The Crusher

Driving According to golf stat man L.J. Riccio, Ph.D., the most important factor for low scores is greens in regulation. Statistically, every extra green you hit in regulation is equal to two strokes off your average score. The problem is that, over the long haul, you're not going to be in position to hit a green in regulation unless you've driven it long enough for a short-iron approach. That's why this Going Low is dedicated to showing you how to stand back and let the big dog eat" – in other words, to crush it off the tee.

Shaft Length
All other things being equal, the longer the shaft, the further you'll hit the ball. However, there's a trade-off because it's harder to make square contact using a longer shaft (you'll actually lose distance if contact isn't made on the sweet spot). In order to discover which length shaft provides you with the perfect balance of extra distance and control, you'll have to experiment, preferably with three different shafts (increasing in length at 1__ã2-inch intervals). Hit 10 shots with each length on two separate occasions, each time noting where on the face contact is made (use impact tape or chalk to determine the location of each hit). As soon as your percentage of off-center hits reaches 30 percent, you've reached your threshold length.

The Swing
Long drives start at address. Many golfers feel most powerful when they reach for the ball, but this causes too much weight to be placed on the toes. As soon as the swing starts, your weight will rock back to your heels, forcing your body to straighten up.

To establish proper balance at address, it's important to stick your fanny up and out behind you. As your swing reaches maximum speed, your posterior acts as an anchor, which allows your arms to swing at full force and on a constant arc. As you settle into your address position, imagine that you're about to sit on a high barstool, and make sure that your rump is well behind your heels.

Driving The Transition
The quality checkpoint in every long drive is the transition at the start of downswing. Short hitters hurry here and spend the rest of the downswing trying to make the clubhead go faster. Long hitters, on the other hand, lay off the accelerator, then let speed happen by virtue of good swing mechanics. The correct image here is one of a skate line with a skater in the middle (the pacesetter) and four skaters on each side holding hands. As the pacesetter increases the speed of rotation, the speed of the skaters on the end is multiplied until they're whirling the fastest of all without any extra effort. This is exactly what happens to your clubhead as the pacesetter (your hips) increases its rotational speed for a big drive. If you keep your shoulders, arms and hands in sync so that no one part hogs the spotlight, the power of your hips will translate into greater clubhead speed.

Two Major Keys
There are a couple of things you need to accomplish prior to impact. The first is to keep your swing center–a point under the throat about halfway down your sternum–behind the ball during the entire downswing. It's called staying behind the ball and it's essential for powerful drives.

The second involves hitting the wall. Look at any long hitter and you'll see that they have a straight front leg through impact. The front wall formed by the left leg and hip sets up a powerful collision between the clubhead and the golf ball. If you're guilty of losing your front-side brace, practice straightening your front leg through impact, or at least stemming its tendency to slide forward during the downswing.

For A Few More Yards...
- Take a deep breath as you start your swing, then expel it just before impact. Martial arts experts use this technique to generate power.

- Relax your grip pressure. Studies show that pros have a much lighter grip than amateurs, especially in the trail hand.

- Use a long tee (or tape two regular tees together) to ensure properly striking the ball on the upswing.

- Here's a trick used by Tiger. Take your normal-width driver stance and sole the clubhead behind the ball. Then, without moving the clubhead, widen your stance by moving your rear foot six inches away from the target. This positions you well behind the ball for the big blaster.

- Deflare your front foot until it points at the target line. This helps promote a draw, which usually spells more distance.

PGA professional, author and Senior Instruction Editor Dr. T.J. Tomasi is the Director of Instruction at Lyman Orchards GC in Middlefield, Conn.

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