That's how many golf fans reacted to Louis Oosthuizen's stunning, seven-shot victory at the 2010 Open Championship. Indeed, the South African wasn't exactly a superstar before running away with the Claret Jug at St. Andrews.
While some still have trouble pronouncing his last name (it's OOST-hay-zen), everyone in golf now recognizes Oosthuizen as a world-class player. He lost the 2012 Masters when Bubba Watson played a shot for the ages on the first playoff hole, and has a swing so solid it's easy to picture him contending in many more majors.
Oosthuizen's name isn't the only thing that confounds observers. Standing 5'10” and 170 pounds, he averages nearly 300 yards off the tee. How? His swing is a model of efficiency.
Oosthuizen's signature: A powerful swing that's free of unnecessary motion and quirky moves.
Who else does it: Kyle Stanley, Graeme DeLaet and Ryan Palmer hit the ball prodigious distances despite their relatively small statures.
What it looks like: In a word, textbook. Oosthuizen's swing, like those of his countryman Trevor Immelman and Aussie Adam Scott, is extremely polished.
Nearly all great swings start with a solid setup, and Oosthuizen's is no exception. He's balanced on the balls of his feet with good knee flex and bend at the hips, not the waist. His arms hang nearly straight down from the shoulders, relaxed and comfortable.
Oosthuizen's backswing is the picture of unity. The arms, shoulders and hips move together; the club shaft finds the perfect plane early and remains there to the top. Oosthuizen's left hip leads the downswing transition, the torso, shoulders and arms follow, and he delivers club to ball with all muscle groups beautifully synchronized.
Oosthuizen's classic finish is the elegant exclamation point on this highly efficient swing.
Why it works for Oosthuizen: A “high-maintenance” swing requiring lots of late hand action and impeccable timing wouldn't work for Oosthuizen. He's simply too small to generate the kind of power needed to compete on the PGA Tour without maximizing his muscle. That said, his excellent flexibility makes up for a lack of size and enables him to turn his shoulders and hips into powerful, fully loaded positions.
How it can work for you: While Oosthuizen's swing looks simple, it took many years and countless practice hours to construct. You're probably not blessed with that kind of time, let alone Oosthuizen's talent.
There's no shortcut to an Oosthuizen-like swing, but you can copy his foundation. A supple, balanced setup is the basis for an athletic and efficient swing. Integrate these elements into your address position with the driver:
- A shoulder-width stance – insides of feet positioned beneath outsides of shoulders. (The stance should become slightly narrower as clubs get shorter.)
- The right foot (left for lefties) square to the target line, or flared a few degrees to the right.
- The left foot flared toward the target about 10-15°.
- A comfortable amount of knee flex.
- Balance poised on the balls of your feet, with slightly more weight on your right side. (Weight should be distributed evenly on both feet with other clubs.)
- Forward bend from the hips, not the waist.
- A straight spine.
- Relaxed shoulders and arms.
A sound setup enables your hips, shoulders and torso to turn freely back and through, maximizing the big muscles' influence on the swing. Big or small, you'll see a distance boost.
Louis Oosthuizen – Small Build, Big Power
In most sports, power is equated to size. In football, you certainly don't want to get tackled by the biggest guy on the field. The biggest hitter in baseball is usually the one who can hit the ball the farthest, and a large basketball player will certainly make you think twice about trying to take the ball to the hoop. In almost every sport you look at, it is size that plays a big role in the power equation.
That isn't necessarily true in golf. While there are plenty of big guys who can hit the ball a long way, there are also smaller players who are capable of serious power. One of those players is Louis Oosthuizen. Listed at just 5'10'' with an average build, Oosthuizen isn't going to be physically intimidating as he stands on the first tee. However, with his picture perfect swing he is capable of launching the ball far into the distance. Of course, Oosthuizen is about more than just power – he has the all-around game necessary to compete at the very top levels of golf. He is the 2010 Open Champion, winning at St. Andrews, and also has three runner-up finishes to his credit. At his highest, he has been the fourth ranked player in the world, a sure sign that his game is capable of winning anywhere, at anytime.
The average golfer can take a bit of inspiration from Oosthuizen and others like him. Since it isn't necessary to possess a large build in order to hit long drives, every player should feel confident that they can add yards to their shots simply by working hard on refining their technique. In addition to Oosthuizen, pros such as Sergio Garcia and even Rory McIlory also are great demonstrations of how size is not a prerequisite to distance on the course.
If you are someone who stands less than six feet tall and you would like to learn how to launch the ball farther down the fairway, you are going to need to commit yourself to refining all of the details of your swing. Since you don't have the raw size to overpower the ball at impact, you will need to create your speed with efficiency and technical prowess. Once you learn how to move the club effectively around your body time after time, you should be able to gradually increase the speed of your swing until you are hitting the ball longer than ever before. There might be a little less margin for error from a technical perspective for smaller players who wish to hit long drives, but that doesn't mean that it can't be done.
