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Anecdotal Observations on the Bomber-Golfer Paradigm

by   |   December 15, 2012
PHOTO BY DAVID CANNON/GETTY IMAGES

As the wise sage Samuel Roy Hagar reminded us, “There is only one way to rock.”

So too, do I submit (with perhaps less thought given) that there is only one way to play golf in the modern age – and that, my friends, is to BOMB IT!

I have been an on-and-off-again “bomber” since ’91, shortly after I first took up the game. Not the hardcore, superhuman, consistently past- 300 variety of bomber, just kind of on the intermediate side of things — the longest in my foursome by a lot, one of the 10 biggest hitters at my course, carry the ball on the occasional par 4…that kind of thing. And by the way, before someone replies with a “passive brag” comment – there ain’t nothin’ passive about it baby! Walk it like you talk it.

Boom!

Okay, so I say “on and off again” because somewhere around 2002 I got side-tracked by a bunch of mental clutter:  TV commentators and their suggestions of swing-overhauls, the “importance” of accuracy, annoying reminders of “The problem I see with amateur golfers is…,” coupled with preachy instructors talking about “XYZ-Factors,” hip and elbow positions and other forms of odd lingo. In other words, I started playing golf swing instead of playing golf. As you might suspect, the golf gods abandoned me for my blasphemous ways, and I suffered what was akin to golf exile for about three years – let’s face it, when your game really sucks and you are beyond frustrated, no one wants to play with you! It is a very lonely place to be.

I feel confident in telling you that I have tried and exhausted every cockamamie golf swing tip or tidbit known to man – because I HAVE! They all proved equally terrible. After all, big problems aren’t solved with one-sentence answers. Go figure! No, it wasn’t until I had exhausted every option, hit rock bottom, and stood on the 7th tee at Aroostook Valley Country Club having a Chevy Chase-style meltdown that sent flocks of birds and other forms of small wildlife fleeing in terror from the surrounding area did I find my solution.

Having nothing left, and purely out of anger, I resolved to hit that little white RFRP (stands for “Read Forum Rules Please”) just as HARD as I possibly could. Lo and behold, the ball took off like a scared wombat, sailed an impressive distance and come to rest on the 7th green, 327 yards in total. My response sounded much like a confused Tim Taylor:

“Awuaaaghhh???”

That, or I was responding to a self-inflicted hernia.

Why did this work?! It shouldn’t have worked. I was told on dozens of occasions, “Don’t try to hit the ball hard, let the club do the work.” Not only that, but I was told this by old dudes. It is well known that old dudes are never wrong about things when it comes to golf – they will be the first to tell you. Everyone under 30 years old understands this, even if they don’t like to admit it.

Well, having played golf in total frustration for nearly four years, I was NOT going to let this go. I kept the round going with that one single thought and ended up hitting some of the biggest drives and towering iron shots of my life. Prior to that day, I had been playing army golf – hooking the first shot left, compensating and blocking the next shot to the right. Hitting a recovery and having to pitch it close and hole a putt for an up and down. THAT ladies and gents, is NO WAY TO PLAY GOLF. When I started swinging hard at the ball, I got a nice straight flight that carried forever. It was a bit higher than I was used to, but was really flat at the top and I got more roll too. It was “point and thrash.” Really simple.

That realization came in 2006, and I have been “on the mend” ever since. In fact, I have built my whole golfing paradigm on the concept of hitting the ball hard – aka, “bombing it.” What follows here are a few anecdotal (unsubstantiated) observations I would like to share with all of you who are, sadly, still stuck playing “golf swing.” This is meant to be fun, guys, so read with your “silly season” glasses on and with a mug of your strongest eggnog!

Observation 1 – Anyone can be a “Bomber”

For our purposes, let’s start with a definition of a bomber: A person whose only swing thought or intention is to “hit it hard.”

Notice that this doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with actual distance. Golfers may find that they increase their distance by going after the ball more strongly, but again, this is a swing philosophy and not an outcome. You don’t need to clear three bills in order to consider yourself a bomber.

That means that the 7-year-old playing from the forward tees who practically turns him/herself around backwards to manage a 70 yard drive (or however far kids that age hit it) is a bomber. The older person doing the Gary Player hit-and-walk with no practice swing – they can be a bomber too. And yes, the six-foot-plus big guy who rips it deep from the black tees is a bomber.

