Michelle Wie is a thirteen year old amateur who recently averaged 260 yards off the tee at the LPGA Nabisco championships in Palm Springs. Ian Woosnam and Jeff Sluman are both approximately 5’ 5” and both can hit the ball well over 280 yards in the air. Fred Couples and Ernie Els both swing at a pace that makes them look like they are swinging underwater, yet are they are known for their prodigious length. The accomplishments of these players seem almost magician like.
This month we are going to break the magicians’ code and tell you what the trick is in golf. It certainly is not swing mechanics for John Daly hits it farther than any of the above players and his “swing” is not one admired by the purists. As a friend of mine Bill Harmon says about swings “some of them look bad and the ball goes great and some of them look good and the ball goes terrible”. The “trick” is that each of these players uses the club to its maximum mechanical advantage.
The golf club is a tool and like all tools it is designed to make the task easier. The problem in golf is not that the club is a hard tool to use, but that how to use it is not obvious. In fact the proper use of the club through the impact zone is very counter intuitive. However, anyone can hit the ball further and with more accuracy if they learn how a golf club is designed to be used. It’s not about the swing it’s about the club.
The reason Michelle Wie at THIRTEEN can hit the ball so far is that she is doing the two things that all good players do with the club in the impact zone. First, she has the handle well ahead of the club head at impact. This gives her four pieces of mechanical advantage. Second, and most surprising to amateurs, is that she employs the face ballistic ally from approximately six inches in front of the ball to six inches past the ball. Square club face at impact is a mantra in golf that is repeated ad nauseum in golf magazines, videos, and teaching books. Things like try to keep the back of your left hand facing the target at impact, or hold the face square through and beyond impact are touted as a key to great shot making.
In a seven year study we found that there is no excellent player, amateur or pro, that does that. From six inches in front of the ball to six inches beyond the ball we found that the club face rotated through impact at the rate of approximately 2.5 degrees per inch or a total of 30 degrees. If one were to start with the club face square, take it back square, and hold the face square through impact, you would possibly hit shots somewhat straight but also inevitably short . The golf club is a two lever instrument and it must be employed as such. If you try to make a swing that keeps the face square to the path at all times you turn the club in to a one lever instrument. A baseball bat is a one lever instrument. The reason that baseball players are all enthusiastically lifting weights is so that they can swing the bat faster. With a one lever instrument the only way to hit the ball further is to swing the stick faster. Michelle Wie can’t and Els and Couples don’t. You don’t square the face at impact, you start to use it well before.