Category Archives: more distance

A Few Thoughts on Distance

After the USGA saved golf from the sacrilege of anchored putting, it is now fixing its sights on how far world-class athletes are hitting the ball.   It’s time I weighed in.   Everyone else has…

Everybody has stories about how much father the ball goes now.   There’s a 427-yard par 4 that when I played it in high school in the late 60s I would hit a driver and a 3-wood and still be short.   Now I get on with a driver and a hybrid iron.

On the GolfWRX forum a guy commented that thirty years ago he was a mini-tour player and a long hitter, but now in his 50s he hits the ball even farther.

Sounds like it’s all ball.   But here’s more to it than that.

In those earlier days we played with a balata ball, that spun like crazy.   That was great around the green, but off the tee, you don’t know what a banana slice is until you’ve seen a slice with one of those.

The woods, not so much the irons, were much smaller.   You had to hit the driver dead center to get anything out of the shot.   Off-center hits were not forgiven.

That meant the game was more about control than about power.   Our swing was more about controlling the club than letting it rip.   So naturally we didn’t hit the ball as far.   And I’m sure the balata balls weren’t designed to go as far, either.

What that adds up to is the ball has evolved.   Changing the cover of the ball from balata to surlyn, changing the innards from wound rubber to a solid composition, those changes are as natural as going from the feathery to gutta-percha.

And, yes, there’s the addition of big, hollow-bodied drivers in place of tiny laminated maple drivers.   They contribute to longer tee shots, too, especially on off-center hits.

With the evolution of the ball comes the evolution of the game.   It’s a power game now, certainly on professional tours, and to lesser but still noticeable extent in the recreational game.   There’s no going back, and there’s no need to.

There seem to be three problems with distance floating in the air.   The first is that golf has become a drive and wedge game.   Yes, it has, but mainly on the professional tours.   That will never be a problem for me, even if I move up to the forward tees.

The second problem is that old courses are becoming obsolete.   Merion (East) had to be tricked up beyond belief to make it a challenging venue for the U.S. Open in 2013.    The Old Course at St. Andrews is perhaps two more Opens away from having to retire from the Open rotation.    Augusta had to buy land from an adjoining course to lengthen the 13th hole, a formerly formidable hole that is now one of the easiest.

The third problem isn’t getting much attention from the powers that saved the game by banning anchored putting.   If distance is a problem, it’s a problem only for the people who run professional tours.   It’s not a problem at all for the 25M recreational golfers who will be tested the their limit at Merion or the Old Course or on the 13th at Augusta.

I still use all my irons, not to mention long hybrids, to hit into the collection of par 4s on any course I play.   If the powers that be want to return the professional game to that state, either build longer golf courses, or don’t, and just get used to the new game.

There has to be a balance achieved between what the best players can do and the courses on which they display those skills.   Right now, the players have jumped ahead, maybe too far ahead.    It’s time for the courses to catch up.

This is a lot like the delicate competition between predator and prey in nature.    There is a fine balance.    If the predator is too fast, then all the prey will get eaten and the predator will die out, too.    If the prey is too fast, the predator will starve, and so will the prey when it over-consumes its food source.

Distance is here to stay.   Either we accept it and adapt, or start doing stupid things.   And the powers that be have demonstrated clear talent for the latter.

I’ll finish with this quote from Judy Rankin in her My Turn interview:

“The debate about drivers hitting the ball too far doesn’t apply to women at all.  In fact, it doesn’t apply to most men.  Let’s say there are 25 million golfers in America and 25 million elsewhere in the world.  Of the 50 million golfers on the planet, excessive distance is an issue for maybe a thousand of them.”

Hitting the Ball Hard

One of the best ways to introduce errors into your golf swing is to try to hit the ball as hard as you can. In general it is better to ease off and hit it straight than far. Your best drive in the fairway beats 30 yards farther in the rough all day.

However, 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.

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 on the course without upsetting anybody.

The State of My Game

The posts I write are meant to help you play better. Whatever I put up here is something I tried myself and find that it works. I’m not going to tell you something I heard somewhere that sounds like it makes sense. I test it first. But it’s all about you.

