The golf industry is obsessed with distance. From club manufacturers, to TV announcers, to the instruction industry – what sells in golf is Distance, and the promise of More Distance.
TV commentators harp on about how far players hit. But, for every Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, there are plenty of players on tour hitting unspectacular distances and making a good living. Tour driving distances have barely moved in 15 years.
The average PGA Tour player swings their driver at 113mph, the average LPGA player at 93mph. Fast, but when you consider that the Long Driving competitors are close to 150mph, you realise that the best golfers are a long way off being the longest hitters. Could the average Tour player swing faster if required? I'm sure they could find some extra mphs, but they understand the trade-off that exists between increased speed and reduced accuracy. They know their speed limits.
Playing golf well is about much more than power
However, the golf instruction industry is full of claims of “20 more yards” and “secret power moves”.
Very often the formula is; highlight a move from a pro’s swing and suggest that if you copy it then you too will hit the ball further. For instance, Dustin Johnson’s bowed left wrist, McIlroy’s fast hips, Sergio Garcia’s lag, or how Bubba Watson “uses the ground”. Simply shoe horn these moves into your swing for more speed and power... These may generate youtube hits, but are they helpful, or in any way relevant, to the wider golfing public?
Very few golfers would improve their games by prioritising hitting further. A tighter short game, better course management and mental skills and a more reliable swing – would trump 10 more yards, even 20 more yards, every time.
It is like putting a learner driver behind the wheel of a performance car and sending them out onto a race track. The learner driver needs to know how to keep a car on the road driving at 30mph, let alone at 200mph.
Forget trying to copy the “power moves of the pros” – that's a car crash waiting to happen.
I see it so often, golfers who’re far from competent in simply hitting solid shots and keeping their ball on the golf course, thinking that they can, and should, crank up their swings and add power.
Can you consider adding a little extra distance?
Here is a simple test. Take a mid-iron and 10 balls and pick two markers on the range, about 15 yards apart. Can you strike at least 8 out of 10 shots solidly and between the markers? If you can’t, then forget thinking about adding distance. Your priorities are improving consistency and accuracy.
Another gauge would be recent rounds you’ve played. How many fairways did you find? How many balls did you lose? If you’re consistently hitting 60% plus of fairways and regularly playing 18 holes with the same ball, then you have my blessing to consider adding a little extra power to your game. And a little more means no more than 5%.
Building a solid golf swing requires incrementally developing your skill
Firstly, prioritise strike; being able to consistently hit the sweet spot of the club. That’s closely followed, and goes along with, developing club face control and swing path control. All put together, these skills will allow you to hit solid shots with control over direction.
Then develop your efficiency, reliability and confidence to hit solid and accurate shots – the 8 out of 10 benchmark. Then, and only then, would adding distance come into the equation.
Forget what Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day etc. do in their swings and focus on improving what you do - one step at a time.