Hitting the Ball Hard

One of the best ways to introduce errors into your golf swing is by trying to hit the ball as hard as you can. In general it is better to ease off and hit it straight than far, unless you can hit it both straight AND far. The two are not exclusive.

Just like there’s nothing wrong with being rich, there’s nothing wrong with being long off the tee. Let’s talk about how to get that done. (The second one. I haven’t figured out the first one yet.)

I have seen this idea expressed in different places, and have never seen it contradicted: swing the club as fast as you can while still being able to hit the ball on the center of the clubface. In other words, swing as fast as you can while keeping the club under control.

Two principles of hitting hard must be observed: the one just stated, and this.

You will swing as fast as you can only if you are completely relaxed during the entire swing. Tension always slows you down.

And one hint: speed only counts through the ball. It means nothing in your backswing. Or the beginning of the forward swing.

Now for the lesson, which comes from Jim McLean in the April 10, 2010 edition of Golf Digest magazine.

“The late Gardner Dickinson, a terrific tour player in the 1950s and ’60s who happened to have a slight build, once asked Ben Hogan what he could do to get longer off the tee. Hogan told Dickinson to stop at the range after every round and hit 30 drivers as hard as he could. He told him not to care where the shots went, but to try to hit the ball on the center of the clubface.

“Hogan emphasized to Dickinson the importance of sheer swing speed. Thirty drives might be a lot for you; 15 might do. But a little violence in the swing is healthy and will help you develop more power. You’ll never hit it far without ripping it.”

There you have it.

Practice this with plastic golf balls at first if you can, because they go only so far no matter how hard you hit them and you won’t be seduced into overswinging.

Once you’ve got it down, work on it at the range. Once you’ve got that down, practice saying, “You’re away” in a pleasant tone of voice, so you can say it on the course without upsetting anybody.

Golf Thoughts

The practice ground is where you learn to hit shots, but golf is about knowing which shots to hit. You shoot lower scores by playing more golf, not by hitting more buckets of balls.

Beware of tips you read in magazines. They may tell you to do something you’re already doing, and then you end up overdoing it.

The most important shot for a recreational golfer is the tee shot. You must put the ball in the fairway.

Straight shots begin with setting up with the clubface aimed at your target. This is not as easy as it sounds. Work on this or get a lesson, because if this is not right, nothing that comes after will make it right.

The easiest way to keep doubles and triples off your scorecard is by playing within your skills. If you are standing over the ball with a “funny feeling about this shot,” back off and try something else. False confidence is not your friend.

Rhythm is king. Good rhythm makes mediocre technique work. Lack of rhythm makes proper technique fall apart. When you try a swing tweak and it doesn’t work, odds are you forgot stay in rhythm.

Good shotmakers have a narrower range of dispersion than other golfers. To narrow your range, train yourself always aim at something when you hit a golf ball. That is not only a direction. There must also be a specific spot on the ground you want the ball to hit.

To get to 80, you must first have a decent swing. If your average score is 83, your swing gives you reasonable assurance that you can get the ball up to the green in the regulation number of strokes. From this point switch the majority of your practice time from the range to the practice green.

Flipping through impact, a common fault, is caused by the left arm slowing down through impact so the hands can take over hitting the ball. If you swing a wedge with your left arm only, and let the arm swing freely, you will understand the correct sensation of the club swinging instead of the hands hitting.

When hitting a short shot that has a certain amount of air time, make sure you hit the ball hard enough. You can turn a down in three (or two!) into a down in four by getting too finessy.

A Golf Swing Epiphany

I have a video on YouTube that talks about the straight left arm–what that term really means. It is by far the most popular of all my videos for some reason.

It’s really good advice to keep your left arm straight, because if you bend your elbow you introduce another lever into your swing. Two levers, the wrist and the shoulder, are enough. No need to add a third.

But I found out a few days ago that’s exactly what I do when I’m swinging at my best. I bend my left elbow.

