You may remember from a previous article how hitting downward at impact imparts extra spin on the ball because as the club descends, the ball rides up on the clubface some.
This is ideal for your irons and especially for shots when you need to have the ball carry an obstacle and stop quickly. But with the driver, we want distance.
One of the greatest technological advancements in golf has been the launch monitor which uses lasers to detect the results of each shot. A good launch monitor can tell you club head speed, ball speed, launch angle, how much your ball is spinning, how far your shot carried in the air, and even an estimate of how far it would roll out. A launch monitor is a great way to get fitted for a driver that will give you maximum distance.
For example, let's say we have a tour player with a high swing speed trying out a regular flex, high lofted driver. You would be able to tell from the launch monitor data that the launch and spin rates are above the ideal spectrum for someone with such a high swing speed. If you could see a graph of the ball flight from the side, (Pictured) you would see that the ball ballooned in the air and landed softly. Ideally, for maximum distance, he wants the flight to be more penetrating and to produce some roll after landing. Next, if the tour player tries a driver with a lower loft and stiffer shaft, he would notice the launch angle and spin rate lowered which would most likely result in longer drives in both carry and roll. There are specific equations used by launch monitor fitters to optimize swing speed, launch angles and spin rates so that your driver is properly set up to maximize your driving distance.
Since too much spin is not ideal in driving the golf ball, there are a few things you can do to lower the spin without changing equipment. Since hitting down on the ball increases the spin, it is encouraged with the driver that you make contact with the ball at the bottom of the arc OR just after the bottom of the arc as the club head is starting to move upward. This will not only increase the launch angle but it will also lower the effective spin rate. The part of the face where you make contact also has an effect on launch angle and spin rate. The face on drivers is curved from the top of the face to the bottom bulge, so hitting higher on the clubface will result in a higher launch angle with lower spin while hitting lower on the face will result in a lower initial trajectory with a higher spin rate. With today's drivers with their trampoline effect faces, it's generally best to hit on the sweet spot or sometimes just slightly above it.
With that said, I'd like to explain how making contact with the driver while it's on the upswing can help you hit better drives. When I refer to the contact being made on the upswing, I do not intend to suggest swinging up on the golf ball. If you position the ball in a good spot in your stance such as in line with your left foot for the driver then the swing should be set up for the bottom of your down swing arc to occur when the driver is around the middle of your stance and the strike is made as the club is starting to move upward. In order to effectively do this with your swing requires some spinal tilt away from the target. (picture) This is to ensure that shots with the driver are caught on a level or slightly upward angle of attack. Notice that the head and torso stay behind the ball through impact.
Hit Up with a Rising Club Head for Long Drives
For most golf shots that you hit as you move around the course, you are going to want to hit down on the ball. This is true for full swings with your irons, it is true of chip shots, and it is true when you are trying to 'punch' the ball to keep it low and allow it to roll. However, there is one notable occasion when you actually want to hit up on the ball - when you are hitting a driver from the tee. When the driver is in your hands and you are hitting the ball from the tee on a par four or par five, you will want to hit up through impact with a rising club head in order to maximize distance.
The whole point of hitting up through the ball with your driver is to optimize the launch angle of your shots while minimizing backspin. Putting backspin on the ball is a great thing when you want it to climb high in the air and stop quickly when it lands, but that is not what you want out of your driver. Instead, you want the ball to fly on a flat trajectory with a minimal amount of backswing - that way you will carry the ball well down the fairway, and then it will bounce and roll (hopefully) after is comes down. Most golfers think that they simply need to swing as hard as possible in order to hit the ball good distances, but it is a little more complicated than that. Swing speed is great, but it will only translate to long drives when you have your launch conditions dialed in as well.
Unfortunately, you can't just stand over the ball and decide to hit up - you have to prepare yourself to do so by making sure the ball and your body are in a good position to make an upward strike. Many golfers set themselves up for failure with poor setup and technique, making it nearly impossible to hit up through the shot as needed for maximum distance. If you are willing to take the time to work on the basic fundamentals needed to achieve an upward hit, you might be surprised to find how much yardage you can add to your shots without swinging any harder.
It would be wise to work on this fundamental of driving the golf ball before you go out and spend hundreds on a new driver in the pursuit of extra distance. Plenty of golfers simply try to buy distance through the use of new equipment, but rarely does that plan work out in their favor. Using the right equipment for your swing can absolutely help you play better golf, but you should make sure your swing is in good condition in the first place before you look into new gear. Put the time in to learn how to hit up on the ball correctly first, and then look into a new driver later if you would like to further optimize your ball flight.
All of the instruction 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.
