Instruction

Hunter Mahan: 6 Easy Ways to Crush It Down the Fairway

Photo: Angus Murray

A smoother backswing leads to a faster downswing.

I love driving. My caddie had better have a very good reason for handing me a 3-wood or hybrid on the tee box, because unless it makes zero sense to hit driver, I'm hitting driver. It's my favorite club -- the one I can count on in the clutch and lean on when other parts of my game are a little off.

This love affair is no accident. I've worked hard to not only improve my driver swing but also to understand it. I've gotten to the point where I instantly know why I'm driving well on good days and, more importantly, why I'm not driving it well on bad days. It boils down to hitting six key positions that almost automatically deliver speed and accuracy. Use my position-by-position checklist and you'll realize -- maybe for the first time -- that driving is fun and easy.

START YOUR SWING SLOW MOTION
Your swing is equal parts backswing and downswing, but the two parts couldn't be more different. The first one is about creating energy and the second is about expending it. My goal on every swing is to marry the two, but to create enough separation between them so that they don't blur together. I make my backswing, pause, and then start down. I can't do this if I whip the club back at 100 mph like a lot of players do.

I'm a big baseball guy. I love the way batters point the bat toward center field as they settle into their stance, slowly bring the bat back as the pitcher starts his windup, and then wait for the pitch. That's the perfect image of the smoothness you need in your backswing. To get it, swing the club back with your arms and hands in near-slow motion during the first three feet of your swing, and then slowly add your shoulder and hip turn. Try to get your club, arms, shoulders and hips to stop at the same time at the top. This lets you start them at the same time on the way back down so your body doesn't get too far in front or lag too far behind the clubhead.

COIL INTO YOUR RIGHT THIGH
The only tangible feeling I want at the top is my right thigh bearing all the pressure of my motion. If I make the ideal slow-and-solid backswing, my right thigh will feel so tight at the top that I could literally jump several feet to the left just by pushing off my right foot. The more intense the feeling in your right thigh, the better. That pressure is swing power!

As you move the club to the top, picture your right leg as a wet rag. Turn into your right side while keeping flex in your right knee and "wring" the water out of the rag. Do it right and you'll notice that you instinctively crouch down with your hips, increasing the number of wrinkles above your right front pants pocket.

You don't have to move six inches to the right of the ball, like some instructors teach, to attain this loaded power. Just make a solid, deliberate turn. This is the most important of the six moves, because if your weight isn't in your right leg, then it's in your left, and that's a bad position to be in at the top -- you'll fall back during your downswing and drain all the power out of your motion.

USE YOUR NEW DOWNSWING TRIGGER
The most frequently asked question I hear from amateurs is, "How do I start my downswing?" I appreciate their confusion, because I see how out of control they can be at the top of the backswing, and you can't start a downswing if you don't know where your backswing ends. The moves on the previous two pages should take care of your backswing-control issues. As far as finding a trigger to jumpstart your motion back to the ball, try turning your right shoulder down instead of across.

Because your upper body is tilted at address, your shoulders turn at an angle, so much so that, at the top, your right shoulder is noticeably higher than your left. Your downswing is nothing more than reversing the arrangement and getting your left shoulder higher than your right at impact. I like the feeling of turning my right shoulder down toward the ball because it helps me stay in the shot. The more you stay down on the ball, the less you'll rise up, a common error that produces too much of an outside-in swing path -- the move that puts your tee shots in the right rough.

Don't worry about moving your hips or unfolding your right elbow or dropping the club in the "slot." These things take care of themselves when you swing your right shoulder down.

GO TOE-TO-TOE FOR A PERFECT WEIGHT SHIFT
At the top of your swing you should have at least 60 percent of your weight over your right leg. Since you can't have this much weight on your right leg at impact [unless you like pushed shots or carrying the out-of-bounds stakes on the right], use your right foot to push your weight to your left side. The feeling I like in my downswing is that I'm getting my weight to move from my right leg at the top to my left big toe at impact, sort of diagonally through the ball.

If you practice this move and still can't hit it straight or far, you're probably making the subtle mistake of shifting your weight on your downswing to your left heel. I see this all the time in pro-ams, an error that comes from overturning the hips at the start of the downswing. As I mentioned in Move 3, don't worry about what your hips are doing. Hip turn is vastly overrated -- your hips have nothing to do with power.

If you can make this move while keeping your right shoulder low to the ground, you're on to something. Plus, you'll feel yourself deliver the clubhead to the ball from slightly inside the target line, the most powerful swing path you can follow.

LINE UP YOUR LEFT HIP AND LEFT FOOT
I constantly monitor my swing to make sure it's ready to compete at the highest level. I tend to spray it and lose speed when I overturn my hips or shift my weight to my left heel instead of to my left big toe on my downswing. To fix this, I'll swing in front of a mirror and stop in my release position. Although I believe your release is something that "happens," not something you make happen, this test reveals the quality of the moves that preceded it.

BAD SWING
If my left hip is ahead of the instep of my left foot, I've swung out of sync and have shifted too much weight to my left heel instead of my left big toe.

GOOD SWING
If my left hip is in line with my left foot, then I've matched the movement of my upper body with my lower body and transferred the maximum amount of energy to the ball. It's also a sign that I've correctly shifted my weight to my left big toe.

The old "swing in a barrel" theory has merit. Never feel like you're sliding or swaying in your swing. If you sync your upper and lower body and shift your weight correctly, you'll feel like your hips are turning directly over your feet.

PRACTICE IN SLOW-MO AND HOLD YOUR FINISH
Watch me on the practice tee and you'll notice that I hit balls using a very slow driver swing to start my warmup. This lets me feel every part of my backswing and every part of my downswing so I can make sure everything is moving correctly. It also allows me to finish my swing in perfect balance, which is something that's missing from the weekend player's game. Not only do most amateurs lack balance, many have a hard time just standing up! That's no way to finish a swing.

It's a tough pill to swallow, I know, but you must learn how to swing in balance before setting any expectations for your game. Hit balls with a slow-mo swing like I do the next time you visit the range. Don't swing faster than, say, 50 percent. You'll be surprised at what you can feel -- and fix -- compared with when you go full throttle. As soon as you can stand still while holding your finish position, add more speed and keep adding speed until you reach your maximum. A balanced, Tour-style finish will come more quickly than you think, I promise. So will the yards and accuracy that have been missing from your driving game.

 

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