past everyone.

      • Jaacob Bowden, PGA

        Feb 13, 2019 at 3:41 pm

        Interestingly, I often find people hit more accurate too with training. All the swing-specific focus has various side benefits with balance, coordination, mental image of the swing, etc.

    • Ryan K

      Feb 13, 2019 at 10:01 pm

      You also have to remember that nearly all stats indicate you’re better off being closer to the hole than in the fairway, comparatively. Then it gets down to approach and short yardage of which it’s been established that Phil is pretty darn good at! This coming from not an ardent Phil fan mind you.

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Opinion & Analysis

Everyone sucks at golf sometimes

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“Golf is a game whose aim is to hit a very small ball into an even smaller hole, with tools singularly ill-designed for the purpose.”

This quote dates back over 100 years, and has been credited to a number of people through history including Winston Churchill and U.S. President Woodrow Wilson. Although the game and the tools have changed a lot in 100 years, this quote remains timeless because golf is inherently difficult, and is impossible to master, which is exactly what also makes it so endearing to those that play it.

No matter how hard we practice, or how much time we spend trying to improve there will inevitably be times when we will suck at golf. Just like with other aspects of the game the idea of “sucking” will vary based on your skillset, but a PGA Tour player can hit a hosel rocket shank just as well as a 25 handicap. As Tom Brady proved this past weekend, any golfer can have a bad day, but even during a poor round of golf there are glimmers of hope—like a holed-out wedge, even if it is followed by having your pants rip out on live TV.

I distinctly remember one time during a broadcast when Chris DiMarco hit a poor iron shot on a par 3 and the microphone caught hit exclaim “Come on Chris, you’re hitting it like a 4 handicap out here today” – the shot just barely caught the right side of the green and I imagine a lot of higher handicap golfers said to themselves ” I’d love to hit it like a 4 handicap!”. This is just one example of the expectations we put on ourselves even when most golfers will admit to playing their best when expectations are thrown out the window.

– Gary Larson

Dr. Bob Rotella says golf is not a game of perfect, and that’s totally ok. The game is about the constant pursuit of improvement, not perfection and with that in mind there are going to be days when no matter what we just suck.

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Opinion & Analysis

By definition, there will be no 2020 U.S. Open. Here’s why the USGA should reconsider

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In 1942, the USGA decided to cancel the U.S. Open because it was scheduled so soon after U.S. entry into WWII.  They did this out of respect for the nation and those called to war. There was a Championship however called The Hale America National Open Golf Tournament, which was contested at Chicago’s  Ridgemoor Country Club. It was a great distraction from the horror of war and raised money for the great cause.

All the top players of the era (except Sam Snead) played, and the organizers (USGA, Chicago Golf Association, and the PGA of America) did hold qualifying at some 70 sites around the country. So effectively, it was the 1942 U.S. Open—but the USGA never recognized it as such. They labeled it a “wartime effort to raise money” for the cause.  Their objection to it being the official U.S. Open was never clear, although the sub-standard Ridgemoor course (a veritable birdie fest) was certainly part of it.

The USGA co-sponsored the event but did not host it at one of their premier venues, where they typically set the golf course up unusually difficult to test the best players. Anyway, Ben Hogan won the event and many thought this should have counted as his fifth U.S. Open win. The USGA disagreed. That debate may never be settled in golfer’s minds.

Ahead to the 1964 U.S. Open…Ken Venturi, the eventual winner, qualified to play in the tournament. His game at the time was a shell of what it was just a few years earlier, but Kenny caught lighting in a bottle, got through both stages of qualifying, and realized his lifelong dream of winning the U.S. Open at Congressional.

Ahead to the 1969 U.S. Open…Orville Moody, a former army sergeant had been playing the PGA Tour for two years with moderate success-at best. But the golfing gods shone brightly upon “sarge” through both stages of qualifying, and the tournament, as he too realized the dream of a lifetime in Houston.

Ahead to 2009 U.S. Open…Lucas Glover was the 71st ranked player in the world and had never made the cut in his three previous U.S. Opens. But he did get through the final stage of qualifying and went on to win the title at Bethpage in New York.

Ahead to 2020…The USGA has decided to postpone the event this year to September because of the Covid-19 virus. This was for the fear of the global pandemic. But this year there is a fundamental difference—the USGA has announced there will be no qualifying for the event. It will be an exempt-only event. By doing so, the event loses it status as an “open event,” by definition.

This is more than a slight difference in semantics.

The U.S. Open, our national championship, is the crown jewel of all USGA events for many reasons, not the least of which is that it is just that: open. Granted, the likelihood of a club professional or a highly-ranked amateur winning the event—or even making the cut—is slim, but that misses the point: they have been stripped of their chance to do so, and have thereby lost a perhaps once in a lifetime opportunity to realize something they have worked for their whole lives. Although I respect the decision from a  health perspective, golf is being played now across the country, (The Match and Driving Relief—apparently safely)

So, what to do? I believe it would be possible to have one-day 36-hole qualifiers (complete with social distancing regulations) all over the country to open the field. Perhaps, the current health crisis limits the opportunity to hold the qualifiers at the normally premier qualifying sites around the country but, as always, everyone is playing the same course and is at least given the chance to play in tournament.

In light of the recent “opening” of the country, I am asking that the USGA reconsider the decision.

 

featured image modified from USGA image

 

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TG2: Reviewing Tour Edge Exotics Pro woods, forged irons, and LA Golf shafts

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Reviewing the new Tour Edge Exotics Pro wood lineup, forged irons, and wedge. Maybe more than one makes it into the bag? Fujikura’s MCI iron shafts are some of the smoothest I have ever hit and LA Golf wood shafts get some time on the course.

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

Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below. 

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