The person who IS NOT a bomber is the cat who takes three practice swings trying to make their swing as perfect as possible, the person who stops his/her practice swing halfway back to check a position and the person who holds his finish for enough time for a painter to complete his portrait. Not bomber materially, sorry. Those folks need to go to the “swinger” corner where they can talk geek-speak (ahem!) I mean golf swing, and polish their belt-buckles to their heart’s content.

Observation 2 – Bombers look up, not down

Part of your indoctrination into “Bomberdom” must include the realization that you are likely hitting the ball too low. Most amateur golfers don’t understand what a good trajectory off the tee really is. Bombers CARRY THE BALL down the fairway, Gladiator-style. They don’t look to poot out little rabbit chasers on hard fairways (using drivers with too little loft) while expecting more roll than a Faxon putt. This is utterly disgraceful on-course behavior for one who is an aspiring bomber, and it should be changed straight away.

The first step to fixing this is when you visualize a shot on any particular hole, the ball flight needs to “appear” above where you would normally look for your shot in your mind’s eye. Changing your flight is one part equipment, one part technique shift and also one part conceptual shift, and sometimes the easiest way to start it all is to “trick” your mind into visualizing a different flight. After all, bombers don’t waste time with more than one swing thought (hitting hard); this is just a visual trick that tends to work for a lot of folks.

So, what should you be visualizing? The standard, cool-looking bombed drive is high and flat, folks. No hooky runners while telling people you “grew up playing in the wind.” Other bombers are going to laugh at you if you do. You also don’t want a shot that burns the clouds and falls down dead either. You DO want some amount of rollout, so start reading up on all the articles here about “Positive Angle of Attack.” I would go into it more, but this article is about a philosophy and not so much about technique. There are plenty of knowledgeable folks on WRX to ask!

Observation 3 – Bomber-golfing is fun, so act like you are enjoying yourself!

Have you ever seen a moody or pensive big hitter? Someone who maybe took him or herself a little too seriously at the expense of enjoying a round of golf? Heck, no! How can you be upset when you’re big-hittin’ baby? Yeah, maybe you might find someone getting down about something that happened off the course, but day in and out, bombers are optimistic cats and generally fun to be around…and humble too! Here is another big plus: long hitters know they will be chased out of any foursome if they passively brag about how far they hit it. They are the ONE group in all of golf who knows to keep their mouths shut about their play (except for me). How can you not like that?

Think about it; everyone wants to be the person who “knows that guy (or gal) who hits the big tee shots.” Everyone wants at least one bomber on his or her scramble team. The dinner-on-the-deck crowd actually quiets down to watch a big hitter on a nearby tee because they want to see where the ball goes. The “Boss” always brings the big-hitter employee out for on-course business dealings with other companies. Being a bomber comes with perks, people. How can you not enjoy yourselves out there? Be happy, have fun. Leave the brooding for the “tortured-artist” swinger crowd.

Observation 4 – You have to figure out YOUR OWN way to “get-‘er-done!”

Well, I am going to contradict myself a little here. There is no point in trying to hit the ball high and far if you don’t also know how to make that happen. I concede that. Ideally, you would put in enough time in practice so that when you actually get to the first tee, there is only the one thought left to you – hit it hard!

I am not a swing guru or professional; I am an occasionally humble golf team coach and educational researcher – no more, no less. I am not going to proclaim one right way of swinging the club to get big gains off the tee. That is not what this story is about. I do, however, submit that everyone needs to find their own way of going about things. I will share MY keys with you, but it is up to you to find your own way to get things done.

I found that, for MY swing, the key is all in the setup, and the more attention I pay to getting things right in my setup, the greater my expectations may be of producing a big hit off the tee. My keys are:

1) Ball forward – off the front foot.
2) Stand a little closer (because of ball position).
3) Big turn back while staying braced into my right instep.
4) Turn through hard left – legs drive, upper body stays behind the ball.

Boom, high cut. Nothing to it, it just takes a concept and a little practice. Again, I am not a pro, but this works for me – it might not for you. You need to read, research, ask questions, watch video and figure out what works for you. However, when you get to the tee, there is only one thought to focus on – RIP IT!

