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Bowden: Speed golf can help your game

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Jaacob Bowden runs on to the 7th green at Bandon Dunes during the 2012 Speed Golf World Championships

Mark your calendars.

Coming up on April 13 at 1:30 p.m. EST (Masters Saturday), CBS will be airing the Speed Golf World Championships from Bandon Dunes Golf Resort, where yours truly notched up a fifth-place finish.

For those not familiar with the sport, speed golf combines your normal golf score with the amount of time that it takes you to finish the round. For example, if you shoot 85 in 75 minutes, your speed golf score would be 160.

The rules of speed golf are basically the same as regular golf except you are allowed to putt with the flagstick in the hole to save time, and lost balls or out-of-bounds balls are treated more or less as lateral hazards. This was done because it was thought to be too severe of a price to pay to not only be assessed the penalty stroke but also the lost time from having to run back to the place where you played the original shot.

Elite speed golfers can shoot in the 60s and 70s in under an hour. Take a look on YouTube at my friend and fellow speed golfer Christopher Smith as he breaks 70 in less than 54 minutes.

[youtube id=”zQ43miMu0lw” width=”620″ height=”360″]

Obviously, speed golf won’t be for everyone. However, there are numerous things that regular golfers could learn from speed golfers to help them play better. One thing in particular that I’d like to bring up in this article is how to control your distances when you are between clubs.

You see, speed golfers typically only carry four to seven clubs in their bag during a round of speed golf. For example, in the World Championships, I used a driver, 20-degree hybrid, 5-iron, 8-iron, 52-degree wedge and a putter.

As you might imagine, very rarely will you encounter a shot in speed golf where you have the exact distance for a full shot with a particular club. For that matter, speed golfers usually don’t even bother checking the distances to their targets because it wastes time.

Playing this type of golf where you don’t know the distances isn’t new. As I understand, courses weren’t marked with distances as extensively prior to the 1960s, except for maybe a bush or something like that at the 100- or 150-yard marks. So back in the old days, everyone would have had to play like this.

But in our modern era with all the detailed course guides, distance markers on sprinkler heads, etc., and having fancy launch monitor technology like Trackman or Flightscope to get your yardages dialed in, I think the general mindset has trended more towards using your clubs only for their full swing distances.

Maybe you think of your 7-iron distance as 140 yards (or whatever else it might be), but really it’s 1 to 140 yards. There’s no rule that says you can’t use it for 80 yards, 120 yards or whatever other distance. Aside from technology, perhaps there’s also an aspect for some of us men with our egos and needing to show our playing partners that we took less club than them for the same distance shot. In any case, the skill of playing anything less than a full shot on approach shots seems to have become more of a lost art.

So how do you know how far to hit the ball on those non-full shots without knowing the distance?

There’s a number of ways to develop the skill, but one of my favorite drills to work on it is called the “all clubs all flags” drill. Basically, when you are at the range, take out every club from driver to your highest lofted iron or wedge and hit a ball to each flag that is within range of that club’s maximum distance.

For example, for the 75-yard flag at the range, I’ll hit my lob wedge, sand/gap wedge, pitching wedge, etc., all the way up to the driver. Then I repeat the same thing for the 100-yard flag and so on and so forth. I don’t consciously think about anything technical like how far to take my lead arm back. I just look at where I want my ball to go and instinctively react with a smooth swing.

It’s sort of like baseball. If an outfielder catches a ball in the outfield, he doesn’t suddenly whip out a range finder from his back pocket to laser the exact distance that he needs to throw the ball back in to an infielder. He simply identifies his target and intuitively makes the throw necessary to get the ball to the target. It’s the same mindset with golf.

What I suspect you’ll find is how relatively quickly you can get good at your distance control doing this drill. Once you feel comfortable on the range with it, try it out on the course for a few rounds too. You might even bring only your odd or even irons to force you in to have to hitting more of those in-between type of shots.

