For many years one of the smashes that have been attributed to the single plane swing has been the myth about the loss of distance if you follow the basic single plane mechanics. I am not sure why, except that I think many people find it hard to accept that a swing not requiring the golfer to screw himself into the ground in the back-swing can produce a powerful hit to the ball that sends it equivalent distances.
I can personally attest to the dissonance other golfers have when seeing the single plane swing in action. In the last 20 years, by far the most often heard comment I’ve heard when playing with new partners has been the following. “How can you hit it so far when you swing so slow and only have half a swing?” Even when I seek to answer them seriously with my explanation of swing efficiency and effective bio-mechanics most wind up telling me they just don’t get it. In their minds, to hit it far you must wind up like a cork screw and then fire the coiled up muscles as if they were on the firing end of a platinum spark plug. Sorry guys…you really don’t get the whole story!
In an ironic juxtaposition to the myth, I’ve recently became the Performance and Swing Coach to one of Canada’s top athletes in the world of long drive golf. His name is Ryan Hawkins (aka The Hawk) and he is the current ILDC Canadian champion. He is also a member of Team Canada, a five person team that went to Mazatlan, Mexico in November to compete in the International Long Drive Championships. Ryan is dedicated to the sport of long drive and works very hard at his swing coupled with an emphasis on fitness, strength, flexibility and focus. He describes himself as the equivalent of the home run specialist in baseball. He has one objective, hit the ball as far as he can into a prescribed space called the grid. The rules of long drive are simple: 6 balls, 2 minutes & 45 seconds and a grid of 45 yards wide (a regular fairway width). The ball must come to rest inside the grid. The longest drive wins.
In the right conditions, Ryan can hit the ball over 400 yards and his personal best in competition is a 416. Recently, while practicing off the tips from a 602 yard Par 5 at The Royal Ashburn Golf Club in Ontario, Canada (in cold and wet conditions) he had multiple hits over 400 yards. There is something very appealing about having only 180 yards left for your second shot on a Par 5 (a nine iron for Ryan by the way).
The long drive world is a universe that most of us are unfamiliar with. The ‘home run’ hitters like Ryan will generate swing speeds of over 150miles per hour and ball speeds in excess of 200 mph. In Ryan’s words. “I never leave anything in the bag, every swing is ALL out.” However, pure swing speed and strength is only the beginning. Ultimately, one must get the ball inside the grid for it to count, so emphasis must be placed on where the club face is at through the impact zone. At the speeds generated by these world class athletes, the slightest change in fundamentals can make a huge difference.
An example you might find interesting. Recently, during a training session and after a thorough analysis, we decided to make a small trail hand grip adjustment that transferred more connection to his trail hand index finger, thus providing better connection and flexibility to let the arm “hinge” (called the elbow) move more effectively in his backswing. To his amazement, we immediately picked up about 6 yards in distance with this simple change. In the world of long drive, this is like winning the Lotto Quick Pick!
For me as a Coach, it was a great reminder on the power of fundamentals. When working with a world class athlete like Ryan I always operate under the fundamental principle of “Do No Harm”. In other words, be very careful and sure about my recommendations before making them. If you are going to fine tune a Ferrari, you should be sure about which way to twist the screwdriver because a half-turn either way will have an impact.
At Graves Golf we really appreciate the value of having solid fundamentals. Years of teaching have continually reinforced that without the proper grip, alignment, posture and swing fundamentals you will find it difficult to continually produce a solid and consistent swing. The body either moves effectually or not. If the fundamentals aren’t in place it makes effective movement impossible.
For example, let’s talk about your posture at address and the key angles necessary to make effective movement possible. For my students we always talk about 45/20 as key checks to their posture. What I am referring to is that we need a spine angle (forward bend) of around 40-45 degrees and a spine tilt (side tilt) of around 20 degrees to the trail side. When coupled with a properly constructed grip this optimizes the likelihood that you can move the club along the correct path. You give yourself a chance!
Check out the basic posture of Ryan Hawkins, current Canadian Long Drive Champ.
Note the ball set back, lead arm alignment with the shaft, the wide stance and sunny side up trail arm. This posture was created by trial and error because Ryan found it worked. From here, it is fine tweaking.
In the final analysis, distance is a result of an equation that is made up of a biomechanically efficient swing technique coupled with fast swing speed and proper ball launch characteristics. If you seek reliable and consistent ball flights, you must insure that the path of the swing allows you to square the face through the impact zone. If your fundamentals aren’t sound, this will never happen.
In your next practice session I encourage you to start by questioning all your fundamentals. Consciously examine your grip in fine detail. Make sure your hands are working together properly. Then, REALLY look at your posture and make sure your spine angle and spine tilt is in the proper 45-20 degree angle and then make sure your balance is properly distributed. When you are satisfied, only then should you begin to work on making the correct movements of the single plane swing.
Now, about our TEAM CANADA long drive folks. After two days of intense competition in Mexico, I am happy to report they WON the International Long Drive Championship by beating out a traditionally dominant TEAM USA by a total of 4 yards. For me, this was just further reinforcement that the fundamentals are the basis for all improvement.
About the Author: Ron Cruickshank, Ph.D., is a GGA Master Instructor and he teaches the single plane golf swing in Canada. Check out our site for his Winter Golf School schedule at The Golf Lab, Canada’s premiere indoor training facility featuring state of the art Trackman feedback at every lesson and school.