Preparing for Success
Setting up properly is key in golf. In fact, getting the set up right might actually be the most important job of all on the course. After all, if you can set up over the ball correctly, you should have very little trouble hitting shots that head at least in the general direction of your target. Most amateur players focus most of their attention on the moving parts of the swing, but it is really the setup that dictates much of the outcome of your shots.
The setup that you are going to use at address when hitting a driver is not significantly different from the setup that you will use on other shots. You will want to keep the same posture over the ball, you will want to have your chin up and your eyes down, and you will want to feel relaxed and at ease. However, there are some subtle differences between your address position for a driver shot and the other shots that you hit, so those need to be watched carefully before hitting any drive. The following list contains the three key points that you need to watch for specifically when hoping to hit up on the driver.
- Ball position. In order to swing up into the back of the ball with the driver, you have to give the club room to 'bottom out' prior to impact. That means that the ball needs to be positioned forward in your stance farther than it would be for any other shot. For most players, the ideal ball position on a driver shot is going to have the ball lined up with the inside of the left foot at address. Since the club head should bottom out somewhere near the middle of your stance, lining the ball up with your left foot will give the club head time to start rising back up off the ground before it catches the ball. This ball position is a good starting point for your practice sessions, but you can feel free to move it slightly forward or back from there as needed to dial in your ball flight.
- Wide stance. You will want to stand with your feet farther apart while swinging a driver than you would with the other clubs in your bag. The driver requires a big, aggressive swing, and you need to keep your balance while making that swing - so a wide stance is the smart choice. Also, standing with your feet farther apart will make it easier to avoiding sliding during the downswing, which is a common mistake made by amateur players. The golf swing should be all about rotation, so sliding to the right or left while you swing is a big no-no.
- Low right shoulder. As you stand over the ball and prepare to swing, make sure your right shoulder is in a low position. This is the position that the shoulder will need to be in at impact, so it only makes sense to start out that same way. By placing some tilt in your shoulders when addressing the ball, your ball will simply have to find a way to return to that position again at impact in order to create an upward swing plane through the ball. This kind of low shoulder position may make it difficult to hit iron shots from the fairway, but it is perfect for launching the ball off of a tee with your driver.
Setting up correctly over the ball with your driver will take you most of the way toward success in the challenge of hitting up properly. Of course, you will still have to make a proper swing in order to see your ball sailing down the center of the fairway, but starting out from a fundamentally sound position is a great advantage. Take the time to work through the points on the list above and only move on when you are sure that all of them are present in your driver address position.
Making the Swing
Now that your preparations have been made and you are in a great address position, it is time to make your swing. Again, just as was the case with your stance, you aren't going to make too many changes to your swing when hitting the driver. For the most part, everything you do while swinging the driver up into the ball is going to be the same as when swinging any other club. However, there are again a few points you need to watch in order to strike your driver properly. If you can manage to hit on the points listed below, you should be rewarded with beautiful - and powerful - drives.
- Hold your right leg steady. This is a point that will ensure you don't go sliding back away from the ball during the takeaway. Your right leg should hold its position nicely in the backswing while you turn away from the target. Think of your right leg as something of a pivot point - you will be turning around it, rather than letting it slide back to the right. As mentioned above, it is crucial that you make a rotational swing rather than a lateral one, and monitoring your right leg as you swing is a great way to ensure your rotation is a success.
- Control the length of your backswing. Many amateur golfers get into trouble on this point. Trying to hit the ball as hard as possible, some players will swing back excessively far, thinking that a longer backswing is going to translate into more swing speed and improved distance. Unfortunately, that long backswing usually leads to nothing more than lost balance. You need to keep your balance nicely if you are going to hit up through the ball at impact, so be aware of this point during your swing and stop the backswing before you get pulled off of your center of gravity. You should be able to keep your weight evenly balanced between your feet throughout the backswing and transition - if that isn't happening, a long backswing may be to blame.
- Wait for the release. Ultimately, your ability to hit on this point is what will determine your success or failure when it comes to hitting up into the ball. Yes, you need to follow the other pieces of instruction that have been included so far, but all of that work is going to be wasted if you are unable to hold onto your release until the bottom of the swing. If you can wait to release the club until you have gotten to the bottom of the swing, you will be able to move the club head upward through the ball perfectly. If, however, you release the club head earlier - such as during the transition, which is common for amateur golfers, you may find that you are unable to hit up even if you do everything else correctly. Holding on to the release on the way down is called lagging the club, and it is one of the single most important skills in golf. Learn how to lag the club all the way into impact and a whole new world of ball striking will suddenly become unlocked.