Today, though is different. Today is all about me, though maybe even then you might find something in it that helps you as well.

Because of some back surgeries I underwent several years ago, I had to change the way I swing the golf club. I swing it much easier now. I haven’t measured my clubhead speed, though I know it’s slower because I have lost about twenty yards off the tee and one club from the fairway.

Distance, though, is only one part of playing golf. I have become much more accurate, because I have to be accurate. I have designed a swing, therefore, that hits the ball very straight, time after time. That’s certainly not a bad thing.

Through impact, my club hits the ground at the same spot, at the same depth, with a square clubface, consistently. The way I accomplish this is to lose all thought of hitting the ball powerfully, and instead, think of swinging the club gracefully.

To strike the ball accurately, so many things have to be lined up just right, and when this has to be done at speed it’s all more difficult. I swing as fast as I can while still keeping everything in order. If I tried to swing faster, I would only disrupt the impact alignments and start hitting the ball anywhere but where I wanted it to go. In addition, I doubt I would hit the ball that much farther to make the effort worthwhile.

I find my longest shots happen when I take care of swinging the club and let the club take care of the hitting. After all, the hit is built into your clubs. That’s why you paid so much for them. You just swing it and let the manufacturer take care of the rest.

The recreational golfer, who doesn’t have world-class talent, doesn’t have access to world-class coaching, nor hours a day to spend practicing, needs to play golf differently than the players who do. We need a swing that keeps the ball in play, first and last.

In my personal experience, and in what I see in the people I play with, the pursuit of distance, trying to hit each ball as far as possible rather than as straight as possible, is the number one reason why so many golfers play worse than they are capable of. I know it’s fun to really tag one, but if your overall game is designed around doing that, you’re costing yourself handfuls of strokes for the occasional satisfaction.

On the other hand, if you can build a swing that accomplishes the three things I mentioned earlier, you will hit the ball straighter, and you won’t lose distance, because you will be making a more solid impact. I lost distance because of a physical condition, but that’s not you.

Recreational golf is wrapped up in hitting the ball straight. Spend some time at the driving range just watching people and ask yourself, about every one of them, if their problem is that they don’t hit the ball far enough, or that they don’t hit it straight enough.

If you can change your conception of golf from hard and far to graceful and straight, and they act on it, you will be on the way to becoming the best player you can be. Well, as long as you can putt, too.

How Far Do You Hit It, Really?

We all think we hit it farther than we do. You hear that a lot. Actually, I think each of us has a very good idea of how far we hit it. It’s just not as far as we would like.

This chart tells the approximate truth. If you have a swing speed with your driver of 95 mph, which is high for the majority of recreational golfers, you will carry the ball 210 yards. With adequate roll, you can get about 225 yards out of that shot.

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Now roll is highly variable. Have you ever seen an aerial shot of a Tour event and there’s a shot of a drive that falls straight out of the sky and maybe gets two yards of roll?

But, it was hit in the air a ton. Recreational golfers don’t hit those kinds of shots. Ours go lower and roll more.

So don’t kid yourself. If you are an average recreational golfer and you hit your driver 200 yards in the air, that’s a good shot. Add on maybe 15-20 yards of roll and you can play with that length.

Want to hit it farther? Assuming you hit the ball on the center of the clubface regularly (and that’s a big assumption) you’ll hit it farther by swinging faster AND maintaining good tempo.

A more lofted driver might help, too, but that’s another post.

Power Leaks in the Golf Swing

Every golfer has a maximum clubhead speed. You get it by eliminating power leaks. Here are a few things you can change that are robbing you of precious MPH at impact.

You swing too hard. Swinging hard actually slows you down. Muscular force doesn’t generate speed. A relaxed swing lets power accumulate and multiply on its own.

You grip too tight. This puts tension in your hands which radiates throughout your body. You end up holding back the club instead of letting it go.

You swing too fast. Remember, you want clubhead speed, not “youspeed.” You don’t have to turn your body at 90 MPH to make the clubhead go that fast.

