For Gary Woodland, a special "practice driver" helps with swing changes

For Gary Woodland, a special “practice driver” helps with swing changes

Moving at 130 mph, Woodland's driver blurs as it races toward the ball.
David Dusek

LA JOLLA, Calif. — When a golf club traveling at 130 miles per hour hits a ball, the effect can not only be seen and heard, but also felt. If you stand10 feet away from Gary Woodland when he hits a drive, you can literally feel the collision as the ball screams off the tee and becomes a tiny white dot in the distance. It's as if a giant balloon pops.

When you tinker with that kind of power, even the slightest adjustments can have big implications, but Woodland, who started working with Butch Harmon just two weeks ago, is making some swing changes. Like other big hitters, Woodland has always hit a power fade off the tee, but Harmon wants the 27-year-old to be able to hit a draw as well.

To help him work on those changes, Harmon asked Titleist, the company that makes Woodland's 910D3 driver, to supply Woodland with a training aid.

“Titleist built me a new driver with a lot of loft to help me work on the range on the things I need to do," Woodland said. He couldn't keep a straight face when he told me, “My driver has 6 degrees of loft, but the one they built me has 10.5 degrees.”

On the soggy practice tee at Torrey Pines on Monday, Woodland explained that Harmon wants him to hit down more with his driver. While the shaft in the high-lofted driver is the same 96-gram prototype Graphite Design model that's found in his gamer, the only way Woodland can avoid hitting his 10.5-degree Titleist 910D3 into orbit is by keeping his hands forward at impact and driving the clubhead down and through the hitting area instead of sweeping the ball up.

As skilled as Woodland is, his first few shots with the high-lofted club looked like bottle rockets. "They went moon high," he said. "I mean, they were skyscrapers."

But as Woodland worked his way through a bucket of balls, he started to get the hang of it. He slowly adjusted his swing, flattened it a touch, and started to control all that loft and the spin it created.

Interestingly, Woodland has not needed to make any adjustments to his irons while implementing Harmon's swing changes. He uses a set of Titleist 712 MB irons, although his have a customized, shiny chrome finish reminiscent of the 710 MBs instead of the standard brushed chrome finish of the new model.

"[Hitting down] is a little easier for me with the irons,” Woodland says, “because my swing is a little more compact. The longer the club, the tougher it gets for me.”

The ultimate test of Woodland's new training aid and swing will happen on the golf course. He knows he has to work on hitting the draw every day and be willing to hit the shot in tournaments like this week's Farmers Insurance Open. 

“It's going to be hard, but like Butch said, we are working towards Augusta, so I have until April,” Woodland says. "Hopefully by the Masters we'll be all ready to rock and roll."