Speed Killers 2 – How I Stopped Losing Distance

I want to touch on the most common issues I’ve seen after teaching thousands of lessons to golfers of all abilities. I call them “Speed Killers.” I’ll give you a couple ways to knock them out of your game and get you to start picking up more distance, more consistently, right away.
Part of the answer comes from understanding the Ball Flight Laws, so I’ll give you a simple golf primer on the physics of distance.
We’ll then discuss the Hit Impulse, Excess Tension, and why trying to generate speed with your arms is a bad idea.
We’ll also discuss the golf swing as a collection of habits, and I’ll give you a really interesting exercise that involves simply crossing your arms to make my point.
There’s a lot of gold in this video, and I think you’ll begin to understand why they call me The Professor.


Speed Killers 2 – How I Stopped Losing Distance

In the last video I talked about the key to getting more distance: club head speed through the impact zone.
I shared a little bit of my journey to the Championship and the struggles I had trying to learn how to generate more speed in my own swing.
I also talked about why having more distance in your game is advantageous: it shortens up the holes, you build momentum, you can score better, and it’s fun to hit it as far as you know you can.
But I also touched on a couple of common misconceptions – the idea of hitting it “harder” and of thinking “Tips” will have the answer.
I want to touch on the most common issues I’ve seen after teaching thousands of lessons to golfers of all abilities. I call them “Speed Killers.” I’ll give you a couple ways to knock them out of your game and get you to start picking up more distance, more consistently, right away.
But first I want to set a little context. The context will help us understand why these speed killers rob us of distance, and once we know that, it’s going to help us zero in on exactly what to work on in the swing to get more distance. Let’s take a look.
These are the three aspects of the swing that we call Ball Flight Laws.
They are: Angle of Approach, Center Contact, and Club head speed.
When I do talks at Golf Shows or to Corporate Clients I’ll show them these ball flight laws and ask them to vote on which one they think is the most important when it comes to getting more distance. Which one would you think it is?
The most popular selection, interestingly enough, is Center Contact. But as we’ll see in a moment, the answer is Club head speed. Let me explain briefly what I mean by these terms, and then I’ll tell you how they can help your game.
What do we mean by Angle of Approach?
Quite simply, it’s the angle your club head takes as it is approaching the golf ball. It depends on how steeply, or how shallow, your club head comes into the ball.
If your club approaches the ball from the top, that is a steep approach, or angle of attack. With a driver the objective is to have a relatively shallow approach, where your club head is describing a path that is very slightly to the upside when it makes contact, and then continues up after impact.
With a steep angle of approach you are going to produce a lot of backspin. The club comes in at a steep angle and exits at a steep angle.
With a shallower approach it’s going to hit very slightly on the upswing, which minimizes backspin. The idea is that the steeper your approach to the ball the more backspin you are going to impart.
Here’s a couple of rules-of-thumb.
When I’m doing long drive and trying to get the ball to go as far as I can I shoot for a backspin rate of about 2,200 to 2,500 rpm. That backspin rate will allow me to have a ball flight that looks like a parabola: a flattened curving arc.
When my spin rate gets to 3,500 I start hitting balls that have more of a balloon trajectory, going up too steep and coming down to straight.
If I get over 5,000 then my ball will do a power climb. My ball flight will curve up like a ski jump, then come down steep.
That’s one of the ways you can use the idea of Angle of Approach to get an idea of how much backspin you are imparting. Look at the ball flight you are producing, and then work backward to see if your angle going in is too steep. The trajectory you want is the parabolic flight – a relatively flat arc.
Generally speaking the shallow approach produces a flat arc; a slightly descending attack angle produces the balloon flight, and a very steep angle of attack produces the power climb.
I also talked about one of the most common issues golfers have, which is trying to hit the ball harder. Whenever you try to hit the ball harder, it makes your muscles tense up, and you almost always result in a very steep angle of attack. That’s one of the reasons we want to have nice fluidity in the golf swing – not over-tightening with the hands – so that you can have a shallower angle of approach, and get the right ball flight.
The second of our Ball Flight Laws is Center Contact.
What do we mean by center contact?
Center contact is nothing too much more complicated than how well you hit the ball in the middle of the club face. A cool ninja trick I can show you is one of the techniques I use when I’m out at the golf range to figure out how well I’m hitting in the middle of the club face.
I take a sharpie or other marker and I’ll make a mark on the back of the golf ball. Then I tee it up so that the mark is directly in the back. Then when my club face makes contact, a mark is transferred to my club face, and I’ll be able to tell really quickly where I am hitting the ball on the club face.
