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Phil Mickelson’s 6 mph clubhead speed gain just scratches the surface of what pros can achieve

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The AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am is always one of my favorite tournaments, in part because I lived there most of 2004-2006, and it brings up such nice memories.

At the top of the list of memories, of course, is meeting my future wife. I also remember jumping off my couch in 2004 when Phil Mickelson notched his first major at the Masters. I sprung off the couch in Carmel when he made that putt, similar to how he jumped in the air at Augusta National’s 18th green.

Anyway, I wanted to write today to talk about Phil Mickelson. As a long-time Phil fan, I was happy to see him pick up his 44th PGA Tour win and fifth victory at Pebble Beach.

As has been widely reported, at 48 years old, Phil’s club head speed had recently jumped up 6 mph. He led the field in driving distance at the Desert Classic, was leading in driving distance in Phoenix through that Friday’s cut, and his club head speed this year is averaging 120.92 mph, up from 116.48 mph in the 2017/2018 season.

As is becoming more well known, driving distance and clubhead speed are key factors in scoring potential, so the increase bodes well in Phil’s quest to reach 50 career PGA Tour wins and possibly pick up that missing U.S. Open trophy when he goes back to Pebble Beach in June.

While 6 mph in nine months is almost unheard of by overall golf and golf fitness industry standards, especially considering the average distance losses with age, I can say confidently: Quite frankly, he’s really just scratched the surface.

I’ve covered this in some of my other articles, so I’ll just refer you there for the details, but Phil’s win and swing speed gains are a good time for me to remind you that achieving 12-16 mph in 30-45 days is highly achievable with the right training. More is even there for the taking if you’re willing to put in a little elbow grease. I’ve even had some golfers go from the 90s all the way up in to the 130s and 140s.

Here are some starter keys.

Practice swinging faster

This may sound overly simple, and I suppose it is, but largely no one outside of professional long drivers do it. Gaining speed is similar to improving at other skills in that you’ll get better just by practicing.

Phil and a number of other tour players are starting to tap in to part of the speed equation here.

Part of the whole basis of Phil’s training has been practicing swinging faster with SuperSpeed sticks. The fact that he’s doing this type of training is good, although it doesn’t really matter so much whether you swing a heavy club, a light club, something with air resistance, etc.

The main thing is just that you are practicing swinging faster, and putting some time in to it as with any other component of your game like full swing, chipping, putting, etc.

Strengthen your downswing muscles

Based on his results and without knowing the full details of his training, a big key that he appears to be missing is doing something to strengthen his downswing muscles.

Every golfer, whether you are long drive champion or low swing speed amateur, starts at zero mph at the top of the backswing and gets to whatever speed they achieve at impact.

Long drivers tend to be very strong, but not necessarily big. Two-time World Long Drive Champion, Jamie Sadlowski, is a good example of this. He can do 480-pound hexbar deadlifts for reps. That takes tremendous strength in his hands, forearms, lower back, glutes, and hamstrings.

At my fastest, I could swing in the low 140s, and it’s no coincidence that I could also do over 700-lb half squats.

Were Phil to supplement his swing speed reps with doing more to specifically target gradually increasing the strength of his downswing muscles over time, there’s no reason why he couldn’t be swinging at Cameron Champ’s 130 mph level, or higher, even at 48 years old. Look no further than Senior World Long Drive Champion “Fast” Eddie Fernandes to find a guy who in his mid/late 40s and that can regularly swing in the 140s.

For that matter, Phil aside, there’s no reason why ANY tour player couldn’t be swinging at those speeds with proper training. Tour pros are definitely more fit that they used to be. That’s good, but the golf fitness industry is still very young and fit doesn’t necessarily mean fast.

To learn more about how to train to be fast, check out my other articles, visit Swing Man Golf, and/or work with an instructor or fitness trainer who is swing speed training certified.

Now is as good as time as any to get going on some swing speed training. By the time the Masters rolls around in April, you could easily be 30-40 yards longer and get your season started off with a boom.

 

 

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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 creator of Sterling Irons® single length irons, and has caddied on the PGA TOUR and PGA TOUR CHAMPIONS. Two of his articles for GolfWRX are the two most viewed of all time. 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 shot 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 helped millions of golfers and focuses primarily on swing speed training. Typically, Jaacob’s amateur golfers and tour players 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 – Millions of views!!!

12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. Patricknorm

    Feb 14, 2019 at 8:01 am

    Going on the Titleist Performance Institute webpage , there are a few things that stand out with players who swing above 130 mph. First is lower body strength, hence the half squats, dead lifts. The other metric is your vertical jump., which is a measure of lower body power. The other metric is your ability to throw a ball or a javelin. Similar motion to hitting a baseball, tennis ball or golf ball.
    The common factor to hitting a golf ball a long way , is ones lower body strength. Mickelson mentioned he was working on this aspect years ago and it’s no surprise along with his over speed training, he’s increased his clubhead speed. Tiger Woods clearly has been hitting the gym hard post lower back surgery and the results on the course speak for themselves.

