Each of my students completes a pre-instruction questionnaire, indicating wants, needs and goals. I’ve used this questionnaire for 20 years, and easily the most oft-noted goal is “more distance with more control.” Many of these golfers own sound fundamentals, solid iron swings and good short games, but nonetheless lack the skill to consistently produce pure and powerful drives. In your own attempts to improve, does it seem like the harder you try to gain distance, the worse it gets? Trust me, you’re not alone. I’m confident that learning from four typical driving faults and comparing those to the moves of golfers who hit it forever with a seemingly effortless flow of motion will help you do the same.
During a recent tournament telecast, the lead announcer raved for three days about the perfect swing of a particular player in the field. This golfer was cruising through one of the toughest golf courses in the world until the 11th tee on Sunday afternoon. As I watched, I said to my wife, “This is going left!” Sure enough, left it went and into the water. She asked how I could have predicted the mistake. No prediction necessary.
What I noticed that Sunday was that tension, for whatever reason, had crept into his left shoulder at address, causing his golf swing to totally break down and pull-hook the shot into the water. How much is tension causing you to lose power and accuracy in your swing?
Several bad thoughts will cause you to create tension:
-Thinking too mechanically about your swing technique
-Confusing power with speed
-Recalling a bad memory or experience
-Not being sure about the shot
The most common mistake is tightening up grip pressure and then trying to swing the club faster with the hands and forearms. Sports science research has tested the longest drivers on the PGA and LPGA tours and found several common tendencies, one of which was that every long-drive golfer had a lighter grip pressure than most other golfers. They set up with relaxed hands that transcend into every muscle in their body. Here are some suggestions that will help you to be more relaxed and more poised for the big drive.
-Add to your routine a starting thought of feeling relaxed by focusing on your heart. Take deep breaths with an inhale count of five and an exhale count of five. This will prepare you for taking a grip with a lighter, softer touch.
-Make mini swings in slow motion. Concentrate on your core rotation, with your hands and arms swinging freely, and the weight of the clubhead.
-Before you walk into your address position, recall the feeling of your most solid shot and how great it felt when the ball left the clubface. If you don’t have any good shots to recall, then think of any good memory that makes you feel good and positive (family, pets, etc.).
Major power losses result from a faulty grip, specifically one in which the left-hand thumb (the right for left-handers) is fully extended on the top of the grip. This long-thumb position often causes a chain reaction of faults in the golf swing. For starters, it forces a too-weak left-hand grip and, eventually, a faulty wrist hinge and a shaft that swings beyond parallel at the top (which invariably results in a casting of the club early in the downswing). I find it amazing that a single thumb can influence these damaging flaws. So the question must be asked: Is your grip thumb up or down?
The best way to practice a short-thumb feeling is by using a rubber band. Point your index finger forward and pinch the gap between the thumb and index finger closed. Place the rubber band around your thumb and index finger securely, connecting the two together. Now put your hands on the golf club. In a short amount of time, you should become comfortable with the short-thumb feeling in your swing.
Lack Of Flexibility
Power hitters have incredible flexibility that allows them to rotate their shoulders and torso behind the ball for a full, coiled backswing. Most recreational players lack needed flexibility, and when flexibility is missing, the tendency is to make up for it with quick motions that produce shots that wind up in the most peculiar positions on the course.
Stretching is something that, if done daily for just a few minutes, will give you the physical ability to generate a more powerful and fundamentally sound golf swing. Here’s a great, five-minute routine that we use at our academy.
Hamstring stretch. While sitting, stretch your legs as far apart as possible, then slowly lower your upper body without hunching your back. Hold for five seconds.
Torso rotation. Remain sitting and place a broom or even a golf shaft across your shoulder blades. Turn to the left, then right, holding for five seconds at each position.
Rotator cuff stretch. Place a pole or golf shaft under your tricep and hold in place with a finger grip. Pull the pole forward with your opposite hand and stretch.
Calf stretch. A powerful swing needs a steady platform, so your legs must be ready. A great way to warm up your calves and hamstrings is to prop your foot against a cart wheel, then lean forward until you feel the pull.
When swinging a baseball bat or throwing a ball, the natural tendency is to create leverage against the ground. This is key for hitting long drives as well.
Creating leverage against the ground starts with your feet. Begin by widening your stance to shoulder width, measuring from the inside of your heels. Flare your back foot in slightly to build a coiling post for your backswing and to support your torso rotation and weight transfer. Contrary to how it feels, this arrangement won’t restrict your ability to rotate, but it will stop you from over-twisting your hips and producing the dreaded reverse pivot.
Make a few backswings in this new setup and you should soon sense a tighter coil. More important, you should develop an almost automatic trigger to start your forward motion. If we go back to the feeling of swinging a bat or throwing a ball, notice how the forward foot plants with your toe pointing toward the target. This open-foot position offers the best leverage into the forward swing and will naturally encourage your weight to shift and allow your rotation to powerfully unwind the hips, shoulders, arms and hands with full acceleration. For this reason alone, I advocate addressing the golf ball with the front foot flared slightly open. On the way back down to the ball, the key is to use leverage to create the dynamic weight transfer and acceleration that produces power. This is a simple flow of motion, employing the same coordination seen in everyday motions, such as walking, skipping a stone, tossing a ball or even closing the door of your car.
Perpetual Broom Swings
This is a speed drill using the large muscles of your core. Hold on to the end of a broom just as you would your driver and rotate back and through aggressively, gaining speed and momentum, all the while maintaining control. The broom should never stop and there should be some serious swishing going on. In fact, listen for the “swoosh”—it should occur at the bottom of your swing, never before it.
Heavy Call Rotations
With elbows pointing down, hold a heavy ball out in front of your torso and rotate back and forth. Focus on releasing your right heel as you rotate through to your finish. Begin with slow rotations and then add momentum with every rotation until you can perform the drill without losing your balance and form. This is a great strength and timing drill that will increase flexibility with a serious ab workout.
Thera-Band Backswing Drill
Assume your address position and hold on to one end of the Thera-Band and step on the other end with your forward foot. Use your golf grip to hold on to the band. Begin the exercise by extending your arms as you would in your takeaway, stretching the band and hinging your wrists at the top of the swing. You should feel your lower body support and resist your upper body coil and your arms stretch as far as they can. Hold the extension point for a count of five.
These drills are quick, easy and, better yet, very effective. Pair them with the knowledge you gained from this article and you’ll soon be on your way to hitting more powerful and more accurate drives.
PGA professional Brad Brewer is the director of instruction at the Brad Brewer Golf Academy located at Shingle Creek Golf Club in Orlando, Fla. For more information about the Academy and Shingle Creek, visit www.2bgolf.com.