As a golf teacher and coach, I understand how important driving distance is. I have yet to have a student ask me if I can help them hit it shorter. As statistical analysis has continued to improve, the importance of distance and how advantageous it is has come to the forefront.
There are two primary ways to increase distance, especially with the driver. The first is to increase clubhead speed. This is what I see most golfers trying to do when they want more distance. They reason that the harder you swing the farther the ball will go. That’s sound reasoning, but it doesn’t always work. The second way, and arguably easier way to increase distance, is to increase your efficiency, because a more efficient swing creates more ball speed and better launch conditions, thus increasing carry and total yardage even with the same clubhead speed.
I find it much easier to improve distance among my students by attacking efficiency rather than speed. This is not to say that you cannot and should not try to increase speed, but speed without efficiency will have minimal impact on your overall yardage.
So what makes a driver swing efficient? Center contact and the proper launch conditions. If you struggle with both, don’t worry. I have a drill to help at the bottom of this story.
Ball speed off the center of the club face will always be higher than the ball speed from a mis-hit shot with the same clubhead speed. Also, off-center hits — especially with the driver — greatly influence the flight of the ball, and can cause a good swing to produce off-line shots.
- Worst place to hit the ball for ball speed: Low, heel.
- Best places to hit the ball for ball speed: Center, slightly high toe.
High launch, low spin is what you always hear is the secret to more distance — and it’s not so secret anymore to distance. While the statement is generally true, golfers need to match their launch angle and spin rate to their swing speed, as well as their angle of attack to get the absolute most distance off the tee.
As you can see from the Trackman tables below, every clubhead speed has an ideal launch angle and spin rate for maximum distance. A swing speed of 80 mph will not create optimal distance if it is matched with the optimal launch angle and spin rate of someone swinging 120 mph, and vice versa. Across the board, however, what’s apparent is how much more driver distance golfers can create when they hit up on their driver rather than down.
Optimal Launch Conditions for 75-95 mph Swing Speeds
Optimal Launch Conditions for 100-120 mph Swing Speeds
I’m routinely asked if the driver swing is the same as the iron swing, which requires a downward angle of attack because the majority of iron shots are hit off the ground. Although I do not always say this the answer is no, the swings are not the same. Trackman data, as well as video studies and pressure traces prove it.
The driver has the shallowest average attack angle of any club in the bag. We also see the most rearward head movement with the driver of all the clubs, particularly halfway down into impact. Ideally the head is staying back, allowing the driver to move in an upward fashion sooner. That’s what enables some golfers to optimize their launch conditions, contact and overall distance with the driver.
For some golfers this is an unconscious act, something they have developed over time through feel and adaptation. For those of you who struggle with distance and have poor launch conditions, however, the drill below is an excellent way to quickly get the correct feel for how the driver should move through impact for optimal launch conditions and total yardage.
Tee a ball up so that it is about 3/4 of an inch above the crown of the driver. Then place an alignment stick in the ground about 6 inches behind the ball and six inches above the ground. Lay another alignment stick on the ground 6 inches front of the ball to promote an upward move through impact. The swing back and through under the stick, trying not to hit it, while smashing a big drive.
This station will create an environment where you can only hit the ball solid by missing the sticks. Such feedback is critical to making this change.
Kelley: Should a Tour player’s swing be the pattern we copy?
PGA Tour players are the most gifted golfers on the planet. Their ball striking ability is remarkable to the average, even scratch, golfer. With the time to practice all day, usually perfecting their imperfections in their own swings, why are PGA Tour players’ swings always the model we seek?
Look at the progression and expectations in other sports played recreationally. If you start playing Tennis, you don’t expect to serve as fast and accurate as Rafael Nadal. When joining a gym, do we look and replicate the times and bodies of Olympians? However, in golf, players seek the worlds best trying to emulate them. Examining this idea, could this actually be detrimental?
Let’s start with the speed differential. The average PGA Tour driver club head speed is 113 mph. The average male amateur golfer driver speed is 93.4 mph. The average handicap for the male golfer sits between 14 and 15. Below is a chart from Trackman showing the distribution of clubhead speed among male golfers.
