Despite the old cliché “drive for show, putt for dough”, golfers of all levels are looking for the edge that added distance off the tee can bring. Maybe seeing how PGA Tour star Bryson DeChambeau bulked up 40 pounds gives one the idea they have to spend grueling hours in the gym daily to add distance. Clearly being physically fit, strong and muscular has its benefits, but there are several players average and even small in stature that belt the ball a long way. So what are they keys to hitting the ball longer off the tee? Better still, how do you hit the ball a long way and keep it in play?
This article will discuss several factors that can diminish power off the tee and result in a loss of distance. These factors include: (1) lack of flexibility/poor shoulder turn, (2) poor balance/weight transfer, (3) incorrect clubhead angle into the ball, and (4) a lack of acceleration, or even deceleration, of the club on the downswing. As we will discuss further, avoid making these common mistakes and you will be hitting longer drives in no time.
Not every player has the same degree of flexibility, but ideally the shoulders should turn about 90 degrees to the intended line of target. If you are coming up drastically short of this, there are numerous exercises to increase flexibility. One of our favorite tools for increasing swing flexibility and warming your muscles up quickly is the Golf Swing Tempo Trainer.
A common problem is players beginning the downswing with their arms, when in fact, the series of movements should begin with the legs, which engages the midsection, then shoulder movement and finally the arms.
Timing is important in the swing and many people don’t think about how important the first part of the swing is. Those first few feet mean the difference between great contact and a severe mishit. First, get the feeling that once the back hip stops turning naturally, the backswing is finished. Don’t try to “overturn”.
The shoulder turn can be good, the acceleration process could be smooth and efficient, however if the angle of attack is off, there is little hope of consistently hitting shots with any power or accuracy. If the angle is too much on a descending path, the ball will either stay very low off the tee or extremely high is backspin and little distance. How do you correct a poor angle of attack?
Clubhead Launch Angle
First, remember that the correct path of the driver through impact should be slightly upward or level. Make sure the ball position is forward of center in your stance, just off the front heel. Make sure your back shoulder is slightly lower than your front shoulder to promote proper spine angle. This allows the shoulders to turn more easily on the backswing, which in turn, allows the clubhead to more consistently be on the correct plane.
One thing that may help with inconsistent ball striking is to shorten the backswing. Practice with half-swings where the front arm is no farther back than parallel to the ground on the backswing and the back arm is not any higher than parallel after impact. Gradually increase the swing to two-thirds, then three-fourths, and then the full swing.
Justin Rose, former number one player in the world, was in the middle of the pack in PGA Tour driving distance in the late 2000’s. Last season he averaged over 300 yards and was 28th in driving distance. He notes some keys to success are high launch angle with low spin, which provides the maximum distance and longest roll. This, in turn all goes back to the proper address position, mentioned earlier.
The release of the club through impact is important for keeping the ball on-line and achieving maximum distance. It’s a natural occurrence because the clubhead speed is very fast, making it impossible to maintain the angle of their wrists through impact. Rose suggests feeling the shoulders being closed during the downswing, which makes one actively rotate the body through the ball at impact.
To achieve the optimal launch and keep the ball in play, Rose suggests teeing the ball low which creates more backspin, lowering the trajectory. If the fairway is wide, tee it high and let it fly, so to speak.
When transitioning from the top of the swing on down, the key is to shift your weight to the front side. Rose likes to think of putting pressure into the ground through the bottom of your feet on the downswing, while maintaining height. This enables the clubhead to fall into proper position for a smooth, square delivery through the ball at impact. Just make sure the weight shift is there so the majority is on the front foot at impact. Rose uses a 60/40 weight distribution at address, meaning 60% on the back side and 40% on the front side.
Basically, players that successfully stay behind the ball allows them to use their weight to apply more power. Many high handicappers don’t understand the concept clearly enough to execute properly. They will not shift the weight properly back to their front foot on the downswing, instead they stay back thinking they must stay “behind the ball”. This saps any kind of power and causes inconsistent contact.
When attacking the ball on the downswing, it’s commonly known that the clubhead should be accelerating through impact. Rose makes is known emphatically that one must remember that the heel of the club lags behind the toe, so it's vital to keep the hands and arms moving in unison with your midsection. You have to have the feel of moving everything through the shot quickly. When the body decelerates through the impact zone, control is lost since the inertia is transferred to the clubhead.
No matter what level of player, one can learn how to increase distance and most of that, as is clearly explained in the preceding paragraphs is based on proper set up and technique. All the strength in the world won’t help if the set up and swing is flawed. While hitting the gym to increase strength and fitness can help, the most important thing is to take some lessons from a qualified teaching professional, hit the range and practice the fundamentals. If you do that, you will watch your distance off the tee increase.