Observation 5 – Don’t waste time with too much focus on equipment

Real big hitters can hit your mother’s driver past yours; pretty much, they will launch the golf ball with anything you put in their hands. It is funny, but most bombers I talk to focus more on forgiveness than spin reduction. Think about it, J.B. Holmes destroyed the planet with the Cobra L4V (although his now a Callaway staffer). Bubba Watson topped the distance stat with the PING G15. Both are great heads, but are more in the “GI” category of driver heads than they are the “spin-killer” category. Neither played their drivers at extended lengths either (both typically play drivers in the 44 inch range). It seems the two picked very forgiving drivers with a lower loft, had their shaft of choice installed at a shorter total length, and then…bombs away!

Don’t forget about irons, either. Watson (again) plays PING S56 irons. Gary Woodland plays Titleist MB’s. The two longest hitters I know personally play Mizuno cavity-backs. None of these irons could ever be accused of having “jacked up” lofts (by today’s standards, anyway) or being the first choice for those wishing to pick up a ton of yards. They are indicative of a player more concerned with versatility and feel.

I am not going to keep pushing the point with equipment, because so much is subjective, and there are much more knowledgeable folks to hear it all from than me. I simply wanted to point out that you don’t always have to look to certain kinds of gear to find distance; sometimes it is better to find gear that will allow you to swing big without suffering the usual consequences. Big hitters need forgiveness and feel as much as anything else, so go to a good fitter and find the right balance.

Observation 6 – With great power comes great…OPPORTUNITY. Better not mess it up

So, you have resolved to adopt the philosophy of the big hitter – congratulations! Now you just have to figure out how to play actual golf with your new found freedom and confidence. Here is the thing – when you resolve to freewheel it off the tee and into greens, you need to expect to miss more often, but also score big more often as well. It is “risk/reward” without caring so much about the risk! Most folks find that if anything, the peaks and valleys of this approach make for some really interesting and FUN golf!

To make the point, just look at Bubba Watson: he is 135th in driving accuracy but No. 2 in GIRs. If you watch him play, you’ll see that he knows where he can miss and still have a shot into the green. He also knows that even if he does hit the ball into the rough, it will likely be far enough down the fairway that he will be hitting a shorter iron into the green. Which would YOU rather have: 5 iron from the fairway or 8 iron from the rough?

The other thing is, the long ball IS the straight ball. Even if your tee shot lands in the fairway and rolls into the rough, it isn’t like you have missed 45 feet into the trees (if you have done things right). You will still likely have a shot. This is Bomb-and-Gouge 101 people!

Also, with iron shots, there is no reason why you shouldn’t be flag hunting with any club 7 iron and less. No more excuses! Those pins need to be falling like a rope bridge in a Harrison Ford movie. Don’t worry about misses, just take dead aim. If you are ripping your irons like your tee shots, that means your approach shots are coming in higher and your ability to hold greens has increased as well. So, if you ever find yourself asking “smooth 7 or hard 8…” you can stop wasting time on that debate, because your new answer is “nuked 9.”

“Yeah, but…yeah, but…” I can hear all of the skeptics saying this. I know what you are getting at, what if you miss the green and are short-sided? Well, heaven forbid you should ever experience a challenge on the golf course people! That is why the golf Gods gave you…the flop shot. Every big bomber worth his/her salt has always been able to execute the flop shot. I am NOT talking about the cute little cut/lob shot all the instructors want to sell you on. I am talking about the completely opened, fully swung, Mickelson PANCAKE shot that launches about 20 feet into the air and comes down like a fried egg (want breakfast yet??). This topic isn’t really about short game shots; just suffice to say that if you want to be a bomber – you need this shot. Study up!

Closing

Okay, I know you want clarification before this wraps up. The first point I made (observation 1) suggested that anyone could be a bomber if they resolved to hit it big, or at least as big as they are able to. Most of the rest of the points I have made suggested the actual ability to hit super long shots as a prerequisite. Well, not all golfers are created equal. What I am proposing here is more a philosophy of play, and less about actual numbers. For our purposes, the intent is more important than the raw ability (after all, you can BUY distance). It is like doing P90X (I hear), you do as much as you can and forget about the rest. If all you can manage is 100 yards off the tee, but you gave it your all to get that 100 – you are part of the club my friend.

Welcome!

Click here for more discussion in the “Instruction & Academy” forum. 

About

I am a professional musician, educator and researcher, in addition to being a golf coach for Hampden Academy in Maine. Currently, I am pursuing a Ph.D., in curriculum and instruction at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. My past academic achievements include a Bachelor's degree (in music performance) from the University of Maine, a Master's degree (in jazz performance) from Florida State University, a second Master's degree (in education) from the University of Maine, and K-12 teacher and school administrator certifications in Maine.