For years, the major thrust of all my personal golf swing research has been to figure out how to keep the clubface square from takeaway to impact. It’s pretty hard to do, because the forearms can rotate too much or not enough, and the wrists can do almost anything. Getting these two to behave isn’t easy.

And then there’s who knows what else.

When I was playing very well, back in 2011 before things started happening (long-time readers know what they are), I always had this feeling at the tail end of my backswing that my wrists were bending a bit extra because of the momentum of the swing.

They seemed to always get back into line in the forward swing, though, because one of the hallmarks of my game was and still is that I hit the ball very straight.

But I never felt that extra bending of my wrists was the right thing to be happening, so I tried hard to eliminate it by deliberately doing things to prevent the bending feeling from coming up.

The problem was, those corrections didn’t improve matters, and they turned a free and easy swing into a lot of work.

So in the past few months I decided to go look for that swing feeling and get it back again. I found it last week, and when I did I quickly realized I had been all wrong all this time.

It wasn’t my wrists that were bending. It was my left elbow.

My left shoulder isn’t flexible enough to get my hands to where the momentum of my backswing wants to take them, so my elbow bends to get them there. The feeling in my wrists is caused by the weight of the club, not by any extraneous movement in them.

On the forward swing, the elbow straightens out again and I’m still in business with a square clubface.

I’m going on about this because it is a perfect example of what I wrote about a few weeks ago . Something so fundamental as a straight left arm is something I do NOT do, and when I try to do it, I don’t hit the ball well. That swing is not ME.

Gary Player once said something along the lines of, “Name me any swing fundamental and I’ll show you a championship golfer who doesn’t do it.”

I doubt Player had me in mind when he said that, but it’s true. Fundamentals get you in the ball park, but if they mess you up, modify them until your swing is YOU.

There is only one way for you to swing a golf club, and that is YOUR way.

Golf Isn’t Hard Work

Whenever I go to the range, which is about once every other week, there’s this guy who is always there. Always. With a big pile of balls in front of him.

I’m not sure what he’s up to. Maybe he just likes to hit golf balls. If that’s his retirement hobby (and he’s gotta be retired to be there at 10 every morning), fine with me.

But if he’s trying to improve, I don’t know how being out there all the time and hitting so many balls is going to do it.

I’ve seen what he can do. He hits the ball really well, about as well as he ever will, and as well as a recreational golfer needs to.

He knows how to swing the club. All he really needs is a reminder every so often so he doesn’t forget or start drifting.

In this month’s Golf Digest there is an article “by” Dustin Johnson on how he practices. He says he hits mostly wedge shots, then chips and putts. He’ll hit a few shots with the longer clubs, then he goes to play.

He’s keeping his swing in tune, but putting time in on what goes away fast if you let it slide–the short game. Pounding balls is not part of his practice plan.

I read once that not many pros thought all the drivers Vijay Singh used to hit did him any good at all. After a few he wasn’t adding anything.

I would say to you, if you know how your swing works*, get a small bucket of about 30 balls, hit half of them with full swings, and the rest with your wedges to different targets.

Another key point Johnson made is one my pro made to me a few years ago. You need a new perspective every so often. Staying in the same place at the range and hitting to the same target doesn’t prepare you for the course, where every shot has a different look.

Either hit to different targets, or hit to the same target but move to a new spot some distance away so the look of the shot is new. That gives you the sense of playing that should be part of your practice.

In 2014 I published my Six Fundamentals. They’re my swing keys, and I hit only enough balls to make sure I’m still doing them so I get good results.

One point in them is rather subtle, but it is that the forward swing is driven by the right side. This is from Fundamental 4, The Right Knee Moves Left. In the same issue of Golf Digest, Butch Harmon has a piece on hitting your irons. He says,

“The third piece [of being in position] is driving your right side–arm, shoulder, knee–at the target.”

Butch Harmon charges three million dollars an hour for the same advice you get here for free.

Stick with me, kid.



*Write down your own set of fundamentals, or swing keys, or whatever you want to call them, that your swing depends on so you can always refer to them when things go wrong.