Speed is mostly a natural talent developed at an early age. It can be enhanced with speed training, gym work and even lifestyle changes. ?With such a differential in speed?, wouldn’t players first be better served focusing on center contact with the most efficient route to do so? This can include modeling simple looking swings.
Besides the speed differential, the world’s best golfers all have unique swings that have been perfected over time. Take for example the top ten players in the world. Different swings with different match-up moves throughout the motion. They have made it work for themselves with countless practice hours. Usually time the average golfer doesn’t have.
A main example would be Rory McIlroy, often a sought out golf swing among students. Here is a quote regarding his swing swing sequence after visiting the Titleist Performance Institute Center. “At the start of McIlroy’s downswing, his left hip spins violently counterclockwise, as it does for every elite, long-hitting player. but then, and only with the driver, Mcllroy makes a funky move you could not teach. a moment before impact, his left hip suddenly changes direction and jerks back, clockwise, and then rotates again.”
With the average golfer on a time constraint?, golfers could actually look at what the greats do the older they get in their careers. The swings become more simple, using their instincts to get their body in efficient and more teachable positions. This is usually in their set-up then backswing, with less excess movement for an efficient strike. Take for example a young versus older Ben Hogan. (Picture below)
Below is another example of a young Jack Nicklaus compared to an older Nicklaus later in his career.
This is in large part due to the concept that less can be more at times. Unfortunately in golf, all to often players are told to do more with their swing, only to jeopardize center contact even seeking vanity over function.
A concept that could be beneficial is next time you want to work on your swing, focus on efficiency and minimizing the ?motion for center contact and a better face/path relationship. Then you can build. Rather then taking a bit from a Tour player’s swing, understand how your body should move to achieve your desired ball flight. Once you have a foundation, then add speed and your own DNA to the swing.
The argument could be made the opposite should be taught for aspiring junior golfers, especially the way the game as going. This article is intended to open a discussion and perhaps change the view of how the golf swing is being taught based on your skill-set and what you are trying to get out of the game. Also, what may be teachable and not teachable. You can change swings with concepts alone.
Clement: Why laying up = more power
You have been there before — you can’t get over the hazard on a par 5 and decide to lay up and take the club you need for the distance and the ball makes it into the hazard after you took this smooth swing that smoked the ball 15 yards farther than you expected? We uncover the mystery right here!
Kelley: Simplify your swing with the hammer drill
Regardless of your handicap, a simple hammer can teach you how to efficiently address the ball, start the swing and then put your body in a dynamic position at the top. If you can hammer a nail, there is no reason you can’t simplify your swing. This drill can also change the parts in the middle of your swing you have been struggling to change.
To start, grab a hammer with your trail hand as if you are hammering a nail into a wall in front of your body. You will notice how this instinctively gives you a slight tuck of the trail elbow and drops your trail shoulder below the lead with angle in the trail wrist.
Once gripping the hammer, move the weight of the hammer as if hammering a nail. This will give you the feel of the takeaway.
From here, the golf swing is no more then a lifting of the arms as the right arm folds and the body goes around a bit.
From this position, holding your spine angle and placing the left hand on the right hand will pull your body into a coil or “turn”. This places your body in a position to efficiently swing the golf club back down to the ball.
A great way to combine the hammer drill with a golf club is to hold a hammer on the grip of the club or tape the hammer down the middle of the shaft. Start with just your right hand on the club and make slow swings.
Once you have practiced this a few times, the hammer can be removed and this feel can be integrated to a normal golf club. To continue this feel, simply turn the clubhead in as if you are hitting the ball with the toe of the club (below picture). When turning the club like this, the center of balance goes more to the clubhead, helping replicate the actual hammer feel.
What’s great about this drill is that the actual task is driving the technique. Rather than being thoughtful of several technical positions in the golf swing, replicating the instinctive motion of the hammer will put you in the proper positions. This drill will also help you place your focus of attention on the actual club, which is often overlooked.
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