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.
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.
Squares2Circles: Course strategy refined by a Ph.D.
What do you get when you combine Division I-level golf talent, a Ph.D. in Mathematics, a passion for understanding how people process analytical information, and a knowledge of the psychology behind it? In short, you get Kevin Moore, but the long version of the story is much more interesting.
Kevin Moore attended the University of Akron on a golf scholarship from 2001-2005. Upon completing his tenure with the team, he found himself burned out on the game and promptly hung up his sticks. For a decade.
After completing his BS and MS degrees at the University of Akron, Kevin then went to Arizona State to pursue his Ph.D. Ultimately what drew him to the desert was the opportunity to research the psychology behind how people process analytical information. In his own words:
“My research in mathematics education is actually in the realm of student cognition (how students think and learn). From that, I’ve gained a deep understanding of developmental psychology in the mathematical world and also a general understanding of psychology as a whole; how our brains work, how we make decisions, and how we respond to results.”
In 2015, Kevin started to miss the game he loved. Now a professor of mathematics education at the University of Georgia, he dusted off his clubs and set a goal to play in USGA events. That’s when it all started to come together.
“I wanted to play some interesting courses for my satellite qualifiers and I wasn’t able to play practice rounds to be able to check them out in advance. So I modified a math program to let me do all the strategic planning ahead of time. I worked my way around the golf course, plotting out exactly how I wanted to hit shot, and minimizing my expected score for each hole. I bundled that up into a report that I could study to prepare for the rounds.
“I’m not long enough to overpower a golf course, so I needed to find a way to make sure I was putting myself in the best positions possible to minimize my score. There might be a pin position on a certain green where purposely hitting an 8-iron to 25 feet is the best strategy for me. I’ll let the rest of the field take on that pin and make a mistake even if they’re only hitting wedge. I know that playing intelligently aggressive to the right spot is going to allow me to pick up fractions of strokes here and there.”
Here’s what the leaders have to look forward to as they close “The Bear Trap”. The 17th plays to a mere 156 yards today, but any play at the pin depth or line necessarily brings the penalty area into play. Commit to a line, hit the shot, and accept the result. pic.twitter.com/g0a2qqCv3E
— Squares2Circles (@Squares2Circles) March 3, 2019
His plan worked, too. Kevin made it to the USGA Mid-Amateur at Charlotte Country Club in September of 2018 using this preparation method for his events just three years after taking a decade off of golf. In case you missed the implied sentiment, that’s extremely impressive. When Kevin showed his reports to some friends that played on the Web.com Tour and the Mackenzie Tour, they were so impressed they asked him to think about generating them for other people. The first group he approached was the coaching staff at the University of Georgia, who promptly enlisted his services to assist their team with course strategy in the spring of 2019. That’s when Squares2Circles really started to get some traction.
At that point, UGA hadn’t had a team win in over two seasons. They also hadn’t had an individual winner in over one season and had missed out on Nationals the previous two seasons. In the spring of 2019, they had three team wins (including winning Regionals to advance to Nationals) and two individual wins (including Davis Thompson’s win at Regionals). Obviously, the credit ultimately belongs to the players on the team, but suffice it to say it appears as though Kevin’s involvement with the team was decidedly useful.
“One of the things we really focused in on was par 3 scoring. They finished 3rd, 2nd, 4th, and 3rd in the field as a team in their spring tournaments. Then at the SEC’s they struggled a bit and finished 6th in the field. At Regionals, they turned it around and finished 1st in the field with a score of +6 across 60 scores (186 total on 60 par 3’s, an average of 3.10).”
Kevin is available outside of his work with UGA and has been employed by other D-I teams (including his alma mater of Akron), Mackenzie Tour players, Web.com Tour players, and competitive juniors as well. Using his modified math program, he can generate generic course guides based on assumed shot dispersions, but having more specific Trackman data for the individual allows him to take things to a new level. This allows him to show the player exactly what their options are with their exact carry numbers and shot dispersions.
“Everything I do is ultimately based off of strokes gained data. I don’t reinvent the wheel there and I don’t use any real new statistics (at least not yet), but I see my role as interpreting that data. Let’s say a certain player is an average of -2.1 on strokes gained approach over the last 10 rounds. That says something about his game, but it doesn’t say if it’s strategy or execution. And it doesn’t help you come up with a practice plan either. I love to help players go deeper than just the raw data to help them understand why they’re seeing what they’re seeing. That’s where the good stuff is. Not just the data, but the story the data tells and the psychology behind it. How do we get ourselves in the right mindset to play golf and think through a round and commit to what we’re doing?”
“Even if you’re able to play practice rounds, this level of preparation turns those practice rounds into more of an experiment than a game plan session. You go into your practice round already knowing the golf course and already having a plan of attack. This allows you to use that practice round to test that game plan before the competition starts. You may decide to tweak a few things during your practice round based on course conditions or an elevation change here and there, but for the most part it’s like you’ve gained a free practice round. It allows you to be more comfortable and just let it fly a lot earlier.”
The Gear Dive: Mike Yagley and Chad DeHart of Cobra Golf
In this episode of The Gear Dive, Johnny chats with Mike Yagley and Chad DeHart of Cobra Golf Innovation on Cobra Connect, new ways to evaluate good play, and the future of golf improvement.
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