Since retiring from the longdrive circuit in 2016, I’ve played in 20 pro events, including two PGA Tour stops. The goals? Full-time status, and transitioning my 145-mph swing into a reliable fairway-finder. Here’s how I’m getting straighter without losing yards — advice that can help any player, at any speed.
A FLARING START
The overall theme in my swing transformation project is “collected,” a term I use to describe the process of putting myself in position to hit the ball straighter without sacrificing my everyday speed. A lot of this starts at address. Where I used to peg a four-inch tee into the ground and just whale up at the ball, I’m now teeing it much lower and coming in flatter. This change allows the technology built into my driver to create the optimal launch angle, instead of me trying to force it. My spin numbers have never been better. I’ve narrowed my stance, too, and I use a lot less knee flex. This helps me better sync my arm swing with my body turn, which is critical for accuracy. I’m also flaring out my feet more than I ever did, which makes it easier to turn and engage my lower body. If your swing feels restricted, or if you use mostly your arms to swing the club, flaring solves a lot of problems.
My backswing has probably undergone the most transformation in my quest to become a Tour-caliber driver. Back when I was crushing clubfaces into 60-yard-wide grids, my goal was to create as wide an arc going back as I could. I’d push the club away from my body and across the target line and hold off hinging my wrists for as long as possible. Now I hinge the club very early in my backswing, with my hands remaining inside the plane. I’m much more vertical now, and although the clubhead doesn’t travel nearly as far in my backswing as it used to (it used to point nearly straight down when I’d reached the top), my body and shoulders are rotating more than ever, thanks to my new takeaway. My new moves simply make it much easier to sync my body and arms as I take the club to the top. As I stated earlier, I’m more “collected” and less reliant on my hands and arms to produce speed. One more thing: I’m also working to slow down my takeaway, which should further increase the cohesiveness in my swing. Careful: Starting slow doesn’t mean forgetting to turn.
GO FOR ROLL
The top of my swing is about a foot shorter than it used to be. Then again, my competition swing was cartoonishly long — how I was able to control a driver that Ferris-wheeled back to the ball at 150 mph for so long is anybody’s guess. So, yes, I’ve toned it down — I’m more in the 135-mph range now, which is plenty fast, even by Tour standards. Does it feel slower? No doubt, and that’s taken some getting used to. What’s helped is that I’ve changed the way I use my legs. In my long-drive swing, I’d flex my back knee out toward the ball and grind the toes of my back foot into the turf as I started down. Now I keep that knee quiet, and instead of standing up on my right toes, I keep my right foot flat and then roll it onto its instep (that is, to the left). When it feels as though my legs are working toward the target instead of toward the ball, I’m happy.
Note: While I’m working on keeping my back foot flat on the ground on the downswing, my front foot continues to rise up on its toe during my backswing. It’s just part of my DNA. That said, it’s a great move if you want to free up your shoulder turn and create extra speed in your motion.
STAY ON TOP
My number-one goal is to consistently return the clubhead at impact to where it was at address. It’s the whole key to transforming my bomber swing into a playing swing. I used to be able to land five long drives out of the grid and still win on my sixth ball. I can’t get away with that any more. For most of my career, the idea was to work under the plane and blast up on a ball teed way high. My swing path traveled significantly up and out to the right through impact, with a huge release. Now I’m working on staying on top of the ball — or covering it — with my chest, with the club moving more down the line through the hitting zone and then around to the left. It’s definitely helping me with my accuracy. Don’t worry — I have no intention of giving up my distance advantage. I’ve had people tell me, “Man, these days you barely hit it farther than Tony Finau.” What they don’t realize is that I’ve got two more gears in there. No offense to Tony or to any of the guys who I hope to join on Tour one day, but I can take them all!