So much (perhaps far too much) has been said about gains in strength and power leading to longer drives and distance off the tee. Outlandish claims such as “add 30 yards to your tee shots by doing just three minutes of exercise per day” are all too common. Not only are they misleading (lies) and unrealistic (impossible), they are missing out on the key relationship between increased strength and scoring. Hint: It’s not how much farther you hit it with driver.
It is a given that increased strength and power will lead to more club head speed, but how does that affect your scoring exactly? A recent analysis by the powerful golf statistics software gurus ShotsToHole.com tells golfers that if they hit the ball 10 yards farther of the tee they will save on average between 0.7 and 1.1 shots per round.
While this is very useful, I am proposing that the main benefit from increasing our strength levels is NOT increasing our distance off the tee. I am suggesting that getting stronger will allow us to hit the ball closer to the hole, which will yield a greater benefit to our score than a few extra yards with the driver. Actually it’s about three times more beneficial in some cases!
The stats tell us that with increased strength levels, we can dramatically improve our proximity to the hole (how close we hit it) with approach shots. We essentially become more consistent, controlled and accurate while hitting less club into the green. More on that later.
But just chucking weights around in the gym in a random fashion and expecting it to transfer to the golf swing probably will not get you the increased control you are after. Yes, increased strength will yield increased club head speed, which in turn means higher ball speed and distance. This, however, is only the case provided that the efficiency of the biomechanics and kinematic chain within the swing are not compromised. Your swing action should actually be improved by your gym work, if it’s an effectively designed program that is.
A term I like to use is applied strength, in the case of a golfer maintaining spine angle/position throughout the swing. The two photos below demonstrate this quite well. The idea is for the spine angle and pelvis position at impact to closely resemble the address position. In the example below, I will admit that there is some loss of spine position and an anterior move of the pelvis toward the golf ball, but I think you will agree that it’s still pretty solid.
So if golfers get stronger in the correct way, then they can apply more club head speed in a more controlled manner. They shouldn’t have to swing out of their shoes to generate high ball speed. This means maintaining posture and shape better into impact, which in turn leads to more consistent ball striking and accuracy.
More club head speed means golfers can afford to take one less club for their approach shots (4-to-5 mph is roughly equivalent to the difference of one club). If golfers can take one less club and still make a compact and controlled swing, then they are more likely to hit the ball closer to the hole.
Less Side Bend
By hitting say, an 8 iron instead of a 7 iron, golfers add more loft to the club. Adding more loft reduces the amount of side bend (hooks and slices), which means hitting straighter approach shots that can dramatically reduce dispersion.
Steeper Landing Angle
Taking one less club and adding loft should also make the angle of descent of a golfer’s shots steeper. This means golfers can stop the ball on the green quicker from farther away. A steeper landing angle is also helped by the increased club head speed and the creation of more spin, leading to a higher-flying shots that will again help golfers stop their ball closer to the hole. A steep landing angle and “towering iron shots” have been assets of many of the truly great players over the years.
If you couple hitting less club with more speed and add increased distance off the tee, then the likelihood is that golfers can afford to hit two less clubs into the green. Take those benefits we just mentioned and double them!
Here is what the numbers say about how hitting the ball closer affects your score. The source of the numbers is ShotsToHole.com, an Australian golf statistics system that has been popular with club golfers who are serious about improving their golf.
Using ShotsToHole.com’s “What If” Analysis Tool, predictions can be made based on improved performance in the game. In this case, approach shots were analyzed from 85-to-270 yards from the hole.
Feet Closer to Hole
Shots Per Round Saved
|Av. Score 71-73||
|Av. Score 80-84||
|Av. Score 90-99||
* Error Percentage Index
So you can clearly see that hitting the ball closer to the hole means that golfers are saving shots. But why does it look like the better players benefit so much more from the increased club head speed and hitting the ball 10-feet closer?
It comes down to 2 things.
- Better players are more skilled and have the ability to capitalize on the fact they are hitting the ball closer.
- The 10-foot improvement also means that better players are hitting their ball into their scoring ranges, turning narrowly missed greens into greens hit and three-putt territory into birdie chances.
Higher-handicap players, however, with a 10-foot improvement in their approach shots are still missing greens or leaving themselves very long birdie putts. Even with a 10-foot dispersion improvement, golfers who shoot 90-to-99 average almost 70 feet away from the hole from 130-to-150 yards.
So for the higher handicap player, the increased speed is reducing their dispersion as expected, but it’s not making a huge amount of difference to their scores. In that case, how can golfers who shoot 90-to-99 justify working on developing increased strength in order to improve their golf? In my opinion, players in this bracket should see strength training as preparation for when they have the ability to benefit from the increased club head speed. Start working on becoming stronger, seek out good swing mechanics advice and put as much time as you can into you short game.
Effective and well-planned strength training has a host of other benefits which are likely to have an indirect improvement on your golf and definite benefit for your quality of life in general:
- Improved muscle strength and tone
- Weight management
- Greater stamina
- Prevention or control of chronic conditions
- Pain management
- Improved posture
- Decreased risk of injury
- Increased bone density and strength and reduced risk of osteoporosis
- Improved sleep
- Increased self-esteem
So how can you ensure you are doing the right stuff in the gym to get solid strength transference to your golf game and tick off all the benefits in the list above? I will be delving deeper into this subject in my next article, and revealing some of my own methods for highly effective golf specific strength programs.
If you can’t wait until then, you can seek out a trained professional who understands both the golf swing and strength and conditioning to design you an effective training program. Such programs are available at www.golffitapp.com
You should also take a look at what NOT to do in the fantastic article by Nick Buchan, The 6 Biggest Myths in Golf Fitness.
