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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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WATCH: How to stop swaying during your golf swing

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In this video, I share with you how to stop swaying for good. I demonstrate how to use PNF (proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation) to create the correct movements in your backswing. This video is part of a series on PNF drills.

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A shockingly simple drill to hit the golf ball farther

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One of the biggest requests I get on the lesson tee is for more distance. Everyone wants to hit the golf ball farther. Obviously. That being said, there’s many things that go into producing distance, such as…

  • Swing Length — how long is the swing or how long does the club stay in the air before hitting the ball?
  • Swing Width — are you at full extension at during the swing or do you get soft arms?
  • Impact Point — the horizontal and vertical point of contact that influences gear effect, launch, and spin rate.
  • Spin Rate — how much backspin does the ball have?
  • Height — how high is the ball in the air?
  • Launch Angle — what is the angle of the ball off the face during impact?
  • Ball Speed — how fast does the ball leave the blade?

But one thing remains true: if you want more distance, then you must swing faster with all of the above being maximized for your current swing speed. So how do you create more speed? Simple — set up the drill as shown below.

Use between 6-to-10 balls and swing 100 percent all out with no regard for where the ball lands. Then repeat the drill and make your normal speed swing and you will find that your clubhead speed will slightly increase. Do this drill 5 to 10 times per practice session and you will train yourself to swing faster.

However, it’s up to you to figure out how fast you can swing yet maximize the qualities listed above so you can maintain consistent contact.

Remember, you don’t have to get complex to solve your distance problem. Try this first and see what happens!

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Your Body Is Your Most Important Piece Of Equipment; It’s Time For An Upgrade

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Clubs, balls, shoes, mental training, lessons. Golfers are always searching for the next thing that is going to transform their game. If a product has promise, golfers are like addicts; they must have it… regardless of the price. What’s usually ignored, however, is the most important piece of equipment for all golfers: their body, and how their physical conditioning pertains to golf.

Everything becomes easier by getting in better “golf shape.” You will likely hit the ball farther, have better energy and focus, fewer aches and pains, improved ability to actually implement swing changes and the durability to practice more.

When trying to improve your physical conditioning for golf, it would shortsighted not to mention the following requirements:

  1. Discipline: There will be times you don’t want to train, but should.
  2. Patience: Small, incremental progress adds up to big improvement over time.
  3. A Path: Make sure you use your time and effort efficiently by having a training plan that matches your goals.

If you can adopt these principles, I am confident you will be very happy with the return — even more so than the latest driver, putter or practice aid.

I like to compare having a well functioning body to a painter’s blank canvas. By ensuring you have adequate coordination, motor control, mobility, stability, strength and speed, you have the basic tools necessary for a high-performance golf swing. Of course, you will still need to develop a functional technique and specific skill level that matches your goals. On the flip side, if you are deficient in these areas, you are like a dirty canvas; your options are limited and you will need to make compensations to achieve anything close to the desired outcome. In simpler terms, movements that are universally desirable in the golf swing may be very difficult or impossible for you based on your current physical state.

Earlier, I mentioned the term “appropriate training,” and now I am going to discuss one of the ways to identify what this means for you as a golfer trying to use physical training to support a better golf game. The TPI (Titleist Performance Institute) Movement Screen is a great start for everyone. It is a combination of 16 exercises that are used to assess your current movement capabilities, identify limitations and provide you with your “Body-Swing” connection. The “Body-Swing” connection is a term coined by TPI that illustrates the link between physical deficiencies and potential swing tendencies based on its “Big 12” model. The Big 12 swing characteristics that TPI has identified are as follows:

  1. S-Posture
  2. C-Posture
  3. Loss of Posture
  4. Flat Shoulder Plane
  5. Early Extension
  6. Over The Top
  7. Sway
  8. Slide
  9. Hanging Back
  10. Reverse Spine Angle
  11. Casting
  12. Chicken Winging

It’s important to note these as tendencies rather than flaws, as great ball strikers have demonstrated some of them. When done excessively, they make high functioning swings more difficult and may make potential injury more likely. Rather than going through all 16 screening exercises (which would be a very long read), I have selected five that I feel provide a lot of useful information. They can often broadly differentiate the playing level of golfers.