The first round trying this may be very scary. It was for me. But over the course of the round, it became easier and easier to trust myself. The more I trusted the better I got. After several rounds of doing this I became just as good at my distance control either with or without knowing the distances. In fact, these days I would say I’ve become better at distance control when I don’t know the distance to my target, which I’ve found interesting because when I first was taking on golf I was a very technical player.

Interestingly, this skill has other benefits as well. Aside from taking less time to play my shots and becoming more target-oriented with less swing thoughts, I also have found it more fun to play this way. To me, I feel like I’m playing the game more creatively like an artist.

And when I get in trouble, I have a nice repertoire of shots to choose from as well. For example, I remember one time when I posted 69 (3-under) in the first round of the Long Beach Open at El Dorado, I decided to take out my driver on the short and narrow 377-yard par-4 No. 15. I missed a little bit right and found myself just under a tree. I was inside 100-yards but I had no room to hit a normal shot. So instead I took out a 5-iron and hit one under the trees up on to the green right next to the flag and made an easy birdie.

Similarly, I’m not sure if it will get shown on the telecast, but the par-3 No. 15 at Bandon Dunes during the Speed Golf World Championships had the tees up and was only playing 131-yards. Using my 8-iron was my first choice since I only had six clubs in the bag and hitting my 52-degree accurately that far would’ve been difficult. However, as I was running up to the tee box I felt utterly exhausted and was too tired to even make the shorter length of swing I would have needed for my 8-iron. Instead I quickly decided to play a cut bump-and-run with my 5-iron up that funneled around the bunker through the front of the green and up to about 10 feet. I missed the birdie putt, but having that skill from the “all clubs all flags” drill gave me an additional option for playing my approach shot and I ended up with a great opportunity for birdie.

I hope you have fun with the drill and find it as useful for your own game as I have with mine.

See you at Masters Saturday in April on CBS!

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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 co-creator of "Sterling Irons" single length irons, and has caddied on the PGA TOUR and PGA TOUR CHAMPIONS. 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 holds 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 more than 8,000 members and focuses primarily on swing speed training. Typically, Jaacob’s website members and amateur and tour player clients will 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 – More than 2.8 million video views

11 Comments

11 Comments

  1. Jaacob Bowden

    Jan 15, 2014 at 5:34 am

    Here’s a little clip of this “All Clubs All Flags” thing in action. Just step up and react to the target. With a little practice, distance control becomes good without even knowing the number.

    http://youtu.be/z3fvxyxJpro

  2. Jaacob Bowden

    Oct 23, 2013 at 12:46 am

    For those that want to watch, this year’s Speedgolf World Championships will be telecast at http://www.oomba.tv on Saturday and Sunday (October 26th and 27th) from 8am-12pm PST.

  3. Jaacob Bowden

    Jun 26, 2013 at 11:00 am

    For those that missed the CBS telecast, it’s up on the internet now.

    You can watch it here:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5NJr3bhI1WI

  4. JB

    Mar 27, 2013 at 1:28 am

    I can’t do this speed golf thing but I have played pretty fast golf. First guy out on the course and I’m done in 2 1/2 – 3 hours. You know what? I shoot my best scores whenever I play fast.

  5. Ryder

    Mar 14, 2013 at 6:47 pm

    If I didn’t know any better, I’d swear this is a very nerdy article. But I do know better, and this is an awesome article and topic!!!! Great stuff!

  6. Bruce

    Mar 11, 2013 at 10:59 pm

    I didn’t see any ball marks repaired. I’m thinking he’s the guy that’s messed up my putting!

    • Jaacob Bowden

      Mar 12, 2013 at 6:05 am

      Ha!

      Fortunately, Bandon’s greens are pretty good like that. It’s hard to make pitch marks in them.

      Plus, during the actual World Championships there were multiple volunteers stationed on each hole to help us with things like pitch marks, divot repairs, bunker raking, etc.

      • Jaacob Bowden

        Mar 12, 2013 at 6:06 am

        But in a casual round of speed golf, yes, you would definitely still want to do all the things necessary to take care of your course!

  7. Anthony

    Mar 11, 2013 at 5:58 pm

    Yep…having no yardages is great for ones feel and intuition; a purer form of golf (not running golf).