  2. JJ

    Feb 13, 2019 at 11:10 pm

    Half squats..? Who does half squats?

    • Alec

      Feb 14, 2019 at 1:32 am

      Not to mention, that based on the pin position in the rack in the picture he posted, he was doing quarter squats at best.

  3. X

    Feb 13, 2019 at 10:54 pm

    Scratches the surface? What on Earth are you blathering about?
    They’re athletes. This is their job. They had better try every bit of everything they can to stay in shape and to gain more to win more. Otherwise, why bother?
    This is what we would expect from the top guys. Looking at it from our amateur fan perspective, if they’re not doing this to improve and winning, then we all can see that they just fall off the map and that’s how obvious it is. We don’t need any of this explained.

  4. undercover

    Feb 13, 2019 at 10:04 pm

    This article is spot on. I was a college athlete and I’ve been a sub-scratch handicap player for nearly 30 years. I turn 50 later this year and I started worrying about losing speed and distance as I get older. I still play competitive tournament golf and often times against young college players. So, I been weight training and speed training a few years ago and find that I’m now swinging on average 121 MPH. I work on muscles that deal with the golf swing. I’ve gained muscle mass, speed and endurance. I would have to say core and lower body training has been key (box jumps are a must). For the skeptics, the majority of touring pros and college players are doing speed training to supplement their strength training. Jump in and give it a try, it works.

  5. Simms

    Feb 13, 2019 at 5:04 pm

    Nice article…no doubt we see the younger players men/women in better shape and hitting the long drives…our 4 some followed a girl the other day that played the black tees and was over 270 on every driver hole..when we talked she was from South Korea 26 and been golfing sense she was 14..what was scary…her boyfriend was hitting over 300 yards every hole…thank goodness he could not putt.

  6. Aaron Roth

    Feb 13, 2019 at 2:50 pm

    Well… what are the “downswing muscles”?

    • Jaacob Bowden

      Feb 13, 2019 at 3:33 pm

      We all swing the club differently, so, it depends…but, for example, some for me personally are:

      – Trail Chest, trail triceps, and trail forearm (mostly palmar flexion – think slapping) – throwing motion
      – Lead lat and lead forearm (mostly ulnar deviation – think chopping) – pulling motion
      – General core, lower back, and butt
      – Lead leg – internal hip rotation, quad, adductor
      – Trail leg – external hip rotator, hamstring, abductor, and calve

      Click on my author page and peruse some of my older articles. I get in to some other details there.

  7. Nathan Andersen

    Feb 13, 2019 at 2:39 pm

    Agree wholeheartedly with everything you say (especially given your qualifications).

    However, I think with all of this, do you think it would be desirable for Phil to pick up that speed? A 2-degree open face at impact is much more harmful at 140 mph SS compared to 122 SS, so although you hit it further, you miss more fairways.

    I think an amateur going from 100 to 115 definitely wants that, but, at 122 (or 128, wherever he currently is), adding that distance may be more penal than for an amateur given the course differences.

    • Jaacob Bowden

      Feb 13, 2019 at 3:23 pm

      I get where you are coming from but having more speed at your disposal never hurts.

      At that point, it comes down to a course management decision and understanding your shot dispersion.

      If the area where you are hitting is big enough to safely contain your shot dispersion, it becomes a big advantage. You may be able to carry trouble and take more aggressive lines that others cannot which leads to shorter clubs in to greens and strokes gained over the season.

      This won’t be the case in every situation, but sometimes the opportunity will be there to take advantage of the extra length.

      In other cases where it would be too penal as you mentioned, the person with the extra speed can just take less club and hit to a strategically more safe area. Jamie, for example, will often hit irons off the tee to put the ball in play. You can see this is his Arccos stats. Cameron Champ will do the same. I was watching some highlights the other day of Cameron and he was simply hitting 3-wood where others were hitting driver. In other spots where it was safe for him, he would bomb driver way past everyone.

      • Jaacob Bowden, PGA

        Feb 13, 2019 at 3:41 pm

        Interestingly, I often find people hit more accurate too with training. All the swing-specific focus has various side benefits with balance, coordination, mental image of the swing, etc.

    • Ryan K

      Feb 13, 2019 at 10:01 pm

      You also have to remember that nearly all stats indicate you’re better off being closer to the hole than in the fairway, comparatively. Then it gets down to approach and short yardage of which it’s been established that Phil is pretty darn good at! This coming from not an ardent Phil fan mind you.

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WRX Insider: How the Callaway tour staff matches up golf ball and irons

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It’s not something that is widely explored. When it comes to the golf ball, we typically prioritize driver numbers, wedge numbers, and feel. In actuality, however, it’s a player’s irons that need to be optimized more than anything. Full shots, 3/4, fades, draws—the shot varietal with irons is all over the map.

