Everyone reading this article wants more distance with their driver.
It has been shown statistically that on average it’s better to hit the ball farther than more accurate with your driver.
I think that statistic will carry over to amateur golfers too, as long as we aren’t talking hitting the ball into the deep shit. I’m saying a golfer that’s closer to the hole, whether in the rough or fairway will have a better chance of hitting the green than if they hit the ball shorter and have a longer club into the green.
If that’s the case, why wouldn’t you want to hit longer drives?
I’m not going to touch on ball spin rate, swing trajectory, or swing instruction; this is a golf conditioning site. So, I’ll stick to the topic of fitness.
To hit longer drives, we need to increase driver swing speed.
The question is how do we do that?
If you’re a frequent reader of this blog, you know the answer will depend on your physical limitations. But, what physical limitations are more important to fix so you can increase driver swing speed and gain more distance?
I thought, why not compare swings of the top professionals and see what they have in common.
In this article, we will take a look at the slow motion swings of the longest drivers on the PGA Tour as well as a couple of LPGA long hitters and compare how their bodies move.
From the comparison, we’ll see if we can tell what part of the body generates power to increase driver swing speed.
Who We’ll Look At
Below are videos and screenshots of the five of the top six longest drivers in 2016 (I couldn’t find any good video of #5 Andrew Loupe).
Since Justin Thomas is on a win streak and is bombing the ball this year, plus the fact that he has a small frame compared to the others, I threw him into the mix.
On the LPGA side, I included two long hitters with Gerina Pillar and Lexi Thompson.
Players & Their Size
I’m not too sure about the listed weights. J.B. and Dustin seem a bit light to me. But body mass isn’t a factor in generating power or force in the golf swing.
The old F=Ma equation from physics doesn’t apply since the body isn’t hitting the ball. Driver swing speed is mostly about angular momentum, the length of the golf club and the radius, or length of the arm. Click the link for more on the physics of the golf swing.
Therefore, it makes a lot of sense that most of the longer hitters are tall.
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A Look at the Swings
In the videos, don’t worry too much about what the narrator is talking about, instead, look at their shoulder turn, how far the club goes back, if the hips start to turn before the shoulders are set, take at look at their pelvis at impact, as well as their feet just before and at impact.
- Short backswing.
- Shoulder 90-degrees at the top.
- Loads back leg and squats on the downswing.
- Hips don’t rotate much and are barely open at impact.
- No weight on the front foot at impact.
- Pushing with trail leg and glutes are clenched.
- Long backswing club past parallel.
- Shoulders past 90-degrees at the top.
- Loads the trail leg and squats at the start of the downswing.
- Hips are very open at impact.
- Front foot planted with weight on the heel before impact.
- Pushing with the toes of trailing leg and all weight off the front foot at impact.
- Pelvis jumps forward and glutes are clenched at impact.
- Short swing.
- Shoulder not quite at 90-degrees at the top.
- Hips start turning before the backswing finishes.
- Hips are open at impact.
- Front foot is planted with weight on his heel.
- Trail leg pushing with toes at impact, glutes are clenched.
- Long swing, way past parallel.
- Shoulder 90-degrees at the top.
- Weight is completely on the trail leg and starts his downswing by stomping his front foot down.
- Hips are very open at impact, even before he takes the weight off his lead foot.
- Pushes hard with trailing leg and uses more forward movement than the other long hitters, his glutes aren’t as engaged as the other golfers.
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- Swing short of parallel.
- Shoulders are not quite at 90-degrees the at top.
- Hips are moving forward before backswing is finished.
- Hips are very open at impact.
- His lead foot is planted and he’s pushing hard with his trailing leg, glutes clenched, which raises his body – sort of a jump but only enough to straighten his lead leg.
Not one of the longest hitters, but for his size, he creates a lot of power and can have some monster drives when he catches it all. There’s a lot of movement in his downswing.
- Club parallel at top of the backswing.
- Shoulders are not quite at 90-degrees at the top.
- Most of his weight is back but he’s very balanced compared to some of the long hitters.
- His hips explode open at impact.
- He jumps at the ball, his lead foot is off the ground while he pushes hard with the toes of his trailing leg.
- Glutes are clenched and his pelvis is pushed forward.
This is an interesting video of Mark Blackburn explaining how Justin Thomas generates power and driver swing speed using the Boditrak Golf Pressure System.
It might take a couple of minutes to see what Mark is talking about, but you can see how hard he pushes off the trail leg. I’m not an expert at Boditrak, it’s useful to see where the pressure is on each foot during the swing, and how your body center of mass is moving. I think it would be better if it showed how much force as well as the percentage of weight in one location.
Listening to Mark explain how Justin generates his power is the point of the including this video in this article.
- Backswing doesn’t reach parallel.
- Shoulders are 90-degrees at the top.
- Very balanced during the backswing.
- Hips are slightly open at impact.
- Her weight is on the toes of both the lead and trailing legs.
- Hard to see in this video, but she does clench glutes and pushes her pelvis forward, you’ll see this better in the video below.
- Not much upward movement in her swing.
- Well past parallel with her backswing.
- Shoulders are way past 90-degrees at the top.
- She is balanced at top of the backswing.
- Her hips explode open during the downswing.
- At impact, her lead foot is off the ground.
- She is pushing so hard with trailing leg that her body gets scrunched up at impact.
