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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.

Center Contact

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.

Launch Conditions

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

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Optimal Launch Conditions for 100-120 mph Swing Speeds

Screen Shot 2016-09-15 at 9.25.11 AM

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.

The Drill

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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.

Screen Shot 2016-09-15 at 9.26.29 AM

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.

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Originally from Portland Oregon, Devan played collegiate golf at College of the Desert in Palm Desert before transferring to San Diego State. In 2007, he started working for Jim McLean at PGA West. There Devan was able to spend significant time with Jim McLean and was subsequently asked by Jim to move to the TPC Doral location in Miami, Florida, to be his Personal Teaching Assistant. At Doral, Devan was able to teach with Jim in every golf lesson, clinic and school that he taught. Some of the notable players he worked with while Jim’s assistant were Greg Norman, Keegan Bradley, Lexi Thompson, Eric Compton and Vaughn Taylor. Devan also aided Jim in the writing of his Death Moves book in 2009. In 2011 Devan was offered a Master Instructor position at The Jim McLean Junior Academy in Dallas/Fort Worth. He spent the next five years helping develop some of the best Junior golfers in the country. In addition to Jim McLean, Devan has had the opportunity to spend significant time with Mike Bender, Jim Hardy, Hank Haney, Chuck Cook and Jim Flick. The culmination of this time has helped shape the way Devan teaches golf. Devan enjoys working with players of all abilities from the High Performance Junior to the Weekend Golfer.

22 Comments

22 Comments

  1. Pingback: How To Hit A Golf Ball Higher With Irons - DunedinGolf

  2. Duncan Marc

    Oct 23, 2016 at 11:01 am

    When I try to get the positive AoA, I either: Hit a high weak fade or a roping mid height hook.
    And I have a tendency to have my weight shift backwards.
    Roughly 92-95 mph with driver….

    • Devan Bonebrake

      Oct 25, 2016 at 12:56 pm

      Most likely another part of your swing is too steep such as your hand path club path or both and therefore you must stay excessively back with your weight through impact in order to not hit down on the driver. My suggestion is to shallow out your downswing and perhaps downswing feeling more rounded and that should help both your angle of attack and weight shift.

  3. KK

    Oct 23, 2016 at 9:35 am

    Hitting driver with a positive AoA is difficult but can be a game-changer because of the distance and ability to cut corners with the high ball flight. I believe it should be part of instruction from day 1 for every golfer. Sadly, reality is far different.

    • Devan Bonebrake

      Oct 25, 2016 at 12:57 pm

      Yes it does not mean you have to hit up to be a good driver. However for most of students who needs more distance this is much easier than changing club head speed and also a faster process. I agree with your idea!

  4. Joergensen

    Oct 23, 2016 at 8:27 am

    I’ve seen the Trackman charts many times, and I still don’t get them. As far as I can see, all they say is that hitting 5 degrees up is better than 0 degrees or 5 degrees down, regardless of your swingspeed and driver loft. Says nothing about the optimal launch angle or spin rate.

    • gearhead

      Oct 24, 2016 at 7:10 pm

      Here you go…Ideal Numbers:
      Ball Speed–Launch Angle–Back Spin (rpm’s)

      Carry Distance
      170 mph 11.5-15.5+* 2000-2400 289 yards
      160 mph 12-16+* 2200-2650 271 yards
      150 mph 13-16.5+* 2300-2800 252 yards
      140 mph 14-17+* 2350-2950 233 yards
      130 mph 14.5-17* 2400-3100 215 yards
      120 mph 15-17* 2500-3300 196 yards

    • Devan Bonebrake

      Oct 25, 2016 at 1:00 pm

      The charts down the right side show ideal launch and spin. This can be created from a combination of club fitting and swing and does not necessarily need to be created from attack angle alone.

  5. Pingback: How to create an upward angle of attack for more driver distance | Swing Update

  6. Matt

    Oct 22, 2016 at 8:09 pm

    I get what you are saying and agree. I hit down on the driver. On Trackman its been as much as -9.5. My issue in trying to correct it is – the more I try to hit up on the ball, the more I end up hanging back my weight shift. I tend to hit off right foot and have a horribly high climbing slice that rarely stays any where near the fairway. What can i do to help get beyond that flaw?

    Thank you

    • Devan Bonebrake

      Oct 22, 2016 at 11:55 pm

      So in your case, you may be getting your steep angle from the arms or club or both. Also make sure that you play the ball far enough forward otherwise you will have to hang back to create a upward blow. Use the classic image of Hogan swinging under a plane of glass and try to see if that helps shallow your a of a.

    • Chris Keena

      Oct 24, 2016 at 11:21 pm

      Drop your right foot back 4 inches and concentrate on swinging in to out. In other words, poke it down the right field foul line. Maybe you need to chop an inch off your driver shaft. Try to hit a draw, maybe it will go straight.