In your pursuit of greater distance, it is important to note that you shouldn't be trying to exactly copy the swing of Louis Oosthuizen, or any other professional around the world. There are some specific fundamentals that you should use – which will be highlighted below – but you need to stick with a swing technique that feels natural and comfortable to you. No two players are exactly alike, so it would be a mistake to try copying the swinging action of any golfer, even if he is one of the best in the world.
All of the instruction contained below is based on a right handed golfer. If you happen to play left handed, please take a moment to reverse the directions as needed.
It All Comes Down to Lag
As a golfer with a relatively small stature, you are going to have to lag the club effectively in order to hit the ball long distances. It is just that simple. Lag is important to big golfers as well, but it is even more crucial when you stand less than six feet tall. Since shorter golfers don't have the long arms that a taller player is likely to have, the shorter player is starting the swing with less leverage to work with. That means the swing must be efficient, and the club must accelerate quickly as it approaches the golf ball. A tall player with long arms will have a lengthy downswing to work with, so they can afford to accelerate the club more gradually prior to reaching impact. You don't have that luxury if you are on the short side, so great lag is your best bet for quick acceleration.
If you watch a video of Louis Oosthuizen's swing, you will certainly see plenty of lag in the downswing – if you know what lag looks like. Lag can be defined as the angle between the left arm and the shaft of the club in the downswing. For Oosthuizen, this angle is significant and it remains that way for as long into the downswing as possible. Most players waste this angle early in the downswing, losing their chance to produce power along the way. If you wish to be a powerful player, learning how to hold on to your lag until the very last moment is going to be essential.
To add lag into your swing, you first want to know how much of it you have at the moment. Ask a friend to record your swing on video in order to get a good look at your lag on the way down into the ball. While watching that video, try to pause the recording when the club is about halfway between the top of the swing and impact. How much lag do you have at this point? If you are still holding on to your angle, you are in good shape for a powerful swing. Most players, however, will have already given up much of that angle, and there will only be a slight bend between the position of the left arm and the shaft of the club. After watching the video carefully a few times, you should have a clear picture of whether or not lag is a problem in your swing. If it isn't, you can move on to working on other ways to add distance. If it is, spend your practice time learning how to lag the club longer into your downswing, and only move on once you are happy with your progress.
Believe it or not, patience is a big part of lagging the club successfully. The reason most amateurs don't lag the club is because they are in a rush to hit the ball right from the top of the swing. You have to be patient during your swing, allowing it to build naturally from one step to the next until you arrive at impact. If you are in a rush, you will release the club from the top prior to rotating through the downswing – and you will waste your lag prematurely. Commit yourself to being patient, and you will be able to save up all of your potential power so that it can be used effectively when the club is approaching the ball.
Using Every Inch of Your Frame
When you are working with a smaller build than some of the other players on the course, you will need to get everything possible out of the size you do have. That means using both your lower body and upper body efficiently from the start of the swing all the way through to the finish position. You can't afford to waste any potential sources of power, so your practice sessions should be focused on learning how to tap into everything your body has to offer.
Following are three key sources of power that you need to be sure you are using on each and every swing.
- Lower body rotation. This is the main source of power that every golfer has available, regardless of size. When you use your legs to turn aggressively toward the target, you will be able to accelerate the club quickly in the downswing. Without leg rotation, any power that you are able to create in your swing will be mostly coming from your arms pulling the club down toward the ball – and that is a limited power source at best. Lag might be what delivers the final blow into the ball, but it is leg rotation that gives your arm swing some speed in the first place. Right from the top of the swing, your legs should be jumping into action by turning hard to the left. The legs should be the first part of your body moving toward the target, with everything else following along. Start your downswing with your legs and power that you didn't know was available will quickly appear in your swing.
- Full turn away. Before your legs can jump into action, make sure you are making a full turn away from the ball in the backswing. This is another point that is important for golfers of all shapes and sizes, but it is especially important for smaller players who can't use bulk to make up for a short turn. Making a good turn comes down to balance and patience, so maintain both of those things throughout your swing. You need to be balanced in order to turn all the way back without losing your posture, and you need to have the patience to get that far without rushing into the downswing. Spend plenty of practice time working on your full turn – specifically with the driver – and your swing will be better for the effort.
- Head back. Believe it or not, keeping your head back behind the ball can be a major source of power in your swing. Well, it isn't so much a 'source' of power as it is a way to make sure you aren't wasting any of your power. If you keep your head back behind the ball at impact, you will be enabling the majority of your body weight to help power the swing. Many amateur players make the mistake of drifting past the ball in the downswing, meaning they will only be able to slap at the ball with their hands when impact arrives. Needless to say, this is an inefficient way to go about hitting golf shots. Stay back by focusing on keeping your head behind the ball and you will be able to deliver everything you have when the club contacts the ball and sends it on its way.
Every golfer, regardless of height or build, should be trying to maximize his or her power potential on the course. The points above can help every player, but they are especially important for those who don't have the advantage of size on their side. Work on each of these three points during your practice sessions and your shots should quickly begin to come off of the club face with greater speed. In addition to helping you gain speed, these points will improve the overall consistency of your swing, leading to better results in terms of both distance and control.
