The Power Game
All golfers are different. Different abilities, technique, age, build and so on. But what do the vast majority have in common?
They want to hit the golf ball further.
In all my years of coaching I can’t think of a single student telling me they hit the ball too far.
Increasing the club head speed by 1mph can add around 3 yards in distance. What if you can increase this by 6mph? Would an extra 18 yards come in handy? With the gapping of irons averaging between 8-10 yards this could essentially turn a 5 iron approach to a green into a 7 iron. I’m sure most golfers would fancy their chances of getting closer to the flag more consistently with a 7 iron rather than a 5 iron.
So, the extra distance is an attractive proposition, but this obviously has to come without the pitfall of a downturn in accuracy. No point in hitting it further, but into the trees. This would seemingly rule out simply hitting it harder as this would almost certainly affect the timing and coordination of the swing making accuracy more difficult.
So, if we’re going to do this let’s do it in the right way and split this distance increase in distance into three main categories:
The Power Chain
Linking It All Together
You may be surprised to hear that you already do this instinctively from a multitude of tasks that you do that involve dynamics or creating momentum. Throwing a ball, swinging a heavy shopping bag into the car, even lifting and moving a chair all involve a similar type of energy to that of a golf swing. Let’s take skimming a stone as an example. This is an instinctive move that naturally generates speed and results in the pebble being thrown at high speed. In many ways similar to a golf swing apart from a golf club being in between the hands and the item we’re trying to move at high speed, the golf ball.
If we dig into this instinctive skimming move a little deeper, what did we actually do and where did the power come from? The initial power came from a move away from our intended direction of throw with the body, arm and hand. We then turn the body back towards the target followed in sequence by the arm and hand and at this point you are generating leverage from the speed of the body rotation, down the arm and to the hand and stone (image 1).
As the body reaches the limit of this re-rotation it will inevitably slow down and creating a sling shot effect down the arm, hand and results in the stone being dispatched at high speed. The body rotation and feed of energy through the arms and hands is the driving force to generating energy both in this instance and the golf swing. If this aspect is not working efficiently, your power will be reduced.
Obviously we have to be far more accurate with a golf club head than is required to throw a pebble. Therefore, we need the body rotation to be on a controlled axis to match the angle (plane) of the swing creating the required energy to a correct and consistent movement.
The posture provides these guidelines in which the body rotation (commonly called the ‘pivot’ motion) rotates around.
In short, a good posture, followed by a great pivot motion is the key fundamental to more power in the golf swing. The recommended 90’ shoulder turn and 45’ hip turn are well known but are still often overlooked to the detriment of distance.
Workarounds to physical limitations
If you’re limited to the amount of body turn you can achieve through physical limitations then there are ways to help. A few simple tweaks in the set up will help you achieve a fuller body turn and this mainly involves the lower body. Put simply, the lower body mainly does two things during the backswing. It provides stability for the upper body to turn and also resistance for the upper body to turn against thus creating a ‘coiling’ motion. It is more important to achieve a full upper body turn than it is to create this coil, therefore reducing the amount of resistance in the lower body will help make a fuller upper body turn. This can be helped by opening the right foot out slightly and dropping back also essentially creating a slightly closed stance (image 2).
The Power Chain
We’ve now maximised our power source from the body, now we need to make sure that power transfers from the rotary motion of the body and feeds outwards towards the club head both in the backswing and in the downswing. Imagine your club as a thick length of rope. Its floppy nature will emphasise the fact it can be best moved by momentum rather than physical movement. When we turn the body on the back swing we want the rope accelerate and swing from this momentum up and over the shoulder on the back swing. Then when we re-rotate the body on the down swing we want the rope to come back down, sling shot through what would be the impact area and continue up and over the other shoulder on the through swing.
This analogy will emphasise the body rotation supplying energy for the rope to swing from. We can however, get much more speed from a golf club from its stiffer make up with the help of leverage.
The creation of leverage is present in many sports and the similarities on how to generate this is clear to see, regardless of the axis on which speed is being generated.
From the javelin (over shoulder axis) discus (mid height axis) to golf (ground level) the force is created by body rotation which in turn creates huge amounts of leverage which is then released through centrifugal force, essentially creating a sling shot effect.
Clearly, it is not possible to consciously think of all this from the top of the backswing. Fortunately, it is a move that should be instinctive and we can encourage this through a simple drill.
Set up to a ball as usual then before you start the back swing, draw your forward foot in next to the back foot so that your feet are absolutely together (image 3).
From this feet together position we want you to hit a shot (or you can do this with out a ball). Make a smooth backswing and from the top of the backswing step into the shot by moving the left foot forward (image 4) and then swing through to a full finish (image 5).
During the drill the left foot will move forward and when it hits the ground with a stamping effect, it provides the pivot point for the body to then rotate around. The left knee, hip, midriff, will continue to turn out of the way, pulling, all the while generating leverage on the arms, hands, club shaft and club head. As the left side naturally slows through the ball, the speed will then feed outwards, down through the arms, hands, club shaft and finally the club head. By this point, the club head should be at the moment of impact and transferring all of its energy, onto the ball to achieve maximum distance.
Linking it all together (Co-ordination)
We now have a powerful pivot motion generating speed which is being fed outwards effectively towards the club head. All we need to do now is to ensure this sequence works in a coordinated fashion. Put simply, each aspect of the golf swing should complete the back swing at the same time and also the follow through. The body turn, the hand and arm swing and the club should settle at the top of the backswing at the same time and the same applies for the follow through too. This way, the faster the body turns, the more speed the club head has because they are synchronised and working at relative speeds. For example, at half way through the back swing with the left arm parallel to the ground the shoulder rotation should be about half way complete (image 6) and for a longer swing when the body has completed its turn the arms should be at the top of the backswing at the same time (image 7). Too much variance on this synchronisation will have an impact on the effectiveness on your dynamics, reducing club head speed. A common problem I see is that the body completes its turn too early in the back swing, causing the arms to lift independently to the top of the back swing affecting the coordination of the swing and normally putting the arms and club in an incorrect position as well.
A good drill to help ensure the body turn feeds momentum to the club head at the correct speed is to make sure there is no restriction in between the two. In other words, if the grip is poor, too tight or too much in the palm of the hands, the club will be over-controlled and will reduce the amount of ‘free wheeling’ the club can achieve from the body turn. Hold the club literally between thumb and forefinger with both hands (image 8). This should emphasise the weight of the club head and you should feel it hanging with gravity. Now, add a little body turn simulating a very small back swing and through swing. The club should start to swing from this body turn almost like the pendulum of a grand father clock. The more the body turns, the more pendulum it creates. This drill doesn’t need a golf ball to be hit and should be a small swing only but should really provide the feeling of freedom for the club head to swing naturally from the body turn. This co-ordination is the final link to more distance.
Next time you’re watching the pro’s on television you’ll notice these characteristics in each and every one of them. The swings may be visually different, and have varying tempos but they will all use the power of the body turn and transfer this speed effectively to the club head. Follow the same formula and you too could see massive benefits to your distance with a corresponding improvement to your handicap.