The club fights against your grip. Especially a the top, you sense this and use up effort hanging on to the club. Grip down so the club feels balanced. Then it will never feel like it is trying to pull itself out of your hands.

You aim your swing. To get the most speed you can deliver to the ball, you have to let the swing happen. If you care too much about where the ball will go, you slow yourself down.

You start your downswing with just your hands. Start your downswing by turning your lower body. Let your arms just drop down and follow. It’s a gravity move with the arms, powered by turning your lower body.

Each one of these things can be changed in a few minutes. The major patch is to hit the ball on the center of the clubface while it is square to the swing path. If you want to get this one down, take lessons.

My new book, The Golfing Self, is now available at www.therecreationalgolfer.com. It will change everything about the way you play.

How to Think About Clubhead Speed

Though several factors are more important than clubhead speed in hitting the ball a long way, we must not neglect it. The problem is that most golfers think to get more speed they have to swing the club harder (harder=faster). Let’s look first at the speed that is built into the club and see if this is really necessary.

Watch a record turning on a record player. Or, if you don’t have a record player handy, remember what that one looked like. Or, if you’ve never seen a record player, just go with me on this.

A 12” long-playing record, turns at 33-1/3 revolutions per minute. Every part of the record, from the outside edge to the part right next to the spindle in the center, turns at that same rate.

The very edge of the record turns at approximately 21” per second. A spot one-half inch from the center only has to move at 1-3/4” per second. Because these two spots have to cover different distances in the same time, they move at different speeds, in order to travel at the same rate.

Over to golf. A 9-iron is generally 35-3/4” long. A driver is 43” long. If you swing these two clubs at the same rate, the clubheads will travel at different speeds.

Think of the driver’s clubhead as reaching to the edge of the record. A point representing the relative length of a 9-iron would travel at 17.3” per second, a bit over eighty percent as fast as a point on the edge.

Trackman data from the PGA Tour shows that the average swing speed for the driver is 112 MPH. For the 9-iron, it’s 85 MPH, seventy-five percent of the speed of the driver. Data from the LPGA Tour yield roughly the same ratio (94 MPH and 72 MPH).

Now the arc traced by a golf swing is not a circle, and there is acceleration in the swing, so the math is a lot more complicated than for a spinning turntable. The numbers work out differently, but the principle is the same:

If you like the way you hit your 9-iron, hit your driver the same way, and you’ll get the clubhead speed you crave.

If you don’t believe the math, believe your eyes. Watch LPGA Tour players especially. They don’t pound their driver. They swing it with the same ease as with any other club, yet they hit the ball farther than you do. Maybe that’s the reason why.

This post is about relative distance, the distance you hit your driver compared to your 9-iron. If you want to increase both of those distances and everything between, your absolute distance, see Two Simple Ways to Get More Distance

Visit www.therecreationalgolfer.com

The Golfer’s Goal: Accuracy or Distance?

They say that 230 in the fairway is better than 260 in the rough. Maybe, maybe not. Try it. Go out some day and play a round where you skip the tee shot. Drop one ball in the middle of the fairway at the length of your average drive (that’s average, not your best). Drop another ball in the rough, twenty yards beyond that.

Play both balls into the hole and see which returns the better score. There’s no reason to listen to conventional wisdom when it’s so easy to check on it yourself.

What this might show, is that if you’re a long, but inaccurate hitter, dialing back a bit might help you out.

It might also show that if you’re a short, but accurate hitter, more distance won’t help you that much.

But try it to see for yourself.

Visit www.therecreationalgolfer.com

A Winter Improvement Program – Centered Contact

If you don’t play a lot of golf or practice all that much, you’re going to mishit the ball more often than not. Practice at least enough so that your mishits are playable.

By a mishit, I mean hitting the ball elsewhere than the center of the clubface. No one hits it flush all the time, not even the pros. But the more you can, or the tighter your dispersion is around the center in general, the better your ball-striking will be.

You might think I’m talking about the full swing, but this rule applies to every shot. Predictable distance control in the short game depends largely on hitting the ball off the same spot of the clubface every time. Putting becomes reliable only when all your putts come off the sweet spot.

