A Lesson Learned: Hitting it longer off the tee

Bubba Watson
Getty Images
Bubba Watson's prodigious length off the tee is a huge advantage for the two-time Tour winner.
Chan Freeman

Problem Area: Off The Tee
Series: Lesson Learned

Published: Sunday, January 30, 2011 | 10:11 p.m.

Though the PGA Tour has been in action for a few weeks, the eyes of the golf world really wake up traditionally when the tees go in the ground at Torrey Pines. This year was no exception as Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and a host of other popular favorites made their debut at this Southern California gem.

Congratulations to Bubba Watson, who played golf just down the street at the University of Georgia, and I know has a large following here locally.  Great to see him get his second win on Tour.
One thing that stood out to me regarding Torrey Pines was that the leaderboard was comprised of primarily long-hitters. Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Jhonattan Vegas and of course, winner Bubba Watson were the top four finishers and all of them hit it a country mile off the tee.  No doubt, their awesome length off the tee and all their clubs was a huge advantage on the almost 7600 yard South Course.
So hitting it longer is this week's topic for "A Lesson Learned."  
As an instructor, I can tell you how many students I've had that have said, "I'd like to hit the ball shorter." That'd be zero. Everyone loves the long ball.  And without a doubt, those that hit it farther off the tee mean shorter (and presumably more accurate) approach shots. But it's important to note, as famed instructor Harvey Penick once wrote, "the woods are full of long hitters." So my first thought is, longer tee shots don't automatically mean lower scores. I hope everyone understands that up front.
Now, there are four things that I see that are contributing to the long tee shots you saw this past week at The Farmers Open and for your game, you can only control three of them.
1.) Technology: The science and physics that now go into clubs and balls is mind-boggling.  So many millions are now invested into squeezing out an extra few yards on every shot. If you are playing with older equipment, you are probably costing yourself a little distance.
2.) Fitness: One of the great trends in golf now is the emphasis on being in top shape. You'll see many people calling golf a sport rather than a game due to the increased attention on the athletic prowess of its top athletes.  Increase your strength and flexibility and you'll see you'll be hitting your next shots from a little further down the fairway.
3.) Technique: Notice the incredible lag and shaft angles on the downswing of these bombers on Tour. They really hold that wrist angle for as long as possible and then just snap the club through the hitting area.  This creates incredible clubhead speed which, of course, means longer distance.  This is not something you should just try on the first tee, it will take quite a bit of practice to feel comfortable doing - and should be done under the watchful eye of a PGA Professional instructor.
4.) Size: Here's the one element you can't control.  Bubba Watson is listed as 6'3".  Dustin Johnson is 6'5" and Phil Mickelson is 6'3" and Vegas is 6'2".  These guys can create large swing arcs that help generate additional swing speed as well.  If you are a little shorter, it doesn't mean you can't bomb it, but it's just an added advantage some have that others don't.
Now here is one final way to hit the ball longer for most amatuer golfers.  It may be the most important tip yet.  If you swing on balance, concentrate on making solid contact and build a repeatable sound swing that works for you, you're going to hit the ball further than you are trying to copy the guys out on Tour. 
But I do understand, it is fun to see those tee shots fly as far as they do from the world's best players. They make it look easy, don't they? Here's hoping your golf looks (and feels) a little easier in 2011!

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