So, when testing players, how does the team at Callaway dial in the ball and the irons to work in harmony with each other?

With the new Callaway X Forged and Apex MB just hitting the scene, it seemed like a perfect time to understand how the players on tour fit the ball to the irons and vice versa.

I had a chance to speak with Callaway Golf Ball R&D specialist Nick Yontz and Director of Tour Operations Jacob Davidson on dialing in the ball and the irons to match up with the best players in the world.

JW: How much do you depend on Nick’s expertise throughout the season, especially with new irons (X Forged and Apex MB) having just hit the market?

JD: Any time we launch a new product, it’s essential for the tour team to know how the new product will perform. Nick provides in-depth data on how our golf ball will perform with the new products. When you look at the golf bag, there is one constant variable and that’s the golf ball. Our ultimate goal is to collaborate with the iron engineers and golf ball engineers to design a product that works together to help golfers play better. Nick Yontz is a tremendous resource for our tour team and has worked closely with several major winners in his career. We lean on him weekly for insight into in-depth product performance and future prototype products.

JW: When considering the spin off of the irons for a player like Xander, is he working around one number or are the multiple spin windows to hit?

JD: Spin rates can vary from player to player depending on clubhead delivery and launch numbers. Currently, we’ve worked hard to get Xander’s iron spin rates into a range that we feel allows him to hit a variety of shots to play his best golf.

JW: Let’s look at an LPGA profile for a player like Anne van Dam. Where does Chrome Soft X benefit her the most? 

NY: The Chrome Soft X has blended with Anne’s club set up in a way that she can be an excellent driver of the golf ball, while better controlling iron and wedge spin rates compared to her previous golf ball.

JW: If a player is looking for a higher launch window with the irons, what tweaks are you making, all while honoring the specific DNA of a player’s bag?

JD: There are several different levers we can move in order to raise the launch window. However, in order to determine which lever makes the most sense you have to fully understand the player’s bag. In order to do this, each club has to be studied deeply to know the cause and effects of a change. After we have completed this process, we will look at what options will best fit the player.

JW: As you look at the numbers, where do you see the improvements (gains) with the CS X vs what you saw with previous balls?

NY: Across the board, we’ve seen measurable ball-speed gains on the launch monitor during player testing sessions. It’s exciting for them and us when they reach driver ball speeds (and distances) that they couldn’t before!

JW: On the PGA Tour, is there an overall RPM profile that all players chase or is it player specific?

*question based on general rule of number on club x 1000 RPM IE 7 iron spins at 7000 RPM

JD: Our goal at Callaway is to move all of our staff players into optimal ranges in an iron spin. Our 2020 golf ball and the iron lineup has allowed us to move several players bags into a more optimal range this year. We work closely with the player, instructor, and caddie to constantly find ways to improve performance.

JW: In regards to working with a Champions Tour Player that has gone from Balata into CSX. Is that player still playing out of the same launch windows that he has for years or is he having to adjust for new technology?

NY: There are some differences in modern equipment that we hear from players that have played over multiple decades. The shape of the trajectory is an example. Current trajectories can look flatter or may get up higher sooner in the flight than a balata did. Players who have experienced balata and modern balls also talk about the amount of lateral movement being less today.

JW: Discuss how you guys work together on a week to week basis. What does it look like?

JD: Nick is an excellent resource for the tour team. Each week, we are providing feedback and observations to him from what we are seeing and hearing across all the major tours. Throughout the year, Nick will attend several tour events allowing us to work closely together with players on the range tee or on the golf course.

NY: Jacob and the entire tour team knows each tour player at the deepest level. For example, knowing each player’s swing tendencies and look preferences enhances the raw numbers we collect. Tour players are the best product testers in the world that push us to make better equipment.

JW: Can you both talk to me about the importance of spin with your irons?

JD: It’s much easier to take spin off than to add it from the fairway. The majority of shots that a tour player hits during a round of golf will be off-speed. When you reduce speed, spin also reduces. We’ve found that when we are fitting a player to a golf ball and irons, it’s imperative to pay close attention to how much reduction in spin comes from off-speed shots.

NY: Completely agree with Jacob. While we will do work on the driving range with a player, we need to see how it performs on the golf course in different situations as well (fairway/first-cut/rough, headwind/downwind/morning dew…)

Opinion

It may seem trivial, but to me, this is the secret sauce of really making a bag and fitting work for you. Pay attention to ball speed and launch but mostly spin rates. If the ball doesn’t spin you can’t control it—I don’t care how high it goes or steep it lands.

In the past year, I have focused way more on proper spin with my irons than ever before. What I have found is when 4-PW are in the right spin windows, which for me is around 6,800 RPM with a 7 iron, my iron play has improved dramatically.

See the PGA and LPGA TrackMan averages from 2019 below. At my age and speed, I actually strive to stay right in between the averages for both tours. It’s not only realistic for me but also has actually helped.

 

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