Speed Killers 1 – How I Got More Distance
I’m one of the smaller guys in long drive, which means I just can’t afford to leave anything on the table. To win the World Championship I had to learn a lot about distance. I had to learn what it takes to squeeze every ounce of club head speed out of a golf swing, and as you’ll see – I figured some things out.
Enough to earn two World Long Drive Championship titles.
Let me share with you some of the lessons I learned the hard way, so you don’t make the same mistakes I did at first. I’ll also give you a simple Whoosh Drill you can use to figure out where you are releasing your club.
Speed Killers 1 – How I Got More Distance
That was me, winning the World Long Drive Championship.
I think you can tell by looking at me … I’m not your stereo-typical long driver – the 6′ 4″ Goliath who looks like he could tie your 7-iron into a figure 8. Nope. I’m pretty normal. Average height. Average weight.
Which means I’m one of the smaller guys in long drive. Which also means I just can’t afford to leave anything on the table.
You see, I wasn’t gifted with an amazingly fast swing or the physique of an NFL linebacker. To win that World Championship I had to learn a lot about distance. I had to learn what it takes to squeeze every ounce of club head speed out of a golf swing.
Well … As you saw, I figured some things out. So I’m making a few videos to share with you some key concepts about how you can get more distance out of your golf swing. My hope is that you’ll find at least a few ideas that will help YOU learn how to hit it farther … a lot sooner … and with a lot less effort.
You see, if you’re at all interested in improving your distance … I’ve been there. Only I had to learn it the hard way – through trial and error. Mostly error. Especially in the beginning. ‘Cuz that was my very first time trying to compete in long drive. Now I could hit the ball pretty far, but not far enough to win. Not 381 yards.
So I had a long way to go. The competition is stiff.
Just GETTING to the Worlds is hard enough. I think there’s something like 10,000 people who try to qualify for it every year. It’s a tough road. The first thing you have to do is win at a local qualifying event. There’s usually 3 or 4 local qualifiers held throughout the summer in different Regions across the country.
When you win a Local, THEN you get to go to the Regional Championship … where you face the winners from all the other locals.
At the Regional you have to be one of the top 2 or 3 finishers … just to get your invitation to the World Championships.
Once you finally get to the Worlds – and most guys don’t – you are up against the best of the best. Professional long drivers, hall-of-famers, and super athletes who hit it a mile.
I remember when I first showed up at the site for the Worlds. Here I was, brand new to the sport, and I probably looked like a kid from the country staring at the massive stadium seating and ESPN TV cameras and the fancy broadcast booth. I remember looking out from the tee at the grid, which is supposed to be 50 yards wide but I swear it looked like it was about a half an inch.
I was definitely an underdog at that competition. But the cool thing that happened because of that World Championship was that it allowed me to pursue my passion: teaching people how to play better golf.
I’d played college golf at Stanford and was the assistant coach there. After winning the Worlds I went on to become a PGA Professional, and I went back to school to get my Master’s in Sport Psychology – all to learn how to be a better teacher and coach to my students.
You may not have the goal of winning a world long drive championship. But I know from my teaching practice that practically all golfers want to hit the ball longer, and they’d like to hit it more consistently.
Let’s face it, getting a little more distance off the tee makes the game easier and a lot more enjoyable…
When you start picking up another 20 or 30 yards on your drives, suddenly those long par 4s and par 5s become reachable in two. When you have a wedge in your hand instead of a 7-iron you start hitting more greens, and with a wedge you start knocking it closer. Which means you start scoring better.
Plus, there’s something magical about hitting a drive, dead solid, right up the middle. It feels sweet.
When you’re driving the ball well it adds momentum to your game, which makes you more confident and relaxed, which helps with your consistency, and ultimately to better scores and more fun.
Because there’s nothing worse than gearing up to blast one and then hitting one of those high, weak fades that feel worse than a whiff and doesn’t go any where except the weeds.
Or standing on the First tee and not having a clue where the ball is going to go or which swing is going to show up that day.
Or watching your buddies knock it past you when you know you should be hitting it farther.
Or the frustration of watching your game go south in the middle of the round and not knowing why, or how to fix it.
Been there. Done that.
The first time I went to a local qualifier I tried hitting long drive clubs. They are about, oh, 4″ to 5″ inches longer than a standard driver. I couldn’t keep the ball in the same county!!! The timing was different, the weight was different. Everything felt different.
I wound up winning the local qualifier with my regular playing driver, which my club-builder Jerry Trask had just built.
Now, what’s ironic is that I almost didn’t go to the local qualifier at all!
It just so happened that Jerry sponsored a long drive team, and he asked me to join it.
At first I was a little hesitant. I was playing a lot of tournament golf … and I didn’t know much about long drive …
But when he told me team members got a 30% discount on equipment I thought “OK. I’m in!”
Next thing I know Jerry’s telling me I qualified for the Regional in Mesquite.
