Are you a golfer who “comes out of his shoes” on every drive?
If so, how often do you make solid contact? How many fairways do you hit? Do you tend to wind up in hazards or, worse yet, out of bounds?
Good news: You don't have to swing hard to hit long drives. In fact, trying to kill the ball is usually counter-productive.
It's a simple fact that swinging easier improves your odds of hitting the ball on or near the driver's sweet spot. A shot struck well at 80-percent power will travel farther than one hit on the heel or toe at 100 percent.
Next time you're on the range, start by hitting 8-10 shots with a pitching wedge, maintaining a smooth, 80-percent tempo on each swing. Next, switch to the driver, using the same easy rhythm.
After a few drives, you'll find that your balance is steadier while your hips, torso and shoulders work in unison. Your contact will become consistently solid, your trajectory more predictable and your tee shots longer than before.
Why Swing a Driver at 80 Percent?
When most people take out their driver and step to the tee, they have one thing in mind – hitting the ball as far as possible. Of course, that desire is understandable, as the driver is the club you should reach for when maximum distance is on your mind. Unfortunately, there is more to playing good golf than just blasting away from the tee, and swinging as hard as you can is likely to end in a bad result. With that in mind, you may want to consider swinging your driver at 80% effort for most of your tee shots.
This is an idea that is not going to be welcomed with open arms by many players. There is an obsession with distance among amateur golfers, and that obsession leads them to swing as absolutely hard as possible in the hopes of out driving everyone else in the group. While the method of swinging at max effort might result in the occasional monster drive, it is more-frequently going to lead to disappointment as the ball curves into the rough, the trees, the water, or some other undesirable spot.
The idea behind swinging the driver at 80% effort is simple – by taking a bit of the speed out of your swing, you can give yourself a much better chance at making solid contact. It is actually solid contact that is at the heart of great tee shots, so it makes sense to put the focus on this part of the game rather than on swinging as hard as you can. Taking some of the violence out of your swing will help you to remain on balance throughout the swing, and you should also find that your swing is more repeatable from hole to hole. Believe it or not, professional golfers rarely swing with 100% effort when hitting tee shots, even though they are regularly able to hit the ball more than 300 yards. If pro golfers are willing to trade speed for control and accuracy, you should certainly be willing to do the same.
If you do commit to swinging at approximately 80% effort with your driver moving forward, you are likely to find something that is a little bit surprising – you probably won't lose much distance at all. In fact, you probably won't lose any distance in the end, and you might even gain a few yards when all is said and done. How is that possible? How could you hit the ball farther after swinging softer? It comes down to the quality of contact that you achieve at impact. When you hit the ball perfectly in the center of the face, you transfer energy to the ball efficiently, and you get as much distance out of your swing as possible.
On the other hand, when you swing as hard as you can on each drive, you are unlikely to find the center of the face very often. Sure, you will run into a perfect shot from time to time, but those will be the exception rather than the rule. On most swings, you will hit the ball somewhere other than the sweet spot, and you will lose some distance as a result. The distance that you lose due to poor contact is going to more than make up for any distance you might have gained with a higher swing speed. In the end, it all means one simple thing – most players will hit the ball farther on a consistent basis when swinging at 80% than they will when swinging full out. It might be hard to believe, but it's true.
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.
It's a Matter of Balance
The golf swing is a complicated motion, as there are a number of moving parts which need to come together just right in order for you to send the ball right down the middle of the fairway. However, despite the complex nature of the swing, some parts of the game are incredibly simple. That is certainly the case when it comes to balance. No matter what else you are trying to do in your swing, you can know for certain that you have to be well-balance as you swing the club back and through. If you hope to hit solid golf shots from the first hole on through to the last, you need to be well-balanced – that's all there is to it.
Some golfers are able to do a good job of maintaining their balance while swinging at 100% off the tee – but those players are the exception rather than the rule. Most people lose their balance when they swing as hard as possible, which is why it is such a good idea to back your swing down to 80% or so. When you swing at less than full power, it will be much easier to keep your balance, and you should expect to strike the ball more consistently as a result.