  8. Marty

    Mar 11, 2013 at 2:58 pm

    Yay! Was just YT’ing speed golf stuff last night, thinking about playing instinctively vs technically. Glad to see Speed Golf get its due on national tv!

  9. Forrest

    Mar 11, 2013 at 12:28 pm

    Thanks for a reminder on this drill. It’s one that I really enjoy doing but haven’t in months. I’m going to use it this afternoon to get away from evil swing thoughts and make sure to incorporate the half bag of clubs into my next few rounds. I did that for 5 or 6 rounds last summer and found that I could score as well (and sometimes better) with half the bag rather than all 14 clubs.

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Faults & Fixes: Losing height in your swing

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In this week’s Fault and Fixes Series, we are going to examine the issues that come with losing your height during the swing and its effect on your low point as well as your extension through and beyond impact.

When a professional player swings, there is usually very little downward motion through the ball. Some is OK, but if you look at this amateur player you will see too much. When the head drops downward too much something, has to give and it’s usually the shortening of the swing arc. This will cause issues with the release of the club.

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Dangers of overspeed training revealed: What to do and what not to do

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Speed: a key factor to more money on tour. The key component sought after by many amateur golfers to lower their scores. The focus of many infographics on social media this past PGA Tour season. A lot of people say speed matters more than putting when it comes to keeping your tour card and making millions.  

Overspeed Training: the focus on tons of training aids as a result of the buzz the pursuit of speed has created. The “holy grail” for the aging senior golfer to extend their years on the course. The “must do” training thousands of junior golfers think will bring them closer to playing college golf and beyond.  

Unfortunately, overspeed training is the most misunderstood and improperly implemented training tool I see used for speed in the industry. Based on the over 50 phone calls I’ve fielded from golfers around the world who have injured themselves trying it, it is leading to more overuse injuries in a sport where we certainly don’t need any help creating more than we already have. Luckily, these injuries are 100 percent preventable if you follow the few steps outlined below.

Don’t let your rush to swing faster get you hurt. Take five minutes to read on and see what the industry has not been forthcoming with until now.  

Understanding how to increase your speed safely and with as little work possible is the path to longevity without injury. If you could train 75 percent less (to the tune of about 8,000 fewer reps a year) and still see statistically comparable results, would you rather that? 

I would.

Would it make sense to you that swinging 8,000 times fewer (low volume protocols versus high volume protocols) would probably decrease your risk of overuse injuries (the most common injury for golfers)?  

I think so.

But I’ll let you draw your own conclusions after you finish reading.   

Your Challenge

Your biggest challenge is that the answer to more speed for you is not the same as it is for your friends. It differs depending on many factors, but there are four main ones that you can start with. Those four are 

  1. Your equipment
  2. Your technical prowess
  3. Your joint mobility at your rotary centers (neck, shoulders, spine, and hips) 
  4. Your ability to physically produce power  

If you are not totally clear on these, I’d recommend checking out the earlier article I wrote for GolfWRX titled Swing speed: How do you compare? Go through the testing as outlined and you’ll know the answer to these four areas in five minutes.

Basically, you have the potential to pick up speed by optimizing your equipment (ie. find the right shaft, etc), optimizing the technical element of your swing for optimal performance (ie. launch angles, etc) or by optimizing your body for the golf swing. Understanding how to best gain speed without putting your body at risk both in the short and long term is what 95 percent of golfers have no idea about. It is the single biggest opportunity golfers have to make lasting improvements to not only their golf game but their overall health.

Are You a Ticking Time Bomb?

In my earlier article (link above), I described three main categories when it came to physical factors. Step one is to determine what category you are in.

The first option is that you might be swinging faster than your body is able to control. In this case, you are a ticking time bomb just waiting to explode in injury. We all know that friend who just has a year-round membership to the local physio or chiro because they are always hurt. If this is you, DO NOT try overspeed training, it will only make your visits to the physio or chiro more frequent. There are much better areas to spend your time on.