  7. Bug

    Oct 22, 2016 at 5:20 pm

    It all depends on the players golf swing dynamics as well as the club characteristics. Not all players (amateur or professional) require an upward angle of attack. To say it does is absolutely incorrect.

    • Dill Pickleson

      Oct 24, 2016 at 1:28 am

      for max distance you do. care to offer any bro science for us, bug?

    • Devan Bonebrake

      Oct 25, 2016 at 1:19 pm

      I totally agree. I fact as the Inventor of trackman will admit the lower the spin loft the less control of the direction you have. Therefore there is always a risk reward with improving certain aspects of your swing. However for many people who need distance improving the launch conditions can quickly give them the added yardage they need.

  8. Larry

    Oct 22, 2016 at 3:27 pm

    There have been more amateur swings messed up by trying to hit their driver with an upward attack angle. The best thing amateurs should do is swing level with the driver.

    • Nathan

      Oct 23, 2016 at 5:45 am

      To this point…is it actually important to ‘hit up’ on the ball? If I can reproduce the ‘ideal’ launch angle (say with a level strike and a higher lofted club) won’t my distances be identical?

    • Leftienige

      Oct 24, 2016 at 2:45 pm

      Hi Larry. I agree, ever since this”you MUST hit up with your driver” appeared in mags and on-line teaching my game has plummeted . At worst I’ve hit the turf 6″ before the ball and bounced the driver right over the top of it! Now I’m trying a flat to very slightly downward strike my game is getting back to where it was 2 years ago. This theory almost made me give up this great game. Cheers all , Nige .

    • Devan Bonebrake

      Oct 25, 2016 at 1:24 pm

      Hi Larry, I do think hitting level or up can greatly benefit most amatuers from a distance perspective. However as you eluded to, doing so the wrong way or hurting contact and directional control is not worth the attempt.

  9. Tom

    Oct 22, 2016 at 12:21 pm

    PXG in the house.

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Instruction

The Wedge Guy: The easiest-to-learn golf basic

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My golf learning began with this simple fact – if you don’t have a fundamentally sound hold on the golf club, it is practically impossible for your body to execute a fundamentally sound golf swing. I’m still a big believer that the golf swing is much easier to execute if you begin with the proper hold on the club.

As you might imagine, I come into contact with hundreds of golfers of all skill levels. And it is very rare to see a good player with a bad hold on the golf club. There are some exceptions, for sure, but they are very few and very far between, and they typically have beat so many balls with their poor grip that they’ve found a way to work around it.

The reality of biophysics is that the body moves only in certain ways – and the particulars of the way you hold the golf club can totally prevent a sound swing motion that allows the club to release properly through the impact zone. The wonderful thing is that anyone can learn how to put a fundamentally sound hold on the golf club, and you can practice it anywhere your hands are not otherwise engaged, like watching TV or just sitting and relaxing.

Whether you prefer an overlap, interlock or full-finger (not baseball!) grip on the club, the same fundamentals apply.  Here are the major grip faults I see most often, in the order of the frequency:

Mis-aligned hands

By this I mean that the palms of the two hands are not parallel to each other. Too many golfers have a weak left hand and strong right, or vice versa. The easiest way to learn how to hold the club with your palms aligned properly is to grip a plain wooden ruler or yardstick. It forces the hands to align properly and shows you how that feels. If you grip and re-grip a yardstick several times, then grip a club, you’ll see that the learning curve is almost immediate.

The position of the grip in the upper/left hand

I also observe many golfers who have the butt of the grip too far into the heel pad of the upper hand (the left hand for right-handed players). It’s amazing how much easier it is to release the club through the ball if even 1/4-1/2″ of the butt is beyond the left heel pad. Try this yourself to see what I mean.  Swing the club freely with just your left hand and notice the difference in its release from when you hold it at the end of the grip, versus gripping down even a half inch.

To help you really understand how this works, go to the range and hit shots with your five-iron gripped down a full inch to make the club the same length as your seven-iron. You will probably see an amazing shot shape difference, and likely not see as much distance loss as you would expect.

Too much lower (right) hand on the club

It seems like almost all golfers of 8-10 handicap or higher have the club too far into the palm of the lower hand, because that feels “good” if you are trying to control the path of the clubhead to the ball. But the golf swing is not an effort to hit at the ball – it is a swing of the club. The proper hold on the club has the grip underneath the pad at the base of the fingers. This will likely feel “weak” to you — like you cannot control the club like that. EXACTLY. You should not be trying to control the club with your lower/master hand.