What we know is that the farther away you hit from the center of the club face, the less farther you are going to be driving the ball. Here’s what I mean.
I’ve drawn some dots on my club, and this dot in the center represents the center of my club face. The more I can hit the ball closer to the center of the club face, the better I’ll optimize the distance on my drives.
Here are a couple of tidbits:
1. If I am as much as a quarter-inch away from the center, I could lose 5 to 7 yards.
2. If I am a half-inch off, I’ll lose 12 to 15 yards.
3. If I’m three-quarters of an inch off – which isn’t much more than the width of a dime – then I could lose 25 to 40 yards on my drive. If I am even farther away, I lose a lot of yardage.
The second part of center contact is how ‘squarely’ you hit the ball.
The more square your club face the more momentum you’ll transfer to the ball, and the more distance you’ll pick up.
If your club face is at an angle you’ll impart less energy to the ball when you make contact, and you’ll produce side-spin. If you come into the ball with a closed club face you’ll produce a lot of side spin which will produce a draw or a hook. If you come in with an open club face then you’ll hit it at an oblique angle, transfer a lot less momentum to the ball, and hit a fade or a slice. This is probably the most common issue most golfers face. With an open club face the ball glances off the face and produces a lot of side spin. It doesn’t travel as far because it is curving, but because you are producing a lot of spin.
Let’s talk about club head speed.
You may have noticed when we talked about Angle of Attack and Center Contact that both of them have more to do with losing distance. So the only thing you can do to pick up more distance is
1. Optimize Attack Angle and Center Contact, and then
2. Increase your club head speed.
Here’s a rule-of-thumb: For every 1 mile per hour you increase your club head speed you add about 2.4 yards to your drive.
Here are a couple more facts:
1. The average Tour Pro swing speed is around 112 miles per hour;
2. Tiger Woods swings somewhere in the 122-124 mph range;
3. John Daley is around 126 mph;
4. Long Drivers are up around 140 mph in swing speed. That is one of the main differences that accounts for the extra distance: it’s club head speed;
5. The average male golfer has a swing speed around 90 mph;
6. The average Lady swing speed is under 80 mph.
The idea is that if you want to pick up 20 yards, you need about 8 mph more swing speed. So if your swing speed is around 90, increasing it to 98 mph is not difficult. If you want to add 50 yards to your drives you need an extra 20 mph of club head speed. That’s more of a stretch, but it is do-able.
The idea to keep in mind is to make sure you are focusing on the right things in your swing to get the result you want. These Ball Flight Laws can help you analyze your swing, as well as issues with your swing, so that you can focus on improving the areas that are either 1) Costing you the most yardage, or 2) or the areas where you can pick up the most yardage.
Now that we have an idea of the three components that determine how far you are going to hit the golf ball, let’s talk about Speed Killers.
First, the most common: mistaking Power for Speed.
In your mind Power will translate to something like “I want the ball to go farther, so I’m going to try to hit it harder. Just thinking of the word ‘harder’ creates tension. Your body translates harder into tighter and tenser.
Tension kills distance. One of the most common place tension manifests itself is in your grip pressure. Let’s talk about grip pressure, and I’ll show you how you can figure out how to optimize the “tension vs. dynamic power” in your swing.
I use a subjective scale of 1 to 10 to measure grip pressure, with 1 being way to light and 10 being way too tight. Here are some rules-of-thumb for grip pressure levels:
1. Greenside: If you are around the green chipping or pitching your grip pressure should be around 3: a solid grip, but not firm.
2. If you are hitting irons your grip pressure should be 4: firm.
3. With a driver your grip pressure should be a 5: strong, but not tense.
Usually, though, where you start is not the same as impact. By the time they are at impact their grip pressure can climb to anywhere from 7 to 12. It kills their speed and accuracy, and kills ball flight.
I’m going to give you an exercise to help you determine your optimal grip pressure.
A really good golf swing will result in forearm rotation as you go through the impact zone. We don’t want any flipping motion with the wrists. We also don’t normally hold the wrists off. You want to see really nice forearm rotation as you go through impact. That’s one of the ways you are going to optimize your swing speed. You need forearm rotation.
You can imagine that if your grip pressure is too tight – particularly in the thumb and fore finger areas – and you are preventing your forearms from rotating, you are not going to get very much club head speed.
Here’s a simple test.
1. Make a fist. Squeeze your thumb and forefingers as tight as you can. While you are squeezing, try to rotate your forearms back and forth as fast as you can. If you are squeezing very tight you are not going to be able to get very much speed.
