It is shocking how far the men on the PGA Tour hit the ball, however, pound for pound it is more amazing how far the women on the LPGA Tour hit the ball. How is it that these women of ordinary size can deliver so much power to that little white orb? If it came down to just strength, the average male golfer should be able to far out hit the women on Tour, but this is not the case. Let’s take a look into how a woman like Yani Tseng, at 5′ 6″, with a slight build, can generate the kind of club head speed to hit drives of 290 yards on occasion, and to average 275 yards out on Tour.
If you take pure strength and size out of the equation, it seems to come down to three things. Although these women are not big and muscle bound, they are flexible, have a lot of technique, and have some of that magical intangible factor. If I had to designate importance by percentage, I’d break it down to flexibility – 15%, intangible/speed factor – 30%, and technique –55%. Let’s look at which ones you can affect the most and what they are comprised of.
Flexibility entails stretching the shoulders, lats, hips, lower back, hamstrings, forearms, wrists, and hands. The flexibility of these parts will dictate how big of a correct shoulder turn you can make using your big muscles, how much resistance your lower body can give the upper body in creating torque, and how much whip or release of club your forearms, wrists, and hands can accommodate. This is something that you can affect quite a bit just by stretching for 15 minutes every day. You should take advantage of this one thing you have quite a bit of control over.
The main physical move in the golf swing that the pros do, but amateurs do not do, relates to the separation of the upper and lower body, as mentioned above in ‘creating torque’. The pros are flexible and posturally strong enough to turn their shoulders 90 to 110 degrees on their back swing and have their hips at only 30 to 45 degrees, whereas amateurs will turn their shoulders back 75 degrees and their hips 50 degrees because of lack of flexibility, incorrect posture, and lack of technique. The more disparity between the two, the greater the power built up.
On the downswing the pros have fast enough hips to keep ahead of unwinding shoulders, and to keep the width in the arms. This is akin to the discus throw, as the discus thrower’s body is going away from his target as he releases the disc. He has taken out all slack, has as wide an arc as possible, and after winding up tightly, releases the wound up energy.
If you’ve seen a pro’s golf club in slow motion, you’ve seen it bowed on the downswing before it makes contact with the ball. This bowing of the club is due to delaying the release of the club head, or keeping the club head back as long as possible. As well as having correct upper and lower body dynamics, this delayed release is created by maintaining the wrist angle for a long time before allowing the club head to burst forward and turn over at just the right time. In this way power and energy are loaded into the bowed shaft in order to transfer to the club head at moment of impact. Most amateurs dissipate their energy too soon by releasing the hinged wrist angle too early and allowing the club head to get to the ball too soon, rather than leading with the handle and hands.
The technique factor is something you can affect to a moderate degree. You will never have near the swing the pros have, however after ingraining some of the basic fundamentals and mechanics, you can learn the physics of the golf club in action, and how to use leverage, in order to deliver greater power to the ball.
Last but not least, the intangible speed factor is based on how much fast twitch muscle fiber you have in your body. This can be changed a bit, but we are born with a certain amount of slow twitch and fast twitch fiber, and these stay basically the same. This is why some people will always be faster runners or be able to hit the golf ball further. You can develop more fast twitch fiber through exerting yourself in burst or explosive training though. You can train in an anaerobically high intensity way by doing sprints, speed bag boxing, plyometrics (jumping), and fast movement weight training. I’d say you can increase your amount of fast twitch muscle fiber by up to 35% if you really applied yourself.
So, go forward with a goal to get in better shape, to become a student of the golf swing and golf club dynamics in motion, and start taking salsa classes to some very fast Latin music!