My current research interests include overlapping content points between music and golf, as well as studying/comparing/contrasting how people learn in both endeavors.

I have worked in education for 12 years, including public school education and university instruction. I have taught in the Maine public school system, and at the University of Maine at Presque Isle, the University of Maine at Fort Kent, Florida State University, and the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

My main area of musical endeavor is drumset performance with an emphasis in jazz, where I have performed with Chuck Winfield (of Blood Sweat and Tears), Dr. Billy Taylor (of the Kennedy Center), Yusef Lateef (jazz legend), and numerous local and regional groups in the New England area.


6 Comments

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  2. John Caldwell

    December 20, 2012 at 11:20 am

    I like this. It’s easy to follow, doesn’t get bogged down in the technical stuff, and doesn’t take itself too seriously. More of the same please….

    • Dan Ross

      December 24, 2012 at 9:34 am

      Hi John!

      Thank you for your kind words. I want to keeps things like and just present different ways for folks to think about playing golf. We are out there for fun, after all.

      Best,

      Dan

  3. Rich

    December 19, 2012 at 7:40 pm

    I really enjoyed your article, Dan! I needed to hear it. I fall into your camp. I used to just “swing away” at the ball. Not anymore. I used to hit the ball further but have had to deal with adjusting to some shoulder/neck injuries. Those lead to me shifting my mentality and swing from “Kill!” to “Be smart.”
    A little bit about me. I’m 32 and was introduced to this awesome/dumb game 10 years ago by my father-in-law (Roger). After the first tee shot I was hooked. A fade or slice of course, but in play… And not the shortest of the group! Every time I hit the ball (irons or woods) I just thought, “Kill!” Roger made an amazed sort of laugh every time while complimenting, “Wow Ricky! That’s great!” Great? My ball didn’t go straight. I thought he was humoring me. I didn’t know just making contact with the ball the first time you play is an accomplishment in itself!
    One of his good friends was an LPGA Tour Pro and she was kind enough to show me a couple of swing fundamentals. But I never focused on them. My mentality was, “Hit the pure SNOT out of it!” I lived for hitting driver! I couldn’t care less about the next shot or what I might leave myself with. I just wanted to PUNISH the ball!
    Fast forward to the present. I have been struggling with my game for almost 2 years now. The irony is it coincides about the time I took some lessons from a teacher who taught a more restrained and controlled game mentality. The loss of distance due to the injuries were the reason for the lessons. A “Control” mentality makes all the sense in the world. I want to score better, so I should learn to take less risks. Play controlled. Play smart. Problem is my game (and swing) went to complete CRAP!!! Not just my score, but my actual hitting. I lost distance (which still might be the neck and shoulder injury). Not only that, I lost my “ball striking” ability, particularly with irons. I’m no tour pro, but even when I first started golf, I was VERY consistent with where on the clubface the ball hit.
    Anyway, recently I decided to abandon every swing adjustment made by the last teacher. I started to realize one important fact, “It didn’t work for me!” My body type was totally different. I can’t bend like he can, my arms can’t go around my chest, etc. I was using a swing that fit someone else. I went back to what is “natural” for me. After only a couple of range sessions I got some distance back, a higher ball flight, spin and hold on greens, and started hitting the right part of the clubface again.
    All of that is to say this: You’re article has inspired me to go back to my roots mentally too! Why am I fighting thoughts that come naturally? Why am I taking 3 practice swings, checking my grip, my stance, my alignment, my nose position, my ear height, only to get up and skull the ball?! Of course there are good fundamentals, but if going back to what comes naturally for my swing is working, maybe it’s time to go back to the simple “Kill!” mentality. The thought of it seems freeing!

    • Dan Ross

      December 24, 2012 at 9:32 am

      Hi Rich.

      I am really happy you enjoyed the article. I think a lot of golfers take themselves too seriously. If what we remember two weeks after the round is that one bombed drive that all our buddies talk about the next day, why shouldn’t we play to make that happen more often? You can still play bomb and gouge effectively so long as you can manage a one way miss. If you are in the rough a little but still have a look at the green…what is wrong with that? Rip it on there! Best of both worlds I say.

      Peace.

      Dan

  4. Pingback: GolfWRX.com – Anecdotal Observations on the Bomber-Golfer … | Golf Grip Instruction

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