As the head golf professional at Latrobe Country Club, most of my Mondays were spent with my boss, Arnold Palmer, trying to help him prepare for the upcoming tournament. My main job was to observe and listen, and once in a blue moon he would ask me what I thought. We would load up a couple of bags with numerous golf clubs and head to the practice tee. He would work through each bag from wedges up to the driver. It was not unusual for him to try 5 or 6 different drivers, looking for that little bit extra. We would closely watch the trajectory of each drive, where it landed on the range, and make a judgment on whether it was worth taking to the golf course for closer inspection. These sessions were never about how to swing the club faster, only finding the best combination of driver and technique.
Today at the United States Golf Academy, we have the most accurate technology in the world to determine the actual flight of the golf ball. We actually do not need to see the ball fly, as our radar tracks the ball flight from start to landing. This detailed information, coupled with the similar experiences of all our golf professionals, allows us to confirm what we have all known for a long time. The reason that most of the players do not hit the ball as far as they would like is not because of a lack of club head speed, it is the wrong driver combined with ineffective technique. So what issues can you address today that will help you hit the ball a little farther?
Improve your smash factor. One of the advantages of technology is that we can accurately measure the speed at which the ball leaves the club. The smash factor is the comparison of club speed to the speed at which the ball leaves the club face. The theoretical limit is a smash factor of 1.5. This means at 100 mph club speed, the fastest ball speed will be 150 mph. More ball speed = more distance. In order to achieve this, you must strike the ball in center of the clubface or on the sweet spot. No matter how fast you swing the club, you can never make up for a poor hit with more club speed.
Angle of Attack. Another influence on distance is whether you hit up or hit down on the ball with the driver. Our technology shows us that an upward strike on the ball can improve your distance up to 12% without swinging the club any faster. The reason for this is the improved launch conditions (higher) and improved spin conditions (lower).
Find an Expert. One of the things that Mr. Palmer always stressed was that golf swing and the equipment used are not separate issues. If you are looking for help, look to the professionals that understand this concept. Club fitting and swing lessons should be part of the same conversation.
Next week – The fairway clubs