Now, I didn’t know what a Regional was, and I didn’t know where Mesquite was. But when he told me it was an hour north of Las Vegas I thought … girlfriend, weekend in Vegas, a little golf, what’s not to like?
I had about a month so I practiced with the longer drivers to get ready. But what I didn’t take into account was that the Regional was like the playoff between all the winners from all the locals. The competition was a lot tougher.
And I almost didn’t make it.
I was leading the competition until the last two hitters of the day in the last round. One beat me by a yard, the other by two yards. Fortunately it was a major Regional event, and they took the top 3 qualifiers.
That was a wake up call.
When I got home I realized that I would be facing the winners of the winners, plus the guys who were professional long drivers. I got serious.
And that’s when I made the same mistake almost every golfer I know makes when they try to get more distance: I thought I had to hit it harder.
And I found out, like every other golfer, that the harder I tried, the worse I got. I actually lost distance and accuracy.
Then I tried the next-best thing. Actually, I should say the next “worse” thing: I went chasing after TIPS.
Some of the distance tips were good, some were useless. But the problem was that the Tip told me What to do and How to do it. But when the Tip worked I didn’t really know Why, and when it stopped working I didn’t know what to do about it.
But the worst part was that I didn’t know how the tip was supposed to integrate into my swing. You can’t really change one part of your swing and not expect other parts of your swing to change.
Then one day, I asked myself a key question…really such an obvious sort of “duh” question, but it ended up changing everything for me.
How fast could I really swing the club if there was no ball there?
My swing speed was about 120. Without a ball I could get over 170-180 mph. So I started to try and figure out what the difference was… and that’s when I started to break it down scientifically.
Immediately, I noticed that when there is a ball there, there is a tendency to accelerate to the ball and not through the ball… and what I didn’t realize at the time was that I was losing my lag too early when I swung to the ball. But I was holding my lag when I swung through the impact zone with no ball.
Then I noticed a few other things about my swing with no ball. I never lost my balance… I always ended up on my left side… and my hips and shoulders (core) turned to the target faster.
So I started breaking the swing down into parts to see where there were differences between the swing w/ the ball and swing w/o the ball – with the goal of trying to make the swing more like a ball-less swing… even with the ball there.
I studied, experimented, tweaked and tinkered.
I collaborated with Leith Anderson at the Golf Lab and measured specific results on the launch monitor.
We measured club-head speed, ball speed, smash factor, club-face angle, angle of approach, side spin, backspin, launch angle, and club path. Then we took the clubs apart and rebuilt them to see which variables were most important.
In the end the answer is simple: Speed.
If you want to increase your distance off the tee you need more club head speed through the impact zone.
That’s about as simple as I can make it.
Once I knew exactly what to focus on I was able to increase my swing speed more than 20 mph from around 120 to 140. That increase added 60 to 80 yards to my drives and I was able to maintain my accuracy. As long as I knew that everything I was trying had to be asked against the question “Will this help me get more speed” it was much easier to decide which parts of my swing to work on.
Shortly before the world long drive championships, I got a lesson on my mental game from my swing coach Ernie Barbour.
I remember the first day I got to the Worlds and walked up to the range. The first person I saw hitting balls was Kurt Moore. Kurt’s about 6′ 7″, former power forward for Utah, with a perfect golf swing. He was hitting dead straight, a mile down the range. I don’t mind saying that was when the nerves kicked in big time. I remember saying to Maureen “We’re not in Kansas any more.” I don’t think I slept an hour straight that first night. And I was the first one on the tee at 8:00 am the next morning.
But by the time I got there and got into the competition, I was ready.
Ultimately, I was able to scratch and claw my way through each new bracket – despite my nerves — make it to the finals… and win on my final and sixth and final ball and I beat – guess who: Kurt Moore – by a mere 29 inches.
And this is sort of crazy, but I ended up proposing to my now wife that day too…
While that was pretty cool moment, here’s a moment that I’ll never forget
What’s even cooler is that the world long drive championships set me on course to help others.
I knew what it felt like to hit it purely once and wonder why I couldn’t do it consistently.
I knew what it felt like to literally do the hard way – to literally try too hard.
I knew what if felt like to swing really hard and lose accuracy.
But then, I also knew what it felt like to get speed, and to hit the ball as far as you absolutely can.
As you learned from my own story… it’s not about hitting it harder
In the end, it’s not about POWER either.
It’s about SPEED – specifically accelerating club-head speed through the impact zone to the target.
So let me leave you with a couple of things to think about and try. Do what I did, head out to your yard, and just go practice swinging – without a golf ball – swinging as fast as you can. See what happens. See what you can learn. Becasue if you’ve never practiced swinging faster, how are you going to learn to swing faster? Let me show you another drill. This is one of my favorites: the Whoosh Drill.
In the next video I’m going to talk a lot more about the keys to getting more speed in your swing, and I’m going to talk about what I call Speed Killers and how you can overcome them.
See you down the fairway!