The long and the short of it is the average amateur generally pays little attention to the precise statistics of their game. They might know how far certain clubs are hit but mostly this is a gross underestimation of the real carry distance and finishing length. So, before entertaining a discussion about how we might make corrections to improve distance, we need to get back the ABC of the game — Assessing Basic Components!
To avoid hitting too short or too long a shot you must know how far you hit each club. Before working on distance improvement plans, work on learning about the status quo in precise terms. Get to the range and systematically go through the bag, from lob wedge to driver and write down the distance. Record both carry and finishing distance. Hit a minimum of 10 balls for each club and get a feel for the general result. Only then should plans about improving distance be considered.
The foremost error that sucks out distance is a combination of underestimating how far you hit your clubs and, by default, under-clubbing the shot. As Faldo once said to Golf Digest, “Never try to squeeze extra yards out of the 8-iron through sand wedge. Instead, take one club more and swing easily.” Being able to swing smoothly with an “extra club” will take the pressure off the swing performance and execution, and help avoid the classic amateur error of consistently hitting short. A sound understanding of your distance will contribute toward better club selection and improve your distance achievements.
Lack of power thrust
Not powering weight through the ball and, more importantly, not making the big muscles work for you will cost you distance. Improved distance will result from clubhead speed at impact being improved. The best way to do this is to ensure that you maximize your biodynamic potential. In other words, shift that weight forward, use those glutes and follow through with the club using all that stored energy in your upper body in the swing.
Standing back at impact or back-footing will inhibit that powerful follow-through and ultimately distance. Try standing a little wider at address. Check that your feet are planted just slightly more than shoulder width. Make sure you mentally begin the shot with your feet firmly planted on the ground while loosening the knees, as the left knee must be ready to bend and point at the ball as your right hip rotates on the takeaway backswing. Digging down with your left foot as you come down at impact with help release power and give stability. Push through and turn the hips — push them through to face your target. Improved distance will be the reward.
The year-to-date stats on driver distance after the recent Waste Management Phoenix Open are impressive, with Loupe and DJ up top with 319 and 318+ yards off the tee. This sort of distance will remain nothing but a fantasy for most amateurs, but there is nothing stopping an analysis and improvement plan to increase distance.
By far the biggest problem off the tee that impacts on distance are a combined head, legs and wrist problem — a head that doesn’t stay behind the ball (dig your chin down toward the ball and keep it there, only rotating the head and shoulders after impact), legs that are not planted wide enough nor firmly enough to support and power hips and upper body movement, and wrists and hands that break and go soft at the very point of impact, followed by “stopping on the ball.” Check each of those issues in the drive action and work on correcting. Following right through with hands and wrists that remain stiff, and throwing your club and arms right out front, will have an immediate positive impact of distance.
Iron impact issues
It is critical that irons are relied upon to “be the club.” In other words, go the full distance that we expect from that club and not fall short. Several common errors that affect iron distance are related to impact: club head speed, point of impact between ball and club, weight transfer and correct wrist changes, among other things. Distance is compromised when one or all of these factors are poorly managed or executed.
So many amateurs whip their swing back and forward. By the time the club impacts with the ball, they have, in fact, expended all their speed and power. Then there is nothing left in the tank at the very time when club head, arms, legs and hips should all work together to hit the ball and keep going. In theory, your swing should be slow up and even paused as you begin the downward journey. Your fastest point should be right at impact and then following through (not the other way around). Keep that right elbow bent but ready to throw out the club at impact and straighten — like a spring.
The great news is that technical factors impacting on distance are relatively easy to identify and rectify. Each idiosyncratic swing can be enhanced in some way to result in extra yards and hopefully lower scores. Grab some video footage of your swing, even in the yard (kids can help here), and pinpoint which one of these errors is holding you back. Practice the fix and take some new video. Load the material onto your phone and don’t stop watching it. This will visually reinforce your correction before play.
— N. Incoll