In discussing these concepts, it is assumed that the player is hitting the ball properly with centered strike, their launch conditions (a collective term for all of the clubhead and ball flight data) are good. It is also assumed that by increasing club head speed the player’s launch conditions are maintained or improved from the lower speed. More simply put, their technique has not become worse due to the change to their body.
Kelley: How to easily find your ideal impact position
If you look at any sport, the greats seem to do more with less. Whether it be a swimmer gliding through the water or a quarterback throwing a pass, they make it look it easy and effortless.
In golf, there are a variety of distinct swing patterns to get into a dynamic impact position. I believe in efficiency to find that impact position for effortless power and center contact. Efficiency is defined as “the ability to produce something with a minimum amount of effort.” This can easily apply to the golf swing.
It all starts with the address position. The closer we can set up to an impact position, the less we have to do to get back there. Think of it like throwing a ball. If your body is already in a throwing position, you can simply make the throw without repositioning your body for accuracy. This throwing motion is also similar to an efficient direction of turn in the golf swing.
Once you set up to the ball with your impact angles, if you retain your angles in the backswing, the downswing is just a more leveraged or dynamic version of your backswing. If you can take the club back correctly, the takeaway at hip-high level will mirror that position in the downswing (the desired pre-impact position). In the picture below, the body has become slightly more dynamic in the downswing due to speed, but the body levels have not changed from the takeaway position.
This stays true for halfway back in the backswing and halfway down in the downswing. Note how the body has never had to reposition or “recover” to find impact.
At the top of the swing, you will notice how the body has coiled around its original spine angle. There was no left-side bend or “titling” of the body. All the original address position angles were retained. From this position, the arms can simply return back down with speed, pulling the body through.
The key to an efficient swing lies in the setup. Luckily for players working on their swing, this is the easiest part to work on and control. If you can learn to start in an efficient position, all you need to do is hold the angles you started with. This is a simple and effective way to swing the golf club.
Wedge Guy: Short iron challenges — and a little insight (hopefully!)
In my experience, almost all golfers could benefit from better short iron play. The ability to hit it closer to where you are looking with your 8-, 9- and P-irons will do more for your scoring than most anything else you can do. So, why is it that so many golfers just don’t hit the quality shots with these clubs that they do and should expect?
I chose this topic in response to an email from Phillip S., who wrote:
“I’m hitting straight and consistent most of the time but I’ve got a big problem between my 8-iron and everything else below. I can hit my 8-iron 140-145 fairly consistently every time. I hit my 9-iron somewhere between 110-135. My pitching wedge is a mystery….it varies between 85 -125 yards. No matter how “hard” I swing, I can’t seem to hit my short irons consistent distances. It’s maddening to hit a great drive followed by a pitching wedge short of the green from 110 yards away. What am I doing wrong?
Well, Phillip, don’t feel alone, because this is one of the most common golf issues I observe. It seems that the lion’s share of technology applied to golf clubs is focused on the long stuff, with drivers and hybrids getting the press. But I firmly believe that the short irons in nearly all “game improvement” designs are ill-suited for precise distance control, hitting shots on the optimum trajectory or knocking flags down. I’ve written about this a number of times, so a little trip back in Wedge Guy history should be enlightening. But here are some facts of golf club performance as applied to short iron play:
Fact #1. Short irons are much more similar to wedges than your middle irons. But almost all iron sets feature a consistent back design for cosmetic appeal on the store racks. And while that deep cavity and perimeter weight distribution certainly help you hit higher and more consistent shots with your 3- or 4- through 7-iron, as the loft gets in the 40-degree range and higher, that weight distribution is not your friend. Regardless of your skill level, short irons should be designed much more similar to wedges than to your middle irons.
Fact #2. As loft increases, perimeter weighting is less effective. Missed shots off of higher lofted clubs have less directional deviation than off of lower-lofted clubs. This is proven time and again on “Iron Byron” robotic testers.
Fact #3. It takes mass behind the ball to deliver consistent distances. Even on dead center hits, cavity back, thin-face irons do not deliver tack-driver distance control like a blade design. In my post of a couple of years ago, “The Round Club Mindset,” I urged readers to borrow blade-style short irons from a friend or assistant pro and watch the difference in trajectories and shotmaking. Do it! You will be surprised, enlightened, and most likely pleased with the results.
Fact #4. The 4.5-degree difference between irons is part of the problem. The industry has built irons around this formula forever, but every golfer who knows his distances can tell you that the full swing distance gap gets larger as the iron number increases, i.e. your gap between your 8- and 9-iron is probably larger than that between your 4- and 5-iron. Could there be some club tweaking called for here?
Fact #5. Your irons do not have to “match.” If you find through experimentation that you get better results with the blade style short irons, get some and have your whole set re-shafted to match, along with lengths and lie angles. These are the keys to true “matching” anyway.
So, Phillip, without knowing your swing or what brand of irons you play, I’m betting that the solution to your problems lies in these facts. Oh, and one more thing – regardless of short iron design, the harder you swing, the higher and shorter the shot will tend to go. That’s because it becomes harder and harder to stay ahead of the club through impact. Keep short iron shots at 80-85 percent power, lead with your left side and watch everything improve.
Clement: Easily find your perfect backswing plane with this drill
When you get on one of these, magic will happen! You can’t come too far inside or outside in the backswing, and you can’t have arms too deep or shallow at the top of the backswing nor can you be too laid off or across the line either! SEAMLESS!!
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