We’ll save putting for another day. Today’s post is about centering your hits from simple chips to your fullest swing.

My second golf book, which I got for my birthday when I was 15 (my first was Ben Hogan’s Five Lessons, which my Dad got me for my 11th birthday) was Shortcuts to Better Golf by Johnny Revolta.

In this book is Revolta’s ball-striking drill he called the quickie rhythm (no jokes, please). This little drill teaches your hands what to do in the hitting area. It starts off small, making it easy to achieve centered contact, which is our goal.

Revolta spends several pages explaining the exercise and its purpose, so I’ll try to summarize as completely as I can. I find this to be as valuable a drill as Revolta thinks it is, and I encourage you to find a copy of his book and learn more about it.

1. Address the ball with a 7-iron, setting up for a greenside chip. Swing the club back from the ball about two feet with the wrists straight (but not rigid). Return the club to the starting position. Do this one more time. Nothing moves except your arms and the club. And again. The fourth time, instead of returning the club to the ball, swing through. Keeping your wrists straight is essential. It should take no more than five seconds to complete the drill.

2. Now do the drill ten times.
One, two, three, swing
One, two, three, swing
.
.
One, two, three, swing.

3. Take a rest for about five minutes. Power and timing come through proper hand action. That’s what you’re learning to do. Now do the exercise ten more times. You might notice a little give in your wrists as you hit the ball on the fourth part of the drill — not much, but just a bit of loosening as you come through. Think that your wrists stay straight, but let them relax on their own as you swing through.

4. After resting for a few minutes, do the drill ten times again, but with a backswing of about three feet.

By doing this drill hundreds of times, you’re teaching yourself how to take the club away from the ball, and how to have your left arm and wrist, and the club shaft, in a straight line when you hit the ball. That is what leads to centered hits. That is the basis of power and accuracy.

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Two Simple Ways to Hit a Golf Ball Farther

Everyone wants more distance, and there’s no reason they shouldn’t get it. Here are two simple ways to add a few more yards to every full shot.

1. Get your rhythm right. Last week’s post on the subject tells you how to do that.

2. Lighten up your grip pressure. There’s no need to squeeze the club. How hard do you hold when you shake hands with a child? Or how tightly would you hold a pretty woman?* That’s how hard you should hold the club, and try to keep it that light all the way through the swing. Holding too tightly makes your muscles work against you, slowing down the swing.

*My wife says I hold her like a golf club.

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A Simple Golf Distance Generator

We all want more distance, not because we need it to score well, but because it’s fun to hit the ball a long way. If you want more distance that you have now, you have to do something different. Here’s a little change that doesn’t take too much practice to get down and does get you extra distance.

Instead of starting the downswing from a full pause, begin it with your body before your hands and arms have finished the backswing. For a split second, your body is going in two directions at once.


This is not a large disconnection. It might be so subtle that someone watching you wouldn’t even notice it. Just an instant before your hands come their pause at the top to change direction, your hips start turning into the ball.

This move has to fit in with the rhythm of the swing. A little bit of experimenting will show where it fits. If it feels artificial, you’re doing it too early.

This is much like casting a fly rod. When you snap the rod forward, the very end of the line is still going backward. Then it has to catch up, and that catching up is free acceleration, more acceleration that you could impart from a dead stop.

Golf is the same way. Now that your hands are lagging behind the movement into the ball, they have to accelerate to catch up. This acceleration is natural. You don’t have to make it happen for force it. All you need to do is control it.

If you wish to integrate this move into your swing, start small. Hit half wedge shots. Since the arm swing is so short in relation to your hip turn, just stop the arms at the end of their backswing and turn back into the ball, letting your turn start up the arms again. This gives you the feeling of the arms hanging behind the turn at the beginning of the move into the ball.

Continue on with longer swings. You will get to the point where you can comfortably keep swinging your hands and arms back as you turn the other direction. Remember this is a little move, and it must fit into the rhythm of the swing. It is almost dance-like.

Once you get to that point, you will fee the free clubhead speed that you’ve added on. Let that speed carry itself into the ball and enjoy the ride.

Visit www.therecreationalgolfer.com