You may have heard the phrase, “Swing easy to hit it hard.” It may seem counter-intuitive, since clubhead speed is often seen as the be-all, end-all of driving distance.
But there's sound science behind the concept. Fact is, ball speed is more important than raw clubhead speed – a whiff at 110 mph is still a whiff, right?
The biggest hitters are those whose high clubhead speeds translate to high ball speed via a measurement called “smash factor.” Simply put, smash factor equals ball speed divided by clubhead speed, an indication of how solidly the ball is struck.
A strike on the sweet spot will generate a higher smash factor (greater ball speed) than a strike on the toe or heel at the same swing speed. In fact, a dead-center hit at a slightly slower clubhead speed, let's say 98 mph, will produce more ball speed than a miss-hit at 100 mph.
Which brings us back to the “Swing easy to hit it hard” mantra. You're more likely to make solid contact swinging at 85% power than you are at 95% power. The improvement in contact will compensate for the small loss in clubhead speed. Most likely, your accuracy will increase as well.
The key is to find the sweet spot in your swing, if you will, that generates the optimum combination of clubhead speed and contact.
You'll need access to a launch monitor, preferably with a pro who can interpret the data and guide you. (Many golf shops feature indoor hitting bays with launch monitors.) Test your smash factor at varying effort levels – 80% power, 90% and so on. You're looking for a number approaching 1.50. A smash factor of 1.47 is quite good, considering amateurs average around 1.44 according to TrackMan. (Pros are close to the so-called “magic number” of 1.50.)
No launch monitor at your disposal? Then your best bet is to find your natural tempo. Whether it's fast, slow or medium, this is the swing rhythm that will deliver optimum results.
Swing Easier to Boost Smash Factor, Hit Longer Drives
When you stand on the tee with your driver in hand, you probably only have one thing on your mind – hitting the ball as far as possible. This is an understandable goal, of course, as everyone loves to hit long drives. Long tee shots set up shorter approach shots, and shorter approach shots will almost certainly lead to more pars and birdies. Assuming you can control your power well enough to keep the ball in the short grass most of the time, long drives are going to make the game easier all the way around.
So, what do you need to do in order to hit long drives? For most golfers, the answer is to swing as hard as possible on each and every swing. If you watch a line of amateur golfers practicing their driver swings on the range, you will see that nearly every one of them is going after the ball with maximum effort. On the surface, this seems to make sense – after all, you need club head speed to produce distance, and maximizing your effort certainly seems like the best way to top out your club head speed. Unfortunately, when you take a closer look at this topic, there is a little more to it than meets the eye.
In this article, we are going to cover an interesting golf statistic known as 'smash factor'. While you are probably familiar with golf stats such as driving distance, club head speed, and even ball speed, smash factor may be new to you. Not to worry, this is an easy stat to understand, and it can tell you a lot about the efficiency of your golf swing.
To calculate smash factor, you simply need to divide your ball speed by your club head speed. When that simply computation is complete, the resulting number will be referred to as your smash factor for that particular swing. A simple example would be a player who is able to achieve a 150 MPH ball speed from a 100 MPH driver swing. When that is the case, the smash factor would calculate at 1.50 (which would be excellent, by the way). Obviously, you will need the help of some technology, likely a launch monitor, to get the measurements needed to calculate your own smash factor.
This is an important stat because it tells you how well the speed you create is being transferred into the ball. If you were to make a 100 MPH swing while missing the ball entirely, your smash factor would be 0 – the peak of inefficiency. On the other hand, if you make that same 100 MPH swing while contacting the ball perfectly in the center of the face, you would likely achieve a smash factor of 1.50 or beyond. Therefore, smash factor basically takes club head speed and quality of contact and rolls those two elements into one easy-to-understand number.
All of the content below is based on a right-handed golfer. If you happen to play left-handed, please take a moment to reverse the directions as necessary.
Find Your Starting Point
If you are going to use smash factor to discover an improved, more efficient golf swing, you are going to need to start by actually having your smash factor measured. Unless you have your own launch monitor at home – which is unlikely – this is going to mean paying a visit to your local golf facility. Most golf courses and even golf shops offer club fitting via launch monitor these days. If you call to set up an appointment, you should be able to have a variety of the parts of your swing measured for a small fee. Tell the club fitter that you would like to measure your smash factor and other elements of your driver swing and they will plan a session that meets your needs.