Gripping too tightly

Nearly all golfers hold the club too tightly, which tenses up the forearms and prevents a proper release of the club through impact. In order for the club to move back and through properly, you must feel that the club is controlled by the last three fingers of the upper hand, and the middle two fingers of the lower hand. If you engage your thumbs and forefingers in “holding” the club, the result will almost always be a grip that is too tight. Try this for yourself. Hold the club in your upper hand only, and squeeze firmly with just the last three fingers, with the forefinger and thumb off the club entirely. You have good control, but your forearms are not tense. Then begin to squeeze down with your thumb and forefinger and observe the tensing of the entire forearm. This is the way we are made, so the key to preventing tenseness in the arms is to hold the club very lightly with the “pinchers” — the thumbs and forefingers.

So, those are what I believe are the four fundamentals of a good grip. Anyone can learn them in their home or office very quickly. There is no easier way to improve your ball striking consistency and add distance than giving more attention to the way you hold the golf club.

More from the Wedge Guy

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Instruction

Clement: Stop ripping off your swing with this drill!

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Not the dreaded headcover under the armpit drill! As if your body is defective and can’t function by itself! Have you seen how incredible the human machine is with all the incredible feats of agility all kinds of athletes are accomplishing? You think your body is so defective (the good Lord is laughing his head off at you) that it needs a headcover tucked under the armpit so you can swing like T-Rex?

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Instruction

How a towel can fix your golf swing

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This is a classic drill that has been used for decades. However, the world of marketed training aids has grown so much during that time that this simple practice has been virtually forgotten. Because why teach people how to play golf using everyday items when you can create and sell a product that reinforces the same thing? Nevertheless, I am here to give you helpful advice without running to the nearest Edwin Watts or adding something to your Amazon cart.

For the “scoring clubs,” having a solid connection between the arms and body during the swing, especially through impact, is paramount to creating long-lasting consistency. And keeping that connection throughout the swing helps rotate the shoulders more to generate more power to help you hit it farther. So, how does this drill work, and what will your game benefit from it? Well, let’s get into it.

Setup

You can use this for basic chip shots up to complete swings. I use this with every club in my bag, up to a 9 or 8-iron. It’s natural to create incrementally more separation between the arms and body as you progress up the set. So doing this with a high iron or a wood is not recommended.

While you set up to hit a ball, simply tuck the towel underneath both armpits. The length of the towel will determine how tight it will be across your chest but don’t make it so loose that it gets in the way of your vision. After both sides are tucked, make some focused swings, keeping both arms firmly connected to the body during the backswing and follow through. (Note: It’s normal to lose connection on your lead arm during your finishing pose.) When you’re ready, put a ball in the way of those swings and get to work.

Get a Better Shoulder Turn

Many of us struggle to have proper shoulder rotation in our golf swing, especially during long layoffs. Making a swing that is all arms and no shoulders is a surefire way to have less control with wedges and less distance with full swings. Notice how I can get in a similar-looking position in both 60° wedge photos. However, one is weak and uncontrollable, while the other is strong and connected. One allows me to use my larger muscles to create my swing, and one doesn’t. The follow-through is another critical point where having a good connection, as well as solid shoulder rotation, is a must. This drill is great for those who tend to have a “chicken wing” form in their lead arm, which happens when it becomes separated from the body through impact.

In full swings, getting your shoulders to rotate in your golf swing is a great way to reinforce proper weight distribution. If your swing is all arms, it’s much harder to get your weight to naturally shift to the inside part of your trail foot in the backswing. Sure, you could make the mistake of “sliding” to get weight on your back foot, but that doesn’t fix the issue. You must turn into your trial leg to generate power. Additionally, look at the difference in separation between my hands and my head in the 8-iron examples. The green picture has more separation and has my hands lower. This will help me lessen my angle of attack and make it easier to hit the inside part of the golf ball, rather than the over-the-top move that the other picture produces.

Stay Better Connected in the Backswing

When you don’t keep everything in your upper body working as one, getting to a good spot at the top of your swing is very hard to do. It would take impeccable timing along with great hand-eye coordination to hit quality shots with any sort of regularity if the arms are working separately from the body.

Notice in the red pictures of both my 60-degree wedge and 8-iron how high my hands are and the fact you can clearly see my shoulder through the gap in my arms. That has happened because the right arm, just above my elbow, has become totally disconnected from my body. That separation causes me to lift my hands as well as lose some of the extension in my left arm. This has been corrected in the green pictures by using this drill to reinforce that connection. It will also make you focus on keeping the lead arm close to your body as well. Because the moment either one loses that relationship, the towel falls.

Conclusion

I have been diligent this year in finding a few drills that target some of the issues that plague my golf game; either by simply forgetting fundamental things or by coming to terms with the faults that have bitten me my whole career. I have found that having a few drills to fall back on to reinforce certain feelings helps me find my game a little easier, and the “towel drill” is most definitely one of them.

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