Conventional wisdom holds that long drives are mainly a product of your swing speed. The faster you swing the club, the farther your drives fly. But I watched PGA Tour player Jeff Sluman add 22 yards to his tee shots without an increase in swing speed. How do you explain that? Or why J.B. Holmes' average drive in 2008 (310 yards) was 16 yards longer than Tiger Woods' (294 yards) when they produce the same amount of clubhead and ball speed?
ANSWER: THEY CREATE OPTIMUM LAUNCH BY HITTING UP ON THE BALL.
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The Attack Angle: How It Works
To maximize your drives, you need to hit the ball on the upswing, because this increases your launch angle without adding clubhead loft. You'll also produce less spin while increasing the force with which you hit the ball. "I had been a low-launch, low-trajectory player, and when I changed to a positive angle of attack, I picked up 20-plus yards," PGA Tour pro Jeff Sluman said. "You'll be taken aback by how simple this change is."
When you hit down on the ball, even as little as 5 degrees, you have virtually no chance with a standard driver to achieve the launch angle and spin rate required for max distance, which for a 90 mph swing is 10 degrees of launch and 3,100 rpm of spin. (To get these numbers with a minus-5-degree swing, you'd need a 15-degree driver!)
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It's logical to assume that the clubhead travels parallel to the ground through contact. However, striking the ball this way robs your drives of extra yards. Our research with the TrackMan launch monitor shows that a flat hit generates 14 fewer yards from a 90 mph swing than one that strikes the ball on the upswing.
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Our TrackMan research shows decisively that if you hit the ball on the upswing, you'll hit longer drives with less spin without any increase in your swing speed. This ascending path creates the optimal launch angle and spin for all swing speeds because it increases club-to-ball energy transfer.
5 of 10Don Penny
The Attack Angle: How To Get It
Minor tweaks to your setup and swing make hitting up easy
STEP 1: Change Your Address
Move the ball forward in your stance and tee the ball higher. Try to find the bottom of your old swing and then tee the ball 3-4 inches in front of that old position. This will force you to make a more inside-out swing. Follow the setup changes at right to hit the ball with an ascending blow.
OLD BODY TILT: Upper body only slightly tilted back, with your hands even with your zipper.
OLD BALL POSITION: Opposite your left armpit. This encourages an outside-in swing.
KEY MOVE: Your right shoulder should be noticeably lower than your left.
NEW BODY TILT: Your body tilt is more pronounced leaning back.
NEW HAND POSITION: Your hands should be farther forward, in front of your left thigh.
NEW BALL POSITION: Find the bottom of your swing and tee the ball 3-4 inches in front of it. This will encourage an inside-out swing.
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STEP 2: Set Your Shaft at 45 degrees
Hitting up on the ball only works if your shaft sits at the appropriate angle at impact. Studies show that the ideal angle is 45 to 47 degrees (very similar to the ideal shaft angle at address). Since it's hard to know for sure what 45 degrees feels like, set up using a square box as a guide. Set the heel of your driver against the far lower corner of the box, then adjust your stance so that the shaft crosses the high near corner. That makes a perfect 45-degree angle.
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Once you can establish a 45-degree shaft angle at address, the secret is to re-create it at impact. Get into your setup with the shaft at 45 degrees, then have a friend point the grip of one of your clubs at your hands. As you swing into impact, try to match your hands with the grip. This makes your swing extremely consistent.
8 of 10PGA America (Hogan); Getty Images (Daly); Robert Beck/SI (Woods)
The 45-Degree Shaft Angle Never Goes Out of Style
Most Tour players have a shaft angle of 45-47 degrees* with their driver at impact, while most amateurs are above 50 degrees. A shaft angle this high will increase your spin and launch angle: High spin + High launch angle = Short drives.
*Fred Funk and Corey Pavin are both close to 40 degrees at impact. They're both straight hitters, but they're also short hitters by Tour standards.
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STEP 3: Changing Plane
If you have an out-to-in swing like most amateurs, your upper body is unwinding too fast and your club is approaching the ball too steeply. To change to a positive attack angle, you need to groove a more in-to-out swing. Try this baseball-swing drill to engrain the feeling of your new attack angle.
STEP 1 Swing the club in a baseball-like plane, above the ground, and drop your back foot back.
STEP 2 Make your regular golf swing. You will feel like you're making a more in-to-out swing.
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STEP 4: Check If You're Doing it Right
Get an erasable-ink pen and make a mark in the center of your ball. Place the ball on a tee with the mark at the equator of the ball and facing the clubface. Hit the ball and check your clubface you should see a mark. If the mark is high on the clubface, you have a positive attack angle. If the mark is low on the clubface, you have a negative attack angle and are losing yards.
STEP 5: Take it to the Range
At the practice range, tee the ball high and move it forward in your stance while also moving it slightly closer to you (by about two balls). This ball position will better accommodate your new inside-out swing and help you ingrain the feel of hitting up on the ball. Don't worry if you struggle at first. Stay with it and you'll get more and more comfortable. When you do, you are in for some amazing results!
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