To test out this theory, head out to the driving range for a practice session. Take your driver from the bag and set four golf balls down in front of you to be hit. On the first two shots, hit the ball as hard as you can. Then, on the next two shots, swing at somewhere around 80% power. For each of the four shots, you are going to try to hold your finish position in place until the ball comes down out of the sky. Watch the ball fly while holding yourself in place, and only reset after the ball has landed.
When you complete this drill, you are likely to notice that it is much easier to hold your finish position after the 80% swings. The finish position is a great place to check your balance, as those who are off-balance will have almost no chance of holding in place until the ball lands. Also, as you go through this short drill, you are likely going to notice that the ball is going just as far when struck with your 80% swing as it is when you go all out. Now that you have seen first-hand that you can hit the ball with great balance and ample distance by swinging at 80%, you should be convinced that this is the right way to go out on the course.
Playing well on a consistent basis in the game of golf is less about hitting amazing shots and more about avoid terrible shots. For that reason, you want to make sure you are well-balanced at all times. Good balance is perhaps the single-biggest element of consistency in golf, and it is the consistent players who find themselves with the lowest scores at the end of the day. Let the other golfers in your group swing as hard as possible while trying to impress each other – you can just quietly hit solid drives at 80% effort hole after hole, and your score will likely be best when the round is over.
This topic goes right along with the point in the previous paragraph regarding consistency. One of the keys to posting good golf scores round after round is simply avoiding major disasters on the course. A 'disaster' in the world of golf usually qualifies as a triple bogey or worse on a given hole, although an accomplished player would likely feel that a double bogey is a disaster as well. No matter what kind of score you feel will throw your round off track, hitting your driver with consistent accuracy is one of the best ways to avoid this problem.
Think about it – most of the time, when you record a triple bogey or worse, that score has a lot to do with your tee shot. If you hit the ball out of bounds from the tee, for example, you will be hitting your third shot from the tee box and you will have to finish the hole cleanly just to walk away with a double bogey. Even if you manage to keep the ball in play, a drive into a bunker or other hazard could set you up for major problems.
On the other hand, hitting a quality drive all but ensures that you are going to finish out the hole without too much damage being done to your scorecard. With the ball in the fairway, you can probably afford to hit a poor shot or two without ending up at the level of a triple bogey (unless you hit the ball out of bounds, of course). There is a lot of pressure taken off of your game when you play from the short grass on a regular basis, so don't take this point for granted. Learn how to use an 80% swing to find the fairway more often than not and you will no longer have to sweat those disaster holes which used to through your game off track.
In addition to the benefits on your scorecard from avoiding disaster off the tee, there is also something to be said for the psychological advantage to be gained by keeping your ball under control. It is stressful to play a round of golf where you feel like you are always one bad swing away from posting a huge number on a hole. That pressure can wear you down over time, and you might find that you are playing less than your best by the end of the day as a result. Thanks to the control that is offered by the 80% swing with the driver, you can set that stress to the side and simply focus in on playing your best throughout the day. Golf is supposed to be fun, after all, and it will be much more fun when you aren't flirting with danger from the tee.
Of course, this discussion would not be complete without talking about the type of golf course that you are playing for a given round. Your strategy from the tee should depend on the kinds of hazards that are waiting to catch errant drives, and you should feel more willing to go for extra distance when there isn't much trouble waiting to the right or left of the fairway. Courses that are 'wide open' from a design perspective allow you to be aggressive with your driver, and that is an opportunity you should take advantage of when it presents itself. Think strategically off each tee by evaluating the risks in front of you and then decide how to proceed. By tailoring your approach to the driver to each course (and each hole), you will optimize your performance over time.
Fatigue in Golf
At first mention, many people would likely dismiss the idea that one could become fatigued while playing golf. After all, golf is a casual, relaxed game, where there is no running or jumping involved. Most people play golf in a collared shirt and nice pants – hardly the type of clothing that is worn in most physically-demanding sports. However, despite the reputation of the game and despite the typical dress code, it is absolutely possible to find yourself fatigued near the end of a round of golf.