- She basic jumps off the ground with her trailing leg (I’ve seen videos of both her feet off the ground) by clenching her glutes and raising her body.
Gerina & Lexi
I included this video, of a side-by-side shot of Gerina’s and Lexi’s swing down-the-line. The reason is the shorts. Not to see their legs, but to see how tense their calves are during the swing.
Why do calf muscles tense?
To work the ankles and push off the ground.
The foot, ankle joint, and calf muscles are very important to generating power in the golf swing and are under-trained in my opinion.
How Do the Key Visuals Add-up?
I totaled up the key visuals for each player and entered the data into a matrix shown below.
What Does Each Mean?
So what do these visual key have to do with power and physical limitations?
Club Parallel at Top Backswing
This would mean that a long swing is important, in other words, the further a clubhead travels the more powerful the swing. Whether the club reached back from either increased shoulder rotation or wrist set, the generation of speed is by longer clubhead travel distance.
As you can see it doesn’t seem to be all that important that the club is parallel. Not all of the longest hitters swings are parallel at the top of the backswing. In other words, a longer swing helps some but other methods can be used, such as wrist set.
Shoulders 90-degrees Plus
Is the amount of shoulder rotation in the swing related to the T-spine mobility. What I saw surprised me, I figured all of the long hitters rotated past 90-degrees. Three of the golfers didn’t even get to 90-degrees, maybe the camera angle is the problem, but approaching 90-degrees seems to be enough T-spine rotation to bomb the ball.
Squats During Downswing
Would mean that a golfer loads up their body to push off the ground at impact. Again, three players didn’t do this to the degree that’s obvious. Still, all of them lower some part of their body to generate energy as they push back upwards.
Hips Open at Impact
Relates to being able to separate movement between the upper and lower body. At impact, your shoulders need to be near parallel to the target line. If you can’t move your lower body differentially to your upper body, your hips will also be parallel to the target line. Only J.B. had near parallel hips (they were open some) so this move should be important to increase driver swing speed and more distance.
Clenching your glutes forces your pelvis into an anterior tilt pushing your hips forward adding power to the golf swing. It was probably obvious that all of the golfers would activate their glutes, but I hope some of the slow motion videos showed you how much force is generated by these golfers from this action.
Lead Foot Down
Means that a golfer needs to post up on the front foot in order to support a powerful hip rotation. The video showed this isn’t the case, and in fact, some players lead foot was in the air to either allow the trail leg to extend and increase power or the pressure was removed from the lead foot helping the hip to rotate out of the way. The majority of power late in the golf swing is generated from the trail leg and didn’t need the front foot for support or balance.
Keeping it in place doesn’t seem to reduce power in some swings either.
Upward Pelvis Movement or Jump
Is an upward motion toward the target to the extent that’s obvious that the golfer is pushing up off of the ground. In the videos, you could see the golfers lead hip lower after impact. Again, not surprising since long drivers launch the ball and need an upward swing path.
But many of the golfers raised up out of the swing because they were driving very hard with the trailing leg.
What the Videos Don’t Show
Unfortunately, the videos can’t show you the rotational speed created by the body during the golf swing. I would guess that the golfers that didn’t rotate their shoulders more than 90-degrees and/or had short backswings generated a lot of body rotational power.
However, the purpose of the post is to see what the longest drivers had in common, not be a be-all-end-all on increasing clubhead speed.
Looking at the swings of the longest hitters on the professional tours shows that to increase driver swing speed you need to be able to separate movement between your upper and lower body. Having strong glutes to drive your body upwards to hit up on the ball and add power is also critical to driver swing speed.
These golfers are loading into the ground and pushing their lower body forward while rotating their hips open. This driving movement increases the tension on the core and the shoulders and arms that are lagging behind. The tension increases rotational speed by pulling the shoulders and arms through the ball.
Having good T-spine rotation appears to be more important in keeping your posture during your golf swing. But being able to rotate nearly 90-degrees while in posture will increase your driver swing speed by lengthening the swing and increasing angular momentum.
Being able to rotate your T-spine will also take unneeded rotation away from your lumbar spine and reduce your probability of back injury.
It also appears that mobility in the feet and ankles along with strength in the calves will help generate power from the ground.
If you didn’t notice how the pelvis changes position during the golf swing go back and watch them again. You will see the pelvis move from a neutral position to a posterior position and quickly snap into anterior tilt. Being able to snap into anterior tilt will only help your swing speed.
Below are the golfers at their powerful impact positions.
Summary to Increase Driver Swing Speed
To increase your driver swing speed you should assess and work on the following:
- Separate movement between your upper & lower body.
- Get your glutes strong.
- Make sure you can internally and externally rotate your hips.
- Have a strong core to transfer power from the lower body to the upper body.
- Be able to freely move your pelvis into a posterior and anterior tilt position.
- Work on ankle mobility and calve strength.
- Be able to store power in the backswing and explode at impact by extending your lead leg to help rotate your hip out of the way and push with the trail leg to drive rotation of the pelvis. While keeping your head as stable as possible behind the ball.
- Look at the images above, all of the pros have extended their lead leg, whether it is touching the ground or not. They are driving their trailing leg causing the pelvis to rotate open. Their head is still down over where the ball was on the tee.
- One area I didn’t look at was their wrist position during the downswing. This is often called lag. in the next post, I will take a look at that position.
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