1. Static Setup Posture

There is a lot of debate in golf instruction about what is the correct way to assume posture for the golf swing. Some prefer more rounded shoulders akin to what was common in years gone by: Jack and Arnie being good examples. Others prefer a more extended thoracic spine (less curved upper back): Rory McIlroy and Adam Scott are good examples. I’m not a golf instructor and clearly both types can hit great golf shots. I am more concerned with the lumbar spine (the lower back, which doesn’t seem to get as much attention when the setup is being discussed).

Note the difference between the spinal curvatures of Jack and Rory. I’m OK with either as long as the lower back is in a biomechanically sound position (explained in video).

An overly extended or arched lower back (which I demonstrate in the video) creates too large a space between the alignment rod and my lower back. This is a common issue I see, and it can lead to a lack of pelvis rotation, a lack of power due to the inability to effectively use the glutes and abdominal muscles and lower back discomfort. Cueing a slight posterior tilt (tucking the tailbone underneath you) often makes a noticeable difference in pelvis mobility, power, and comfort.

 2. Pelvic Rotation

Pelvic rotation is essential for X-factor stretch, the ability to increase the amount of separation between the pelvis and torso during transition (moving from the backswing into the downswing). This is often referred to as starting the downswing with the lower body/hips (while the torso is still rotating away from the target or is paused at the end of the backswing). It is critical for effective sequencing and power production. Increasing the separation between your pelvis and torso on the downswing increases what is known as the “stretch-shortening cycle” of your trunk and torso muscles, which is like adding more stretch to an elastic band and then releasing it. If you cannot separate pelvic rotation and torso rotation, it will be extremely difficult to be a good golfer.

In the video below, watch how Rickie Fowler’s pelvis rotates toward the target independently of his torso. This increases the elastic energy stored in his muscles and tendons, allowing for big power production.

 3. Lower Quarter Rotation

The Lower Quarter Rotation Test shares some similarities to the Pelvic Rotation Test, but one key difference is that it doesn’t require nearly as much motor control. Many people fail the pelvic rotation test not because of a mobility limitation, but because they can’t control the different segments of the their body and perform the action they want (motor control issue). The Lower Quarter Rotation Test, on the other hand, does not require anywhere near as much control and therefore looks more directly at the internal and external rotation mobility of the lower body. People who struggle with this test are more likely to sway, slide and have reverse spine angle.

DJ Top of backswing.jpg

I’m confident Dustin Johnson would do OK on the Lower Quarter Rotation test. Look at how well he can turn into his right hip.

 4. Seated Thoracic Rotation

This one usually resonates with golfers, as “getting a full shoulder turn” is something that golf media and players like to talk to about regularly. I think most people understand the concept of a sufficient shoulder turn being important for creating power. Restricted thoracic spine rotation can stem from a few different causes. A common one is excessive thoracic flexion (rounder upper back). To test this for yourself: 1) try the test in the video hunched over and 2) with your spine as long as possible. You should notice you can rotate farther when you sit extended.

5. 90/90 External Shoulder Rotation  

Many popular golf instruction pages on social media talk about the importance of shallowing the shaft in transition and trail arm external shoulder rotation. I understand the reasoning for this in terms of swing technique, but something that needs to be taken into consideration is whether golfers actually have the ability to externally rotate their shoulders. This is often not the case. Two interesting trends I have noticed with golfers and external shoulder rotation:

  1. A larger percentage of U.S. golfers compared to Irish golfers (the two countries I have worked in) tend to have much more trail arm external rotation available. This is mainly due to throwing baseballs and footballs in their youth, which doesn’t happen in Ireland.
  2. Shoulder external rotation, shoulder flexion, and thoracic extension really seem to reduce as golfers get older compared to other movements. Please take note of this and put some exercises into your routine that promote mobility and stability in the thoracic spine and scapula, as these are the foundation for sound shoulder mechanics. Thoracic extensions on a foam roller, relaxed hanging from a pull-up bar and wall slides with external rotation are some exercises I like to use.
MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Toronto Blue Jays

I think this pitcher would have enough external shoulder rotation in his golf swing.

I hope this article gave you some more understanding of how learning about your body and then working on its limitations might be beneficial for your golf game. If you have questions about the TPI Movement Screen or are interested in an online evaluation, please feel free to e-mail me.

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