Now do the same thing, but keep the thumb and fore finger relaxed or limp. Tension free. You can squeeze with your bottom three fingers as tight as you want. Rotate your forearms back and forth.
What you will find is that your rotational speed increases significantly.
The implication for the grip is that tightening your thumb and forefinger to any level above 5 will slow your forearm rotation through impact.
The way you figure out your optimal grip pressure is to do this forearm rotation drill. Start out with your thumb and forefinger loose. Then begin rotating your forearms. Gradually tighten your thumb and forefinger until it is really hard to move your forearms. Then start lightening up your grip.
What you’ll find is that there is a spot where you can move your forearms really fast, yet still have a firm grip pressure.
This is one of the ways you check to see if you are swinging too hard, rather than fast. Lighten up your grip pressure, then keep your grip pressure consistent, all the way through the swing to the finish.
Here’s the second Speed Killer: the Hit Impulse.
When we see a hit impulse we see that the first move, from the top of the backswing, is to try to hit the ball. That means your entire body orients toward the ball. As a result, you lose your lag way too early in the swing.
Once you are in position at the top of the backswing and are about to transition down to impact, you want to keep the lag position – the “L” shape between the club shaft and forearm. You want to keep this position as long as you can.
When you have a ball focus you start your downswing by orienting toward the golf ball. Your hips and body will stop rotating right at impact. As soon as you stop rotating, you release your lag. Your hands are lagging slightly behind your body as you start to rotate. As you start turning down to hit your golf shot your hands are all the way up by your shoulders. If your body stops at the ball then you release your lag way too early.
When you orient yourself toward the target – and keep the focus of your swing on the target – your body winds up going to a different position. You allow your core rotation to carry your lag much further into the swing, and it is easier to get more club head speed through the ball. Allow your core rotation to bring your lag into position, and that will allow you to release out to your target with good forearm rotation that will get you maximum club head speed through impact.
Both the “hit it as hard as you can” and the “hit impulse” where you orient yourself to the ball remind me of another major problem that I see: Using your arms to generate speed and power.
It’s instinctive, and in some ways makes sense – unless you know better.
But as soon as you use your hands and arms to generate speed and power, you lose your feel.
Club head speed should be generated by your core: your hips and shoulders. This is just as true in chipping and pitching as it is in driving. In fact, it’s true with all your clubs, even your putter.
Think of a CD or record. The inside doesn’t have to rotate all that fast in order for the outside to move much faster. If I grab the outside of the CD and try to move it fast, it doesn’t go very fast. That is the equivalent of a golfer trying to swing with their arms.
If I grab the black dot on the inside of the CD and move that dot, I don’t have to move it any faster that I was with my arms, but you can see that the red dot turns a lot faster.
Your core is the engine. Your hands and arms are the governor, or regulator. If your core is generating the speed, then your hands and arms can add a little, or take a little off.
That’s where feel comes from. That’s why it is so important to learn to use your core.
Generating more speed is not about doing it with your hands and arms. If hitting it harder is not the answer, what is the answer to more distance?
I’ve already given you part of the answer: it’s learning to generate more club head speed through impact.
But here’s what I’m not going to do: I’m not going to give you any “tips” to increase your club head speed. Tips don’t work.
One of the reasons that Tips don’t work is that your golf swing is a collection of habits. It’s not so easy to change your habits.
Let me give you an example that is fun: tuck your hands underneath your arms.
Now look down.
Which arm is on top?
When I do this, my left arm is on top.
Now put your arms down. Then cross them again.
Only this time do the opposite so the opposite are is on top. In my case that means right arm on top.
Take a look. It is amazingly difficult to do. And even if you do it correctly, notice that you had to do it at a lot slower speed and very carefully. Even though I got into the right position, it still feels uncomfortable.
In order to make my right arm finish on top, I really had to think about it.
Your golf swing is the same. It is a collection of habits. You can’t expect to change a habit when you have done it once or twice or even three times.
Yet that is what happens when you try to make a swing change from a Tip.
When you get this concept of habits, you start to understand your swing in a whole new way.
When you start thinking of your swing as a habit you realize you need a System to change a habit.
If you practice folding your arms every day for two or three minutes a day, by the end of 21 days you’d be able to cross your arms automatically in either direction.
That’s the cool thing about a System. A system provides you with feedback so you know when you are doing something right or wrong.
We’ll talk more about Systems and changing habits for good in the next video.
Just keep in mind that whatever system you use to get more distance should optimize your swing for the Ball Flight Laws and the physics of distance: Angle of Approach, Center Contact, and Club Head Speed.

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