When you do go for this launch monitor session, don't go out of your way to 'impress' the machine by swinging harder than normal. Make your usual swings to get an accurate reading from the computer. Even if your numbers aren't as high as you would like them to be at this time, at least they will be accurate. Once the session is complete and you have your readings in hand, you can then set to work on improving your swing one step at a time.
If you are a 'typical' amateur golfer, your smash factor is likely to fall somewhere short of 1.50, which is considered be an excellent reading. Many amateurs fall within the 1.40 to 1.50 range, which leaves room for improvement moving forward. Pros usually come in at 1.50 or so due to their excellent ability to hit the ball on the sweet spot time after time. You might not ever reach that milestone, but you certainly can work on improving your number through swing adjustments.
As you work on improving your smash factor, you should be first and foremost concerned with improving the quality of your contact. If you are regularly hitting the ball in off the heel or out on the toe, it won't matter how hard you are able to swing – you will never live up to your distance potential. Instead of trying to ramp up your speed, work hard on making better contact. Moving the average contact point in closer toward the center of the face is going to immediately improve your smash factor, and your drives will be longer as a result. In fact, even if you have to give up one or two miles per hour in an effort to gain control over your swing, you still may wind up hitting longer shots in the end.
To keep yourself motivated while working on improving your smash factor score, consider setting an appointment for another launch monitor session at a specific point in the future. For example, after the first session is complete, you could schedule another session for eight weeks down the line. Having that date marked on the calendar would give you something to shoot for, as you could strive to record a better reading on that day than you did during your first session. Going back for another launch monitor session after you have had a chance to work on your swing is a great idea because it will allow you to see tangible results from your hard work. It is one thing to think that you are making better contact and hitting longer drives, but it is another thing to see that information on the screen in front of you.
Turning Down the Effort
In the title of this article, it says that you can swing easier to boost your smash factor and hit longer drives. Is that actually true? Yes, it is, even though most golfers are hesitant to believe such a notion. By backing off on the effort that you put into your swing, you may be able to find added distance thanks to the improvement in your quality of contact. A swing that finds the center of the face at impact more frequently is going to have a better smash factor, and more importantly, it is going to hit the ball a longer distance on average.
When you go all-out in your driver swing, you always run the risk of losing your balance and losing control over the swing. Golf is a game which is all about precision and accuracy, and it is extremely hard to be precise when your body is out of control. Even though the players on the PGA Tour are able to hit the ball incredible distances, you will notice that most of them have something in common when they swing the driver – they stay on balance and under control at all times. The swings that the top pros use during competition are rarely performed at 100% effort. Rather, those swings come in at 80% - 90% effort because the pros know that level of exertion is likely to lead to the best possible results.
During your next trip to the driving range, try hitting a few drives without expending all of your energy. This is going to feel a bit odd at first, but stick with it. Don't change any of your mechanics as you swing, just make a normal swing with a little bit less effort than usual. After you have hit a few shots down the range, you should start to get used to the feeling and you may notice that the results of your shots start to improve. While it can be hard to judge distance on the driving range, you are also likely to notice that you aren't sacrificing much in the way of power – even though you aren't trying as hard as usual. Thanks to improved efficiency and balance, your drives should travel a longer overall distance even without going at 100% effort.
If you are willing to commit to hitting your driver at less than max effort for at least one or two range sessions, it is very likely that you will become addicted to this style of swing. Your results will become more and more consistent as you go, and your distance will likely have improved as well. Even if you don't gain more than a yard or two of distance, the improvements you will have made in your consistency are going to be more than worth the effort you put in to the process.
Of course, it is one thing to learn how to swing this way on the range - it is another thing entirely, however, to learn how to swing this way on the course. When you head to the course for the first time after practicing this method on the range, you are likely to fall back into your old habit of swinging as hard as possible. You will see the long fairway stretched out in front of you and the temptation to swing at 100% effort will simply be too strong. Don't be too hard on yourself if you fall back into some old habits during the first couple of rounds, as this is a common mistake. Continue to practice your softer driver swing on the range and you should soon find that it becomes natural on the course as well.
Proper Fundamentals Required
Swinging a bit softer with your driver is a great way to add to your smash factor, but it isn't going to cure everything that is wrong with your swing. If you have a serious flaw or two in the technique that you use to swing your driver, it won't really matter how hard or soft you swing – the results aren't going to be pretty. To make sure you are swinging your driver properly while working on a softer approach, check out the following list of tips.
