Depending on whom you ask, the median amateur driver distance is about 200-210 yards. Shocking, right? We know. On the PGA Tour, some players average nearly 100 yards more than the average amateur. Also shocking, right? Truth be told, we contend that average PGA Tour driving distances aren't all that accurate, considering that the system used for determining driving distance is an antiquated one that uses two holes per round to factor in distance. In actuality, some Tour players are a lot longer off the tee than their stats may represent.
The question is, why are Tour players so much longer than the rest of us? It's not a matter of sheer physique, as some players have average builds but still can outdrive any of us by a country mile. What's their secret?
Instead of trying to figure it out ourselves, we went straight to not only one of the longest players currently on Tour, but one of the longest ever to play professionally. Bubba Watson, the lean, lanky southpaw from Bagdad, Fla., demonstrates and explains his keys for Tour-like power and his technique for crushing drives.
Read on and follow his advice. You'll soon learn that hitting powerful drives is easier than you may have thought.Bubba's Stats
Height: 6 feet, 3 inches Weight: 180 pounds Age: 31 Hometown: Bagdad, Florida
2009 PGA Tour Highlights: Earnings: $1.43 million (53rd) Driving distance: 311.4 (2nd) Eagles (holes per): 77.3 (1st) Putting average: 1.762 (54th)
Fastest clubhead speed on the PGA Tour in '09: 123.24 mph, with a ball speed clocked at 194 mph
Longest drive: 398 yards ('06 Sony Open)
Facts: Self-taught; learned by hitting Wiffle balls around the house
Has never received a formal golf lesson
Attended same high school as Boo Weekley and Heath Slocum
Is an avid basketball fan (his wife played professionally)
Hitting the ball a long way first requires the right set of tools to get the job done. Bubba Watson's set is missing a 3-wood, probably because he can smash a 5-wood as far as many touring professionals can hit their 3-woods.
Bubba plays the G15 Driver with a Grafalloy Prototype BiMatrix shaft (pink, of course). His lone fairway wood (5-wood) also is from the G15 line. As for his irons, Bubba, like all his fellow PGA Tour competitors, just switched to irons that conform to the 2010 rules on grooves. His irons are the S59s (3-PW). His Ping Tour Wedges (52- and 56-degree) also are 2010 conforming, as is his Tour-W 60-degree. Finally, Bubba putts with the Redwood Anser.
Let's cut straight to the chase, shall we? In looking at Bubba's swing sequence, starting with the first image, check out his unique grip position. His weak right hand (which would be the left hand for righties) and his near nonexistent right-hand grip enable Bubba to make a tremendous rotation away from the ball as well as cock the wrists with a serious amount of angle. The initial takeaway is long and deliberate with an amazing arm width.
At the top of Bubba's swing (#4), look at the incredible amount of not only shoulder turn, but also hip rotation away from the ball. That's a remarkable feat that most players simply can't accomplish, mainly because it requires a tremendous amount of flexibility and strength. Now, here's where the power comes from: Between #4 and #5 is Bubba's transition from back to forwardswing. Now check this out. Look at how far his hips have turned toward the target, and how little his arms and upper body have moved! He has generated an obscene amount of torque, which, as you can see later, is unleashed right into the ball. Another source for Bubba's power is the amount of lag he has retained in his downswing (#7.) By creating so much lag, Bubba again retains torque and power by creating resistance between the hands and the rest of his body. This stored energy needs to be released at some point, which in Bubba's case, is directly over the golf ball.
Bubba's distance also is attributed to his ability to control his trajectory. By adding all that width in the backswing, and also by keeping his body behind the ball, Bubba then flattens his angle of attack, resulting in a trajectory that produces about 1600-1800 rpm with the big stick. That's about 1000 rpm less than the average on Tour. No wonder his drives fly farther than most players dream of.
From this angle, you can see Bubba is rather upright at address. He hovers the club above the ball, making it easier to initiate the backswing in a free rotating fashion. At the top of his swing, again, check out both his upper-body and lower-body turn. I'd guesstimate his shoulders to be turned about 115 degrees from address, and his hips about 50 degrees. (The ideal for the rest of us? A 90/45 split.) Bubba's turn creates amazing power, as does the intense amount of lag and perfect shaft angle before and at impact. Try to copy this, if you can. You'll hit it a mile.
Power comes from width and torque. The width Bubba achieves is created by swinging low and wide on the backswing. The photo above shows how well he's able to keep the clubhead as far from his body as possible.
Practice your takeaway, and like Bubba, make a long, smooth motion while maintaining as much distance between the body and clubhead as possible. Also, notice that Bubba has yet to fold his left elbow inward. His double-arm extension makes his swing incredibly wide. He waits until the last second of his backswing to cock his elbow and hands.Is Power Here To Stay?
