Almost every golfer wants to hit the ball further. Providing the extra distance doesn’t come at the expense of accuracy, they know that, it will leave them with a shorter approach shot into the green and using less club should give them greater control and mean more birdie chances.
In my time, I have counselled many a young golfer, who, in their desire to hit the ball further, were mistakenly swinging harder to swing faster. Swinging harder introduces tension, which can disrupt sequencing and timing and often result in less club head speed. It can also inhibit the quality of ball striking, because of the stability and balance issues that ensue. Any golfer needs to understand that extra club head speed is only one of several factors that will help improve distance and it shouldn’t be their first port of call. Solid contact beats a fast swing almost every time. It not only provides greater accuracy and distance, but, even more importantly, it also provides greater distance CONTROL.
Fast club head speed will only optimise distance when energy is efficiently transferred into the ball. That’s why I have always started any mission to increase distance by improving the quality of the player’s ball striking. Assessing the quality (and consistency) of a player’s ball striking prowess yields important data relating to a range of key factors such as arc height and low point control for the perfect ball-turf contact, control of swing-path and club face alignment, angle of attack, sweet spot strike, smash factor, launch angle and spin rate. For most golfers, the most immediate aim should be to improve their strike quality and get their smash factor up around the 1.45 mark. Another key factor is launch angle. In my experience, most amateurs need to launch the ball higher with the driver and lower with their irons.
Understanding how each of these factors can influence outcomes (which can be quite dramatic when two or more combine) is extremely important per se, but in respect of distance, being able to control all these factors allows golfers to take full advantage of the elements, such as wind direction and the condition of the fairways, that can have a major influence how the golfer should approach their quest for distance on any given hole.
Since power output results from a combination of strength and speed, efficient force generation is the order of the day: in other words, you will need sound biomechanics, efficient use of GRF and transference of energy up through the kinetic chain. It is important to remember that, for this transference to happen efficiently, proper sequencing is vital and that it is the deceleration of a unit that accelerates the next unit in the chain, therefore it is the deceleration of the arms that will ultimately accelerate the club head! Striving for maximum distance is often counter-productive, because sequencing suffers with a consequent loss of speed.
The key to effective club head speed has more to do with tempo and timing at impact than anything else. In the downswing, the aim should be to build speed that peaks fractionally after impact. Professionals often appear to swing more slowly than amateurs, yet their club head speed is 10-20 mph faster. It’s because they know how to generate optimal club head speed through impact. Far too often, golfers try to speed up their entire downswing, wasting a lot of energy in the process. Around two-thirds of club head speed is generated via a well-timed release of lag, so, at the risk of repeating myself, when it comes to club head speed, timing is a key factor.
I often see issues with fundamentals that are restricting the distances achieved. Adjusting a novice golfer’s grip can often free up the wrists and afford a significant increase in distance. When using a driver, slight adjustments to an average golfer’s ball position and axis tilt can help optimise launch angle and yield an extra 15-20 yards or more off the tee. Better players, by making contact slightly above the club’s sweet spot, can launch the ball a little bit higher and with less spin, which can add 10-15 yards more distance without any significant changes to their swing.
In my opinion, it is only once this very necessary groundwork has been done, that a golfer should consider embarking on a physical conditioning regime expressly designed to develop more club head speed. And even then, the first requirement would be to ensure that he/she has the requisite balance and stability to maintain control of the extra speed generated – so a lot of work on lower extremity and core strength. Optimising flexibility and fast twitch muscle contraction speed should be the final piece in ‘the swing speed jigsaw’.
A word of caution. Research data might suggest that the lower the handicap, the higher the swing speed tends to be, but that is because the lower the handicap, the better the technique, creation of torque and lag, transference of energy from the ground up through the kinetic chain, timing of the release and quality of strike tends to be. It does not mean that swinging faster is the way to go about reducing your handicap!
Lastly, it’s worth mentioning that most golf courses are between 5800–6500 yards long and do not demand excessive length to score well. Rather than working on distance, most amateurs would benefit far more from working on their short game and putting.