A number of factors can play into fatigue on the golf course. First, there is the weather. Golf is played outside, of course, and you might find that your energy starts to run low on a hot day. Or, conversely, if you are playing on a wet and cold day, you might be tired by the end of the round due to the effort spent fighting off the elements. Playing golf in hot or cold weather is much more challenging than playing on a dry, mild day, so fatigue could set in at some point.
Another variable in this discussion is whether you choose to walk or ride around the course. Obviously, those who walk an 18-hole round are going to be significantly more fatigued than those who take a power cart. While there are many benefits to walking the course – including exercise, keeping your body warm, and having the chance to chat with others – it is tiring and the effort you exert over the course of a few hours can start to wear you down. The average 18-hole course will demand that you walk at least a few miles to get from the first tee to the last green, which is a significant distance to cover when you have a bag on your back.
Getting back to the topic at hand, swinging at 80% effort with your driver can go a long way toward helping you conserve some energy for the final few holes of the day. Swinging all out on every single tee shot you hit during a round is sure to wear you out at an accelerated rate. Specifically, your back and your legs are likely to get tired when you are trying to hit the ball as hard as possible. Losing the support of your lower body is the biggest concern in most cases, as you need your legs to be strong and fresh if you are going to make quality swings. Rather than demanding maximum effort from your body on all of your tee shots, hit most of them with a smooth and easy tempo while letting it go on just a few shots throughout the day.
If you aren't sure if fatigue has been a problem for you in past rounds, simply think about the results of some of the recent rounds you have played. How have you fared on the final six holes of each of those rounds? Are you usually finishing strong, or do you fade down the stretch as you lose focus and your body runs out of steam? If the end of your recent rounds has been a problem, there is a good bet that you need to work on using a little less energy on each swing. Moving from 100% effort down to 75-80% on most of your tee shots is a great way to save your legs for late in the day when you really need them to help you across the finish line.
Consistency Throughout the Bag
It is relatively well-known that you should swing your irons at something less than full power for most of your shots. Swinging your irons flat out at 100% is going to add too much spin to the ball, and it is going to make it difficult to achieve solid contact as well. However, it can be tough to transition from swinging at full effort on your driver to then swinging softer when hitting iron shots. By swinging all of your clubs at 80%, you can avoid that awkward transition and your whole game should become more consistent as a result.
The difference in the distance that you hit your various clubs should come more from the differences in the design of those clubs rather than from changes in your swing. For instance, you should hit your wedges shorter than your driver because they have more loft and a shorter shaft, rather than because you are swinging so much softer with the short clubs. Everyone knows that consistency is hard to find in golf, but one way to take yourself closer to that goal is by making your swing as repeatable as possible from club to club throughout the bag.
One of the many advantages to this kind of consistency is the fact that you may be able to produce the same kind of ball flight from club to club when you approach the game this way. If you were to swing significantly harder with your driver as compared to your irons, you may find that you produce two different ball flights with those swing variations. When that is the case, you have to get used to more than one shot shape, and you have to learn how to aim accordingly. While that might be a reasonable task for a professional golfer, it is a lot to ask for an amateur player.
Instead of having to figure out how the ball is going to curve with each of your different swing/club combinations, stick with the same swing throughout your set and replicate your ball flight from top to bottom in your bag. If you cut the ball from the tee, work on hitting the same kind of cut with your irons. Or, if you turn it over from right to left from the tee, try to produce the same shot with the rest of the set. It isn't required to hit the same ball flight with all of your clubs, but it certainly is a great step in the quest to be as consistent as possible.
Players who like to swing the driver with max effort often have trouble with the 'touch' shots that come up during every round of golf. When you need to hit the ball with a bit of touch, such as when hitting a half-wedge into the green, you want to have as much feel and control in your hands as possible. This is a serious challenge for players who are always going after the ball with 100% effort, which is why power players often struggle around the greens. Don't put yourself in this category. By learning to swing softer with all of your clubs – including your driver – you can take a big step toward the goal of lower scores.
Swinging your driver at 80% rather than full effort might not sound like very much fun at first, but you will likely fall in love the results that you get out of this method. Once you see that you can actually produce great shots with plenty of distance while swinging at less than full power, you won't want to play any other way.