What a joke – I, the puffball hitter supreme, acting as if I know the first thing about driving a golf ball long distances.
Believe me, the telephone is the only connection I have with long distance.
I am, however, an attentive long-bomb observer. Whenever golfers tell me they are satisfied with how far they drive the ball, I never believe them. All golfers want to hit the ball farther. Even Tiger Woods, that paragon of length, switched earlier this year from a 431⁄2-inch driver to a 44-incher. The reason for this move: More distance.
But then, of course, Woods switched back. What seems to be an eternal search for
distance often brings with it an eternal plague of crooked drives.
It always has been so. Or so it seems.
Byron Nelson, Sam Snead and Ben Hogan used steel-shafted drivers that seemed long at 43 inches. Now, with the arrival of ultra-light graphite shafts, drivers have grown to absurd lengths. The Orlimar hipTi 420, one of my favorite drivers, has a standard length of 46 inches. The Zevo Compressor 410, a titanium rocket ship, is 46 inches long with its optional lightweight shaft. The Cobra SS 427, one of America’s best-selling drivers, is 453⁄4 inches in its most popular configuration. It must have taken tremendous courage for Callaway big wigs to decide on a 45-inch length for the new Big Bertha II driver.
Or maybe Callaway just wanted golfers to remember what the fairway looks like.
Any golfer should beware of attempting to gain distance through the use of a longer
driver. If Tiger Woods feels that 44 inches is too long for him, are we justified in thinking we can hit drivers that are several inches longer than that? Very few PGA Tour players use
drivers longer than 45 inches. Perhaps a length of 46 inches can be mastered, perhaps not.
This I know: Lots of repetitions are essential. Playing and practicing are the keys to taming a long driver. Still, anything longer than 46 inches can be suicidal. Off-center hits are increased, and too many drives end up being shorter, not longer.
The annual Re⁄Max World Long Drive Championship ended Oct. 19, and it’s clear these gorillas are different from you and me. They are bigger, faster, stronger and use longer drivers. In competition, they always have six tries to maneuver one ball into a
fairway that is 48 yards wide. Anything less than 350 yards is a poor drive. Their realistic goal is 400 yards.
What can we learn from these bruisers? Plenty, I think.
Art Sellinger is a two-time world champion. He is the force behind Long Drivers of America, which runs the World Championship and also conducts a traveling tour of long drive competition. I asked Sellinger about
ordinary golfers and today’s drivers. His first response: “The (standard length) 21⁄4-inch tee should be obsolete. These manufacturers should tape seven bags of long tees to every driver. To get distance, you have to tee the ball enormously high. You have to hit the ball on the way up.”
Sellinger says he has spent the last two years intensely studying all golfers – all ages, all body types, all swings.
His conclusion? “The modern swing has to coincide with modern drivers. These are lower-spin, higher-launch drivers. We haven’t talked enough about how drivers have changed. Today’s deep-faced titanium drivers work against you if use a short tee. Many golfers are hitting them two scorelines low. Generally speaking, you have to hit them high in the face to get the ‘jump’ that golfers are looking for.”
Sellinger, who travels the world giving
long-drive exhibitions, constantly is asked for long-driving tips. In all his answers, he remains a hands-and-arms advocate.
“The average player uses too much body,” he believes. “All golfers need to let the hands and arms do the work. Does the entire body need to be coordinated? Of course. Most golfers need to make a more athletic move when they hit the ball. But too many people concentrate on the body and forget about the hands and arms.
“That’s where the speed is. Most golfers need to loosen up their hands and arms, and I’m not
talking about the wrists rolling. I’m talking about staying back of the ball – some describe it as a feeling of being back and under the ball and then swinging up. That’s why the long tee is
important. The average guy might sky the first half dozen or so, but he will quickly get the
feeling of swinging up.
“I would like to see more average golfers swing up and slightly to the right of their target. They need to do this with speed. They will get bigger
carries, less spin and less curve. When golfers feel they have to swing to the left of their target, they often rob themselves of carry and overall distance.”
This reminds me of Mike Austin, who at age 64 hit a measured 515-yard drive in the National Seniors Open, a predecessor of the U.S. Senior Open. I have seen Austin invoke a clock image with his students: He asks them to imagine they are standing in the middle of a huge circular clock on the ground, facing 12 o’clock. Austin then asks them to create a backswing path to 4 o’clock (3 o’clock would be straight back) and a throughswing path to 10 o’clock.
This is another version of Sellinger’s message to swing marginally to the right of the target. Helpful hint: To do this, it is necessary to make an aggressive swing, fully release the club and shift the weight to the left side. It doesn’t work with a timid swing. Remember, we’re talking about long driving here.
Sellinger and Austin are two instructors who have focused on distance in their instruction and in videos. Sellinger’s “Power Guarantee” video offers a 14-day program for increasing swing speed. It sells for $24.95. Austin’s “Secrets From the Game’s Longest Hitter” is $29.95. Sellinger would like to establish a school of long driving, using a blueprint similar to that of Dave Pelz and his very successful short game schools.
Austin is flatly realistic about the Holy Grail of greater distance. “Learning the process of applied power isn’t an overnight deal,” he says. “It has to be translated into a subconscious action, not a conscious action. Otherwise you’ll be out there 24 hours on the golf course, trying to remember how to swing.”
One of the most intriguing concepts addressed by Sellinger and widely promoted by another two-time world long drive champion, Sean Fister, is a “snap” of the wrists at impact. Well-known instructor David Ledbetter calls this “cracking the whip.”
Fister is fond of throwing up a racquetball and powerfully snapping his right wrist as he flattens the ball with a racquet. He insists he can make a similar move with a driver, although he cautions that this move is a snap of the wrist and not a flip.
Flip is one of those no-no words in golf. On the other hand, snap has a nice ring to it. If you get confused about long driving, just think snap, crackle and pop. Put down your driver and eat some breakfast cereal. It’s time for a break.