In search of golf's Holy Grail: More distance

By Michael R. Abramowitz
Published on
In search of golf's Holy Grail: More distance

With today’s longer courses, amazing advances in technology for equipment and players on Tour hitting literal moon shots off the tee, it’s only natural that every day golfers want to grip it and rip it farther, too.

At the 15th PGA Teaching & Coaching Summit at the Orange County Convention Center’s Chapin Theatre Sunday, experts Sandy LaBauve, Randy Smith and Andrew Rice joined Moderator Michael Haywood in a fascinating hour-long panel discussion on “Driving Instruction, Increasing Distance.”

Distance is “the Holy Grail of Golf,” as Haywood, the PGA Director of Golf Operations at Tucson (Arizona) Country Club, appropriately described.

Whether it was teaching aids and technology, such as TrackMan, tips on increasing swing speed or even using a can of Dr. Scholl’s foot odor spray on the club head for a golfer to see clubface impact, the panel presented an array of golf instruction magic tricks. All of this was designed to explain how to increase distance anywhere from a few yards to half a football field or possibly even more – in just one lesson!

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For Randy Smith, the 1996 PGA Golf Professional of the Year, who is ranked among the Top 100 Teachers in America, swinging the club face faster is the secret sauce for speed and, in turn, distance.

“Speed can come mentally a lot faster than teaching a lot of parts [of the body],” said Smith. “Parts are very important….But the basic thing is when somebody starts swinging with better speed and understanding what’s making it faster, all of the sudden, body parts start to fall in line. All of the sudden, you start to see hands in a position where they can deliver the golf club.”

Smith will take a student, and measure their clubface speed at impact. He will then challenge them to try to increase each swing by 1 mph more than the previous until they max out.

“The amazing thing is you can take almost anybody, and move them several miles an hour by getting them to think about the other end of the golf club, instead of this handle, instead of the left shoulder [and] instead of that loading of the hips,” Smith reasoned.

Each expert had their favorite aspect to focus on.

“We need to look at the athleticism of the student,” explained LaBouve, a dual PGA and LPGA Member who has been teaching golf for 30 years. She was voted as a Golf Magazine Top 100 instructor for 20 consecutive years, earning alumni status. “I like to watch them make the swings they make in the sports they claim. I ask them to recreate that swing to see how they use their power sources. Can they generate speed? Can they use their legs? How (do) they use their hands and wrist?”

If a student has never played a sport or is not athletic in nature, she has them wind up, and hit their hand into her hand (simulating the movement of a golf swing). She looks to see whether or not they understand the concept of moving through her hand.

LaBouve explains that baseball and softball players generally have the easiest time transitioning into golf. For women, she will make sure the driver has enough loft (12 degrees) or recommend a 3-wood off the tee, in order to counteract side spin and get the ball off the tee straighter.

Depending on the student, she will look at clubface, angle and swing path. If a student is slicing, she will get them to intentionally hook, so they can create a different ball flight.

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For Rice, he warns of short backswings, especially with older golfers. If there is handle displacement, when the handle is high, distance can be significantly compromised. “Not many short swings hit it further.”

He stresses taking as big and full of a backswing as possible.

“I’ve seen the biggest gains [in distance] when it comes to club delivery,” added Rice. “I only met one golfer who wanted to hit the ball shorter…Normal golfers want to hit the ball farther.”

So, Rice will take out that can of foot deodorant and have the student focus on hitting the ball closer to the toe by examining the marks on the club face. “Striking the ball on the club face is the largest factor. You can get 20 yards by changing where you strike it.”

He also recommends quick swings.

“If you get people to take less time to swing, they can hit it faster,” he added. “Faster backswing means faster club head speeds.”

Using teaching aids such as impact tools, SwingSticks and more, the panel showed there is more than one swing path to the Holy Grail, but a great way is to take lessons from a PGA Professional.

To find a PGA Professional instructor near you, click here.