Getting the Right Gear
Equipment plays a big role in today's game, and that certainly is true for smaller players who are trying to maximize their power potential. If you are swinging clubs that aren't right for your game, you will be harming both your distance and your ability to control the flight of the ball. There is no such thing as a 'perfect' golf club, because every golfer swings a little bit differently. You shouldn't be seeking out clubs because they are used by your favorite players – instead, you should be looking for the clubs that are going to be the right fit for your personal swinging style.
The first thing you need to understand about equipment is that the shaft is the most important part of the equation to consider. Think of the shaft as the engine of the golf club. Without the right engine, it won't matter what the rest of the club looks like, because you will always be disappointed in the results. Most golfers use a shaft that is too stiff for their swing, meaning they have to fight the club to get it to bend properly in the downswing. You don't want to be fighting your equipment – it should work naturally with the swing that you are making. As a general rule of thumb, look for a shaft that is just stiff enough to allow you to control the ball flight, and no stiffer. If a shaft is too soft, the ball will usually fly high into the air and come down short of your expected distance. Try out a few different models and find the one that allows you to make a relaxed swing while still producing reasonable power.
If you have tested out shafts for yourself and you aren't sure which one is the right choice, consider going through a professional fitting process to narrow down the options. Fitting sessions at your local golf shop or course are usually pretty affordable, and they can be a huge help in terms of educating you on the technical elements of golf equipment. After just one session, you should be left with a short list of shaft options that will be appropriate for your swing. Whether you decide to buy new clubs on the spot or not, the fitting session will likely be one of the best things you do for your game all year long.
It should be noted that you don't necessarily have to spend thousands of dollars to get good golf equipment that will fit your swing and help you to generate power. While it is certainly possible to spend a fortune on new clubs, you can also get good quality gear for reasonable prices if you shop around and are willing to purchase older models. It isn't important that your clubs look shiny or cost a lot of money – the only thing that matters is how they fit your swing and how they perform on the course.
One other equipment note – you may be able to modify the gear you already own in order to get better performance without having to spend as much money. If your driver club head is in good shape, for instance, you could consider installing a new shaft (if necessary) to improve its performance without the cost of an entire new driver going onto your credit card. It won't always be possible to work with your old gear, and golf clubs do wear out over time, but be sure to consider this option before making any purchases.
The Fitness Element
While it is not necessary to have a large frame in order to strike powerful golf shots, it does help to be in good shape. Louis Oosthuizen certainly works hard to keep himself fit, and that fitness goes a long way toward helping him produce those powerful drives and sky-high iron shots. If you would like to maximize your power output on the golf course, there are things you can do away from the course in terms of taking care of your body that will greatly benefit your swing.
Following are three areas of fitness that are specifically important in the golf swing.
- Flexibility. You probably already know that flexibility is important within your golf swing, as it will allow you to make a full turn away from the ball – setting up a powerful downswing. The most important areas of flexibility for golf are in the lower back, upper legs, and shoulders. If you have freedom of movement in these areas, you should be able to put the club in a great position at the top of the swing. Professional golfers consistently work on their flexibility, and that effort is rewarded with the powerful shots that they are able to produce.
- Healthy weight. There are plenty of off-the-course reasons to keep a healthy weight, but as far as golf is concerned, maintaining a good weight will again make it easier to turn back and through the shot. Carrying extra weight around your middle is only going to slow down your turn, which will reduce the overall speed that the club head is able to achieve prior to impact. Not only is a healthy weight helpful for generating speed, but it can also make it easier for you to avoid injury on the course over the long run.
- Strength in the hands and forearms. You don't need giant muscles to hit powerful shots, and most professional golfers don't spend a lot of time trying to bulk up. In fact, becoming too bulky in terms of upper body muscle can actually be detrimental to your swing. However, having strength in your hands and forearms will help you to control the club through the hitting area, and it will improve your ability to release your lag powerfully in the downswing. Beyond sheer swing speed, strong hands are a great advantage when you have to play from the rough, where the long grass will be trying to twist your club head left and right as you approach impact.
There is no need to turn yourself into a bodybuilder in an effort to hit longer golf shots. However, a good base level of fitness which includes flexibility and a healthy weight will go a long way. Most golfers that you see competing at the highest levels of the game have a lean frame, which is a good model for the 'ideal' golf build.
Without a doubt, Louis Oosthuizen is one of the best golfers in the world, and he is likely to remain in that category for years to come. With a swing that many consider to be the best in the game, Oosthuizen is able to consistently place himself in contention on the biggest stages in golf. One of the keys to his success is the power that he brings with him to the course, despite his relatively small frame. Without the size of an Ernie Els or Dustin Johnson to work with, Oosthuizen has to maximize everything he can get from his frame in order to produce speed and powerful shots. If you are a golfer who is on the smaller side in terms of your build, use the content above to work on optimizing your swing technique and you just may be able to find more distance with each of the clubs in your bag.