Those three points may sound relatively simple, but very few amateur golfers check each of those boxes when they hit a driver. If you can manage to make it happen, you will love the drives that you are able to produce. Holding your right leg steady, managing the length of your backswing, and (most importantly) lagging the club down into the ball is a powerful combination. With those three traits present in your swing, and your address position under control, great things will be soon to follow.
Everything sounds good when you read it in an article. All you will need to do is go to the range, work on a few things, and that will be that, right? Probably not. Even if you are willing to work hard and follow the instructions that have been provided above, there is almost certainly going to be trouble along the way. The important thing is that you are willing to see it through to the end, rather than running away at the first sign of a bad shot. Understand up front that it will take some time and effort to learn how to hit up on your driver, and you can get there in the end.
If you do find yourself struggling at the start, use the troubleshooting tips below to get on track as soon as possible.
- Hitting the ball fat. This is usually a simple case of trying too hard. If you are regularly hitting your drives fat (hitting the ground before you hit the ball), you are probably trying too hard to intentionally hit up on the shot. This is why it is so important to get your setup and backswing just right - so that you don't have to actively do anything to hit up. If you have addressed the ball correctly and you have made a quality backswing, the action of hitting up through the shot should happen automatically. Trust your preparation and just let the bottom of the swing take care of itself.
- Hitting a hook. Many players 'hang back' on their right foot as they try to hit up through the shot. Again, this is a case of you getting in your own way. You don't need to hang back on purpose to hit up - just trust your preparation and let the swing happen freely at the bottom. If you are turning through impact aggressively with your lower body, the club should be in a nice position to catch the ball slightly on the upswing. As long as you are getting off of your right side by the time you arrive at impact (by turning, not sliding), the quick hook to the left should be a thing of the past.
- Hitting the ball thin. If you are consistently catching the ball low on the face of your driver (hitting it thin, in other words), you are probably not teeing the ball up high enough prior to the shot. Many amateurs are afraid to tee the ball up high in the air, thinking they are going to go right underneath it when they come into impact. However, if you are going to hit up, you have to provide yourself with space between the ground and the ball. Since most modern drivers have large, 460cc heads, that means the ball needs to be several inches above the top of the turf. Practice hitting drives off of tall tees on the driving range so you can get over any fear you may have about this kind of setup. Then, when you head to the course, make sure you have enough long tees in your bag to get you through a full round of hitting drivers.
Hitting the ball fat, hitting a hook, and hitting it thin are three of the most common problems that will be experienced when players try to learn how to hit up through impact. No matter which one of these issues is plaguing you at the moment, the solution to your problem should be found above. The quicker you can work on solving the problem, the faster you can reach your potential with the driver off of the tee.
Other Long Drive Tips
The information above should have you on the right track toward hitting up on all of your drives. With a good upward path through the ball, your trajectory should improve and you should be able to add distance to your tee shots without making other changes. However, if you would like to search for even more yardage after this process is complete, we have a few more tips for your to consider.
One thing you can do right away to potentially add some distance to your drives is to experiment with a variety of golf balls. While most golfers will look for a new driver when they want to hit the ball farther, the ball itself can have just as big of an impact - and they are far less expensive to try out. By matching up the right ball to your swing, you can further optimize both your launch angle and your spin rate. The best way to test out new balls is simply to take them to the course and hit some shots, so consider buying sleeves of three of a number of different brands and give them all a try. It will take a few rounds to give each ball a fair shot, but you should have a great idea of which one will work for you by the end of the process.
Stepping away from the world of equipment, another move you can make to add distance to your drives is to work on creating a draw ball flight. If you are currently playing a fade, you are probably giving away yards that you could be taking up if you simply moved the ball from right to left instead of left to right. A cut is a great shot for controlling the ball, but rarely is it going to maximize your distance potential. Work on learning how to turn the ball over when you want to hit a long drive and you might be surprised to find how far you can actually move it down the fairway.
The last tip that we will offer up in the hopes of helping you find distance is to say that you should be focused on making contact dead in the center of the face when you strike the ball. That might seem like an obvious point, but it is overlooked by many players who are too worried about swinging hard to bother squaring it up at the bottom. Adding a few miles per hour to your swing speed will never help you with distance as much as simply striping it right off of the sweet spot. Make sure you stay nicely balanced throughout the swing, and keep your eyes down on the ball, and you should be able to catch a good number of your drives exactly in the middle of the club face.
Hitting longer drives is always fun, and it is certainly helpful to your score at the end of the day (as long as you are keeping them in the fairway). To add yards without even worrying about adding swing speed, learn how to hit up through the ball at impact. An upward strike will make it far easier for you to achieve a quality trajectory, and good trajectory is one of the keys to distance. Get to work on your technique and look forward to many long drives to come!