Long-drive champions don’t use normal equipment. Their drivers, typically several inches longer than those available at retail, are built to withstand 155-mph swings and launch the ball 400-plus yards through the air.
And, of course, long-drivers don’t even need a putter or a bag full of wedges.
But what happens when a long-driver needs to get the ball into the hole as quickly as possible? Look no further than two-time World Long Drive champion Jamie Sadlowski to see how a bag comes together, and what tweaks a player and coach make to get the gear right.
Sadlowski retired from long-drive competitions last year and has committed to the pursuit of professional tournament golf, and he might be the only pro in the world willing to sacrifice 15 mph of clubhead speed. He has made the cut in a handful of Web.com Tour events and traveled around the world to play.
In the February issue of Golfweek, Sadlowski and his new coach, Peter Kostis, shared some drills the Canadian uses to help tighten his golf swing and transform it from long-drive into something that one day might earn a PGA Tour card. The changes they are working on won’t take hold overnight, but some adjustments to Sadlowski’s equipment are already done.
One of the biggest changes for Sadlowski involves something most amateurs seldom tweak: grip size. Sadlowski has changed from standard-sized grips to midsize grips with four extra wraps under the bottom hand to remove the taper.
“It’s my opinion that most people have grips that are ill-fit to them,” Kostis said. “In order to prevent slippage, they have to increase the tension in their hands. Well, there goes your feel and your timing. So now (Jamie) has the grip size that allows him to soften up his grip pressure.”
Kostis said the changes to Sadlowski’s equipment help him make better contact through the bag, and because he is swinging with less tension he’s actually hitting his irons farther than he did before, even though his swing is shorter and more balanced. And Sadlowski uses an Arccos 360 shot-tracking system to provide data during casual rounds, so he knows his yardages.
Sadlowski also started playing with shorter clubs. During his Golfweek photo shoot for February’s cover story, he said his Callaway Apex Pro irons are half an inch shorter and about 4-degrees flatter than previously. Those changes were made to encourage him to make a more-rounded swing that is not as distance-oriented.
His Callaway GBB Epic Sub Zero driver also is shorter, having been trimmed from 45 inches to 44.25. Sadlowski said he plans to move into a 43-inch club soon.
“We’ll see what kind of (launch monitor) numbers we get,” said Sadlwoski, who even when going at it slower than normal in pursuit of control swings 137 mph – 15 mph faster than Tour-bomber Dustin Johnson. “It’s like Jimmy Walker experimenting out in Hawaii with a shorter driver. I mean, I’m not lacking distance.”
Walker started using a 42-inch driver this year at the SBS Tournament of Champions at Kapalua in January, and Rickie Fowler, who won the Honda Classic, also recently started playing a shorter driver, going from 44.5 to 43.5 inches. Both players said they switched in hopes of hitting more fairways and thought that increasing the quality of the strike would limit any sacrifices in distance.
Sadlowski’s new driver has more loft, too. When his swing was designed to maximize distance, he played a 7-degree driver but now uses one with 11 degrees of loft.
“All the clubs look different when I stand over them at address, especially the irons,” he said. “But now they are starting to look normal. Even the driver with 11 degrees looks normal now.”
Now that he is concerned with shooting low scores instead of generating 200-mph-plus of ball speed, Sadlowski also is thinking more about what clubs he carries. He had never carried a 3-wood, opting instead for an 18-degree driving iron because his 3-wood flew too low and too far.
“He’s waiting for a new 3-wood that has more loft and a shorter shaft,” Kostis said. “If we get the flight out of it that I think we’re going to get, then he’ll have a better gap between the driver, the 3-wood and his 21-degree driving iron.”
Sadlowski’s length creates gap issue that most golfers can only dream of.
“Peter made a good point the other day,” he said. “He told me if I can get 340 yards out of the driver and get 260 out of the 21-degree, I’ve got 600 yards covered. When I play at Whisper Rock (his local club in Scottsdale, Ariz.), I don’t hit that many drivers. But there are some scenarios that I could hit definitely more than 2-iron, but I’m definitely not hitting driver because I’m not going to fit it in there.”
A 3-wood that flies 300 yards would split the distance between Sadloski’s driver and 2-iron perfectly.
That must be a nice problem to have.