Faster is Better
The best thing you can do to improve your distance off the tee is to increase your clubhead speed – in other words, swing faster. The worst thing you can do to sabotage your clubhead speed is to try to swing HARDER. Why? If you try to swing harder you will introduce tension in your swing, and tension kills swing speed.
For every mile-per-hour of swing speed you can expect to drive the golf ball about 2.4 yards. That means a 100 mph swing speed will produce a drive of about 240 yards. Adding just 4 mph to your swing speed will get you 10 yards. Add 8 mph and you’ve got another 20 yards.
Sounds like it should be easy, right?
The problem is that when most golfers try to add a little distance the almost universal instinct is to “muscle up” on the ball. The instinct is to “swing harder” in an attempt to get more “power” into the swing.
The Paradox of Speed – Think Free, not Hard
The paradox is that you don’t need more power, you need more speed. And to get more speed in your golf swing you have to lighten up.
Consider the different image that forms in your mind when you think about “swinging hard” vs. “swinging freely.” “Hard” evokes an image of tight muscles and considerable effort, while “free” brings an association of light and fast.
Tension Kills Swing Speed
The truth is that tense muscles do not operate as smoothly nor as quickly as tension-free muscles. The typical result of muscling up is an actual loss of distance as well as a high probability of an errant shot. You will get exactly the opposite of what you are trying to achieve.
So how much tension do you have in your swing?
Try the Potato Chip exercise
The Potato Chip exercise came about while I was working with a student who was trying to add distance to his drives. On his backswing I noticed that his jaw muscles were clamped so tightly I could literally see the cords in his neck stand out. He was really “trying hard” to hit it far. The tension from his jaw radiated down his neck, into his shoulders, out his arms and down his back. Yet he could not feel the tension in his swing.
I made a quick trip to the snack shop and picked up a bag of potato chips. I then asked him to put a chip between his teeth and swing without crunching the chip. The results were so funny that we were both practically in hysterics by the 6th attempt.
Great Feedback Mechanism for Improving Awareness
On his first swing the student crunched the chip as soon as he started his take-away. Talk about an eye-opener!
After two more tries he was able to get to the top of his backswing without crunching. After a couple more chips he was able to start the downswing without crunching. But it took about half the bag to make it all the way through impact with an intact chip.
By the end of the chips my student was able to swing freely through the ball to the target. He wound up adding 10 mph to his swing speed, and about 25 yards to his drives. Plus his drives were much more consistent and accurate. He was much happier (and not as hungry).
Improving Awareness Will Improve Your Golf Swing
The lesson for my student was that in learning to let go he was far more likely to get the results he wanted. The potato chip exercise, while a fun drill, was really just a feedback mechanism to help him understand how much tension he had in his golf swing, where the tension was coming from, and how to let his tension go so he could let his club go. By working on his awareness of tension rather than mechanics he was able to generate a more naturally powerful, faster swing and consistently longer drives.