The second situation might be the rare, sought-after balanced golfer. You might have great mobility in the four main rotary centers (hips, spine, shoulders, and neck) and your swing speed matches your physical power output abilities. It should be noted that based on our mobility research of almost 1,000 golfers, 75 percent of golfers over the age of 40 don’t have full rotary mobility in at least one of the four centers. When you age past 50, that 75 percent now applies to at least two rotary centers. Hence why “the balanced golfer” category is elusive to most golfers.

The final option is the sexy, exciting one; the “more RPMs under the hood” golfer. This is the one where overspeed training is your fountain of youth and you can pick up 10, 15, even 20 yards in a matter of weeks. You might have more RPM’s under your hood right now. Being in this category means you physically are able to produce way more power athletically than you are doing in your golf swing currently.  

The Good News

The “more RPMs under the hood” golfer describes over 50 percent of amateur golfers. Most of you sit at work and don’t train your body to move at maximal speeds outside of when you swing the golf club. The number of adults and senior golfers who train maximal speed at the gym, run sprints and train with plyometrics (correctly) is under five percent.

Why is this good news?

Because if you don’t move fast at any point in your life other than on the golf course right now, doing pretty much anything fast repetitively will make you faster. For instance, you can jump up and down three times before you hit a drive and your speed will increase by 2-3 mph (6-9 yards) just from that according to a research study.

This means that for the average amateur, adult golfer in this category, picking up 5-8 mph (12- 20-plus yards) almost immediately (it won’t stick unless you keep training in though) is incredibly simple.

The Bad News & The Fine Print

Remember earlier when I mentioned you needed to “also have full mobility in the four main rotary centers” and that “75 percent of adults over the age of 50 lack mobility in at least two rotary centers?” 

That’s the bad news.

Most golfers will get faster by simply swinging as hard as they can. Unfortunately, most golfers also will get hurt swinging maximally repeatedly because they have to compensate for the lack of rotational mobility in those rotary centers. 

This should be a big bold disclaimer, but is often not. This is the fine print no one tells you about. This is where the rubber meets the road and the sexiness of overspeed training crashes and burns into the traffic jam of joints that don’t move well for most amateur golfers.  

Your Solution

The first step to your solution is to make sure you have full rotational mobility and figure out what category of golfer your body puts you in. As a thanks for being a WRX reader, here is a special link to the entire assessment tool for free. 

After you determine if you have the mobility to do overspeed training safely and you know if you are even in the category that would make it worthwhile, the second and final step is to figure out how many swings you need to do.

How Many Swings are too Many?

Concisely, you don’t need more than 30 swings two times per week. Anything more than that is unnecessary based on the available research.  

As you digest all of the research on overspeed training, it is clear that the fastest swing speeds tend to occur with the stronger and more powerful players. This means that first, you need to become strong and be able to generate power through intelligent workout plans to maximize performance, longevity and reduce injury likelihood. From here, overspeed training can become an amazing tool to layer on top of a strong foundation and implement at different times during the year.

To be clear, based on the two randomized overspeed studies that Par4Success completed and my experience of training thousands of golfers, it is my opinion that overspeed training works in both high volume (100s of swings per session) and low volume protocol (30 swings per session) formats exactly the same. With this being the case, why would you want to swing 8,000 more times if you don’t have to? 

The research shows statistically no difference in speed gained by golfers between high-volume overspeed protocols compared to low volume ones. Because of this, in my opinion, high volume protocols are unnecessary and place golfers at unnecessary risk for overuse injury. This is especially true when they are carried out in the absence of a customized strength and conditioning program for golf.     

Rest Matters

In order to combat low-quality reps and maximize results with fewer swings, it is necessary to take rest breaks of 2-3 minutes after every 10 swings. Anything less is not enough to allow the energy systems to recover and diminishes your returns on your effort. If these rests are not adhered to, you will fatigue quickly, negatively impacting quality and increasing your risk of injury.  

Rest time is another reason why low volume protocols are preferable to high volume ones. To take the necessary rests, a high volume protocol would take more than an hour to complete. With the lower volume protocols you can still keep the work time to 10 minutes.   

