This season, I’ve been battling it out for driving distance supremacy with J.B. Holmes and Dustin Johnson. That’s good company. Busting drives is my specialty, to the tune of 311 yards per poke. It helps to be 6′ 4″ and a good athlete, but my 124 mph of clubhead speed comes largely from executing basics anyone can do, including taking a balanced setup, sequencing my downswing, and fully releasing the club. Follow my keys, and those frustratingly short drives will be in your rear view. You’ll grab precious yards, no matter your size or strength. It’s time to get fast, not furious!
1. Get Off to a Balanced Start
I focus on balance as I address the ball, making sure I’m in position to swing freely without my body getting in the way. To start, I step into my stance with my right foot while simultaneously placing the driver head behind the ball. This allows me to aim the clubhead down my target line more accurately than if I waited until both feet were in place.
Once the clubhead’s aligned, I bring my left foot in and shift my weight until I feel I have a 50/50 split, not only between both feet but also between my toes and heels. I know I’m balanced when I feel confident that someone either in front of me or behind me couldn’t push me out of my setup.
Lastly, follow my lead: Check that your back is flat with your shoulders pulled slightly back, just enough to where your upper arms “drop.” This is what gives you that “freeswing” feeling at address.
Caution: The distance you stand from the ball can vary from round to round. Fight this! If you under- or overreach, your shoulders will tense up, robbing you of speed. I like to sole the club without disturbing its natural lie angle, then grip it while my upper arms are hanging straight down. This sets me the correct distance from the ball every time.
2. Make a Lag-Free Backswing
To begin my swing, I move my arms, hands and club in unison while turning my body away from the ball. I want my body to move in harmony, with zero lag between my various parts. The trick is to start your takeaway with your core — those ab muscles you may or may not have been working on. Then let everything ride to the top.
Avoid the common mistake of “breaking” your wrists too early. It’s a huge power drain, because it effectively causes the club to release at the top of the swing. If you release your stored energy at the top, you won’t have it when you need it — at impact.
My advice? Delay your hinge for as long as possible. Trust me: Your wrists will set when the time is right. The key to a good, powerful top position is to maintain your one-piece takeaway for as long as your core and shoulders can turn. Don’t worry if you can’t get the club to sit parallel to the ground when you reach the top. A long backswing isn’t the be-all and end-all. It’s more important to “get set” and store power for the downswing.
3. “Squash” It from the Top
I keep my hands passive when I start down. If my mitts move first, my whole sequence goes haywire, wasting all the power I stored during my backswing. To keep that from happening, I “bump” my left hip and knee toward the target. Once I bump, I push down into the ground, as though I’m getting set to jump up and grab a rebound in basketball. I’ll even go as far as flexing my knees. Big hitters know that to swing powerfully through impact, you have to get low first.
Here’s another swing thought: Squash an imaginary bug under the toes of your left foot as you start down. This simple trick gets weight moving to the target while also keeping you “connected” to the ground — that’s critical for delivering maximum energy to the ball. To really pour on the speed, flare your left foot out at address like I do. Your hips will turn much faster.
4. Don’t Fight — or Force — Your Release
The weekend players I’m paired with tend to overuse the muscles in their arms and hands at impact. By that time, it’s too late. Speed has to build — you can’t cram at the very end like it’s a college exam. When I reach the hitting zone, I simply let the clubhead whip through the ball with the speed I stored throughout my backswing and downswing. Trying to steer or “hit” the ball only disrupts the club’s momentum, leading to shorter, weaker drives.
The key is to release the clubhead as naturally and as effortlessly as possible. Done right, it feels as though the clubhead is releasing all by itself. One thing to remember: Keep your grip pressure equal in both hands through impact, and hold it constant until the club hinges up in your follow-through. If you squeeze your right hand harder than your left, you could flip the clubhead over, hitting nasty hooks. (If your left hand dominates the release, you’ll hold the clubface open and slice it.) So take a Zen approach to your clubhead: Just let it go.
5. Stand Tall in the Finish
Hey, don’t sweat it if you lack the flexibility to achieve a full, tall finish like mine. Everyone’s physique is different. Just know that the higher and more balanced your swing is at the end, the longer you’ll drive it. Believe it or not, a full finish — with your right shoulder closer to the target than your left and your left leg fully extended — can get you some serious clubhead speed. The key is to flare your left foot toward the target at address. This makes it easier to turn into a comfortable finish while keeping your left foot planted on the ground. If you do these things and rotate all the way through, you’ll end up in a balanced, tall finish. Remember: Turn, don’t slide, toward the target through impact. You’ll tack on yards and split the fairway. And if you play your pals for cash, you might just make some “fast” money.