Bubba Watson isn't the only player to use great lengths and power to his advantage. Many of the greatest players in the game have relied on their distance. Players such as Palmer, Nicklaus, Miller, Singh, Mickelson and Woods all have used power to produce Hall of Fame careers. Like them, Bubba's power has put him into contention several times on the PGA Tour. And although his breakthrough win is still ahead of him (it's only a matter of time, folks), we would not be surprised to see Bubba's average distance actually decrease over the next few years.
How can that be? There are several factors, which I believe stem from the new 2010 groove regulations that affect how well PGA Tour players can spin the ball from the rough (and the fairway for the matter). If they can't spin the ball from the rough, the premium on hitting the fairway increases significantly. In other words, the bomb-and-gouge style of play that has dominated the Tour in the last few years may very well become a thing of the past.
In fact, it's already happening. In as little as three years, the driving-distance leaders (Bubba has been the leader for two of the last three years, by the way) have seen decreases in overall distance, from 319 yards in 2006 to 312 yards in 2009. Now, is this the sign of the bomb-and-gouge apocalypse? Probably not. But it's definitely an indication of the increasing pressure players are facing when it's time to avoid the rough. With the 2010 groove rules, I'd suspect the driving distances to drop even further.
Bubba is, no doubt, a feel player. He said to us he doesn't spend much time thinking about his swing; instead he concentrates on where he wants the ball to go. In fact, and incredibly, he has never had a formal lesson. But, that's not to say Bubba doesn't have any swing thoughts. His favorite is pictured here.
Bubba likes to concentrate on a simple mental cue: Kiss the shoulder. As you can see in this close-up of his swing at the top, Bubba tucks his chin between the crease of his arm and shoulder. Unusual as that may be, it's an easy way for Bubba to consistently make a full turn on the backswing and also to ensure he's in the same place at the top of every swing he makes.
For you, practice a few swings in the mirror and concentrate on your position at the top of your swing. Once you find the right spot, find an indicator to help you remember the right position. For Bubba, it's kissing the shoulder; for you, it might be see the watch dial on your left hand or tricep below your chin. A simple reminder will help you max out your backswing for more power, as well as help you become more consistent.
Furthermore, don't be timid to adopt your own personal swing style. Bubba, despite absolutely perfect impact position, has several unique swing moves and positions that work for him. According to Bubba, the key to not just hitting longer, more powerful drives, but also shooting lower scores, is to blend basic fundamentals with a swing you can repeat over and over again. Like him, the swing doesn't need to be perfect to produce solid results. The trick is in having a swing that produces predictable results.
One on One with PING Golf
We took a moment to speak with Pete Samuels, director of communications at PING about what makes the company tick. Here's a quick wrap-up of the exchange.
Golf Tips: How much input does the PING Tour staff have in the development of new equipment?
PING: Our world-class engineering team relies on a variety of resources for gathering feedback on designs, including our Tour players. Ultimately, it depends on the player profile for the club we're designing. Our Tour players have great insight into what looks and feels good, so that's valuable feedback. At the same time, we have to remind ourselves that we're in the business of engineering clubs that improve the games of golfers of all abilities. So we test clubs with all skill levels to ensure we're meeting the needs of every golfer.
Golf Tips: How has clubfitting changed? Or has it? What is PING doing to make fitting easier and more attainable for the average player?
PING: Since PING pioneered fitting nearly 40 years ago, the process has evolved considerably, but the benefits remain the same: more enjoyment and lower scores. The simplicity of the PING Color Code process made fitting easy to understand, and golfers realized immediate results. The greatest changes have come in the technology, led mainly by the development of the launch monitor. Today's fitting specialists have much greater insight into the dynamics at impact so they can make more precise recommen0dations. We also have the ability to structure a fitting to match the expectations of the golfer. We offer everything from a high-tech nFlight fitting using our proprietary software to a static fitting that serves as a starting point. Fitting means different things to different golfers, and we want to make sure they have a positive experience that leads to more enjoyment on the golf course.
Golf Tips: The new iN putters have a face insert. Can you explain the story behind it, and what it does?
PING: The iN putter insert is a lightweight polymer, which is plated using nano-nickel technology. This creates a lightweight yet strong insert that produces a solid feel. Golfers liken the feel to that of a steel-face putter. Because of the lightweight insert, PING engineers were able to reallocate weight from the insert cavity to the perimeter of the putter to increase the moment of inertia.
Golf Tips: PING has been known for being a true innovator when it comes to putterhead shapes, and the 2010 line of new putters is no exception. But when it comes to woods, the designs have remained somewhat traditional (no square designs, removable screws, adjustable hosels, etc.–at least not yet). Can you explain why driver heads have remained traditional while putterhead designs continue to become more radical?
PING: There's no correlation between driver and putterhead design from a shape standpoint. Our engineers approach all club designs with the goal of improving performance. Throughout the process, they look at numerous factors to achieve that goal. Based on an extensive knowledge base gathered over the company's 50-year history, they know what works and what doesn't, so they're designing based on proven theories. If they focus solely on one aspect, such as shape, they may be compromising other important elements of the design. They take a balanced approach to optimize the club's performance.