The Low Volume Overspeed Protocol

You can see the full protocol in the full study reports here. It is critical you pass the first step first, however before implementing either protocol, and it is strongly recommended not to do the overspeed protocol without a solid golf performance plan in place as well in order to maximize results and reduce risk of injury.

This is just the first version of this protocol as we are currently looking at the possibility of eliminating kneeling as well as some other variables that are showing promising in our ongoing research. Be sure to check back often for updates!

Commonly asked questions about overspeed training…

Once initial adaptations have occurred, is there any merit to overspeed training long term?  

None of the studies that I was able to find discussed longitudinal improvements or causation of those improvements. This is the hardest type of research to do which speaks to the lack of evidence. No one actually knows the answer to these questions. Anyone saying they do is guessing.

Do the initial gains of overspeed training outperform those of traditional strength and conditioning?  

There appears to be a bigger jump with the addition of overspeed training than solely strength and conditioning, by almost threefold.  In 6 and 8 weeks respectively, the average gain was just around 3 mph, which is three times the average gain for adult golfers over a 12 weeks period with just traditional strength and conditioning. 

Can we use overspeed training as a substitute for traditional strength and conditioning?

No. Emphatically no. It would be irresponsible to use overspeed in isolation to train golfers for increased speed. First off, increasing how fast someone can swing without making sure they have the strength to control that speed is a means to set someone up for injury and failure. Secondly, if they are appropriate and you increase someone’s speed, you also need to increase their strength as well so that it keeps up with the demands the new speed is putting on their body.   

Are long term results (1 year+) optimized if overspeed training is combined with traditional strength and conditioning vs in isolation or not at all?  

It would appear, based off our longitudinal programs that using overspeed training periodized in conjunction with an athlete-specific strength and conditioning program and sport-specific training (ie. technical lessons, equipment, etc—not medicine ball throws or cable chops) in a periodized yearly plan maximizes results year to year.  

In order to keep decreases in club speed to no more than three-to-five percent during the competitive season (as is the normal amount in our data), it is imperative to keep golfers engaged in an in-season strength and conditioning program focused on maximal force and power outputs. By minimizing this in-season loss, it assures that we see gains year over year.  

It is unclear if overspeed training in conjunction with strength and conditioning during the season further decreases this standard loss due to nervous system fatigue, but this would be a great area for future research.  

What sort of frequency, protocols or volume should one utilize for maximal benefit and minimal risk of injury?  

Most of the studies that I was able to find specifically on swinging looked at about 100 swings three times per (baseball). The Superspeed protocols which are the most popular in the golf world, follow a similar volume recommendation after an initial ramp up period. It is a concern, especially with untrained individuals, that adding more than 11,000 maximal effort swings over the course of year might increase risk for injury due to the incredible increase in load. Especially for the amatuer golfer who only plays on the weekends and does not engage in a strength and conditioning program, this is a significant volume increase from their baseline.

The Par4Success studies in 2018-19 found no significant difference in swing speed gains between high volume protocols and a lower volume protocol which required only 30 swings, 2x/week but required a 2 minute rest between every 10 swings.

More studies beyond these two need to be done looking at this, but it would be my recommendation, specifically in golf, not to engage in the high volume protocols as it does not appear to increase speed gains while also increasing load on the athlete significantly.  

Do any potential gains of overspeed training outperform the traditional methods that are proven to transfer to sport?

It does not appear that overspeed training is superior to any one training method, but rather a tool to use in conjunction with other proven methods. The key here is to assess yourself and look to implement this type of training when mobility is not an issue and the physical ability to produce power is higher than the ability to generate club speed. In the right scenario, overspeed training can be a game-changing tool. In the wrong scenario, it can be a nail in a golfer’s coffin.

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Faults and Fixes: Arms too far behind body at the top

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In this week’s Faults and Fixes, we’ll look at the issue of the older player getting the arms too far behind the body at the top. When this happens, the clubhead speed is compromised, and the ability to create height, spin, and distance is diminished. For older players, Brandel Chamblee has the right idea by wanting the left heel to raise and the arms to work themselves into a more upright position.

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