- Stay down in your stance. One of the common mistakes made by amateur golfers is coming up out of the stance at some point during the golf swing. Assuming you are doing a good job of getting down into a stance with plenty of knee flex at address, you need to maintain that stance to the best of your ability throughout the swing itself. Many players 'stand up' out of their stance at the top of the swing, allowing the knees to straighten as the club moves from backswing to downswing. This is a costly mistake that should be avoided. Keep the flex in your knees through the transition and into the downswing in order to deliver a controlled and powerful strike at impact.
- Turn your left shoulder away from the target. A great shoulder turn is one of the keys to quality play with your driver. To make sure you are turning your shoulders fully going back, make it a point to bring your left shoulder at least under your chin – if not farther. To do this, you are going to need to keep your chin up off of your chest at address. With your chin up, turn your left shoulder away from the target while holding your balance nicely with your lower body. By making a simple turn to the right with your shoulders, you will be putting the club up into a powerful position for a great downswing. It is easy to cut your turn short when you get nervous or anxious, so pay particular attention to this point if you find yourself in any pressure situations on the course.
- Maintain a soft grip. It is easy to feel like you need to hold on tight to the grip of your driver while making a swing. In reality, just the opposite is true. A light grip is best for hitting all golf shots, including your drives. While you do need to hold on tight enough to maintain control of the club, you don't want to go too far beyond that point. When you hold on tighter than necessary, you inhibit the release of the club through the hitting area – meaning your overall swing speed will be lowered. Since you are now trying to hit drives with a smooth, relaxed swinging action, it is important that you keep your grip light to encourage freedom in your swing. Simply put, you should be holding on to the grip tight enough to keep control of the club, and no tighter.
- Left foot flat through impact. Another way in which some players try to generate extra speed is by coming up onto the toes of their left foot as they swing through the hitting area. If you were to try this move on the range, you might feel that it does offer you a bit of extra power and speed at the bottom of the swing. Unfortunately, that power would come at a cost. Coming up onto your toes is going to make it extremely difficult to achieve solid contact on a consistent basis. Any speed that you did gain through that move would be canceled out by a decrease in smash factor. Do yourself a favor and keep your left foot down flat on the ground through the hitting area. You can still make a powerful golf swing this way, and your consistency should be dramatically improved as a result.
During your next practice session, keep the points above in mind as you work on your driver technique. If necessary, record a video of your driver swing so you can check on some of these points more easily. You won't be able to see the tension in your grip on video, but the other three points can all be reviewed on a recording of your swing. If you are able to bring together the fundamentals above with a controlled, 90%-effort swing, you should see more and more drives fly right down the middle of the fairway.
An Equipment Review
Back in the early stages of this article, we discussed the possibility of heading to a local golf facility for a launch monitor session. That session will be able to easily provide you with your smash factor number, which you can use to track any improvements you make in the quality of your swing over time. However, in addition to finding a smash factor number for your swing, this launch monitor session can be good for another purpose – checking on your equipment.
It is nearly impossible to play good golf with the wrong equipment. No, buying the right gear is not going to immediately solve all of your problems on the course, but playing with the wrong clubs can make this game harder than it needs to be. Golf is a hard game anyway, you don't want to make it any harder by having the wrong equipment in your bag.
In this case, we are talking specifically about your driver. Most likely, if there is an issue with your driver, it will be with the shaft. It is common for amateur golfers to use a shaft which is too stiff for their swing. Many players buy an extra stiff shaft when they only need a stiff, or they purchase a stiff flex when they only need a regular. Whatever the case, using a driver shaft which is too stiff for your swing is going to make it very difficult to produce a quality ball flight time after time. You will have to exert extra effort just to bend the shaft properly, meaning you won't be able to stick with the easy swing which is promoted in this article.
Going through a launch monitor fitting with a trained professional is the best way to figure out exactly which driver shaft meets your needs. Trust the expertise and experience of the pro you are working with, and ask any questions that you have along the way. At the end of the session, the pro will be able to tell you whether or not the shaft you are currently using is a good fit. If it is not, you can shop for a replacement which will be a better match for your swing speed and other swing dynamics. Once you do have the right shaft in your driver, it will take a little bit of time to adjust to the new feel and performance of the club as a whole. Once you make that adjustment, however, you can look forward to using a club which is working with your swing rather than against it.
It is hard for the average amateur golfer to believe that a softer swing could result in longer distance, but that has been proven to be true time and time again. If you can raise your smash factor by taking some of the aggression out of your driver swing, it is likely that your ball will fly farther down the fairway than ever before. Use your practice time on the range to get comfortable with a softer driver swing and take your new approach out to the course with confidence. Good luck!