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Where Does Distance Come From?

Originally published July 2006

Distance distance distance. Distance is to the golf industry what six-pack abs are to the fitness industry. The mere word itself drives sales of golf clubs, golf balls, magazines, and training videos. We all want distance, but do we even truly understand where distance comes from? It has been said it is best not to seek that which we don’t understand. But wouldn’t it be better to simply seek understanding? The answer to where distance comes from is simpler than you might think.

Clubhead speed. Distance is simply a result of clubhead speed. While the answer to where distance comes from may be simple, achieving it may not be. Especially if we are bogged down with misleading clichés and old wives’ tales. Pure and simple, the faster the clubhead is going at impact, the further the ball will go.

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YOU Are The Variable Will a tightly wound golf ball give you more distance? It may. That new 450 cc driver? It may. However, these things will also give your playing companions more distance as well. And as much as “technology” may have given us more distance on the golf course, the golf courses have gotten longer as well. Our net advantage? Zero. The thing to remember is that once you are standing on the tee of that 7,000 yard golf course, with your maximum distance golf ball teed up and your $800 titanium driver in your hand, you are the only variable. The ball won’t suddenly go further because it is in a positive frame of mind. Or because it suddenly got more tightly wound. Or the head of your driver suddenly grew bigger. Once purchased, the dynamics of ball and driver are set - there is nothing you can do to change them. But you do have control over one thing every time you tee it up: your clubhead speed. Your ability to create accelerating clubhead speed at impact will directly impact upon how far, or how short, the golf ball will travel. Understanding this - and how to achieve it - will give you a leg up on the competition.

Size Of Swing The idea that ‘size of swing’ is the contributing factor to distance is one of the most misunderstood and misleading notions in the game of golf. If size of swing was the influence over distance, everyone with a huge swing would hit the ball a long way. Yet we all know people with huge swings who hit the ball nowhere. And people with short swings who hit the ball far. A big swing that does not create clubhead speed is just an invitation to error. And injury.

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Point A to Point B Your ability to get the clubhead from Point A to Point B quickly will have much greater bearing on the distance your golf ball will travel. Let’s consider the club half way back on the backswing - with the toe up, shaft horizontal and parallel to the target line - as ‘Point A’. And the club on the follow-through - pointed at the target, again toe up, shaft horizontal and parallel to the target line – as ‘Point B’. This motion, from A to B, is the golf swing. Anything bigger is just adding volume. If we liken the golf swing (from A to B) to a stereo, we can see that if there is a “fault”, turning up the volume just makes the sound worse. In order to develop a swing capable of great clubhead speed we must first make the swing pure from A to B. Once done the temptation is to then make the swing bigger. Yet this would be skipping a key step. If we consider learning the swing from A to B as Step One, Step Two is not a bigger swing, but a faster one. Your ability to move the clubhead from A to B with speed will have a much greater effect on distance while at the same time actually reducing the margin for error. Only after we have perfected a fast swing from A to B does it then make sense to make a bigger one. An efficient swing, with the requisite ability to create speed - and then made bigger - will result in even more distance. Then, and only then. A faulty and plodding swing from A to B that is then made bigger is akin to the poorly tuned radio station blasting at high volume. Turn it down! No one wants to hear it! Please!

Clive is a veteran teaching professional at Bowen Island Golf Ranch in Vancouver, and author of the popular instructional CD-Rom “Hit Down Dammit!”


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