One of the most common goals of the golfers I work with is to increase their speed and distance. This offseason I also wanted to push the limits of my own speed capabilities. In this post I will highlight some of the main takeaways in my pursuit of speed and some of the successes and failures I had along the way to finally breaking through to reaching my goal of 130 mph club head speed/190 ball speed.
Step 1: Baseline testing
I started off my speed journey like I would with any client by gathering some baseline data on my current club head speed. These were the numbers I used to check my progress at different intervals over the offseason. My starting club head speed was 120 mph and ball speed was 175 on average as of October 2022.
*Besides the Trackman data I also gathered a lot of data on my physical capabilities with my strength and power, but won't share the full details of this.
As a physical therapist and strength coach I am a believer in the importance of the body in golf performance and training in the gym was an important piece of the puzzle in the speed gains I made this offseason. I had a good foundation of flexibility, strength and speed to begin the offseason, but had a few areas I wanted to refine in my pursuit of more speed. My main goal with my training was to make sure my body possessed the strength, speed and power necessary to produce club speed I wanted. I also wanted to make sure my body would be equipped to safely handle the speed and reduce risk of injury. Data from the Titleist Performance Institute and Proteus Motion actually allows us to make some really close predictions to estimated club/ball speed based off of physical capabilities. Below are my most recent power testing results from TPI and Proteus Motion. Both of these results matched up really well with the physical requirements to reach my desired speed of 130 mph.
*You can click the arrow on the right hand side of the picture for full results
The Stack System Speed Training
Alongside the physical training, I also completed swing speed training using the Stack System. The Stack System consists of a training club, 5 weights used in various combinations and The Stack mobile app that creates an individualized training program. Initially the Stack system had me complete a baseline test which gathered information on my club speed and also how fast I swung various weights with the Stack training club that were heavier and lighter than my driver. Based on this information the Stack mobile app developed an individualized program for me. Each training program takes approximately 6 weeks to complete. The picture above shows my progress over the course of the 6 week program. According to the app I should have been capable of achieving 131 mph club speed. I completed this training program in mid January.
Interesting takeaway: While my body was definitely capable of moving faster after completing the training, I only some mild gains in speed while hitting a ball, but not to the level my estimated speed was at. This was still valuable information as I knew the speed was there, however, there was block when hitting a ball that I needed to address.
Based on this information, I started to focus my speed work more on hitting balls as I felt like this was the area that needed to be addressed to reach my goal. The rest of the article will primarily focus on that.
Ground Reaction Forces
One of the first things I looked at in the swing mechanics was my ground reaction forces. Ground reaction forces have become a hot topic in golf and watching golfers such as Justin Thomas can reveal how golfers can use the ground to maximize speed. As the swing is generated from the ground up this can have an impact on the speed you are able to create. I consulted with Michael Dutro, PGA and the Swing Catalyst Force Plates to assess and train these ground reaction forces. You can find a full summary of my experience here. For the purposes of this article I will highlight a couple of the main things from my work on ground reaction forces.
The first thing Michael noticed was that my ground reaction forces were pretty high compared to PGA average, but were occurring way too late in the swing, meaning they weren't being transferred to the club in time. One of the main reasons for the forces being too late was that I was swaying in my backswing causing my weight to shift too far to the right. Because of this I could not get back to the left (my lead side) in time. He also suggested modifying my setup by squaring my left foot instead of flaring it open to help make the forces peak a little earlier in the downswing. In this process I also discovered that I was left leg dominant in the swing. So by being late in getting my weight to my left side, I also was not effectively using my dominant leg as effectively as I could which was reducing my speed. During these sessions with Michael I only hit 7 iron, but did experience a 4 mph increase in club head speed with these changes. Unfortunately I cannot say what this would have translated to with driver.
*At this stage I was also making a couple of other swing changes with my takeaway and backswing and due to this speed was not as much of an emphasis at this time which also makes it a little more challenging to identify how much this contributed to the speed gains I made later on.
Tempo was another thing that I looked at in pursuit of more speed. For this I consulted with John Novosel Jr. from Tour Tempo. John provided the below analysis. My tempo was 30 frames on the backswing and 10 frames in the downswing. In comparison Rory is 21 frames in the backswing and 7 seconds in the downswing. His total swing was 28 frames, meaning he was done with his swing before my backswing was even completed. The video below highlights the pretty stark contrast between the two swings. John suggested on trying to eliminate the extent of the pause at the top of the backswing to help with this. I also used the Tour Tempo app on my phone with tones to help train this tempo and was able to comfortably get it 24 frames on the backswing and 8 frames on the downswing while still hitting the ball well. I noticed approximately a 3 mph increase from these changes getting up to 124 mph. I also think this type of training focused on tempo got me out of the overly technical thinking I was doing earlier in the offseason and helped me be more athletic and natural in my swing.
Visit To One Stop Power Shop: Breaking Through the Barrier
I was recently was in North Carolina for a conference and while I was in the area I decided to stop by the One Stop Power Shop and get some work in with long drive instructor Bobby Peterson. The One Stop Power Shop is a long drive training facility that is used by several of world's fastest golfers such as Kyle Berkshire and Bryson Dechambeau. While I'm nowhere near as fast as these golfers I figured this would be the place to go to try and learn more about speed and distance. I assumed that everything I worked on here would be solely focused on going all out for more speed. However, I was surprised that over half the time was spent on technique and ball striking. Bobby's philosophy was that any speed gain needs to be functional and playable. It does no good to increase the speed if you are hitting it all over the place in regular golf or in long drive. While the long drive professionals only need to put one ball in the grid and don't fret too much if they have a big miss once in a while, their margin for error is actually pretty slim at the speeds they are moving at. In addition, if you can't find the center of the face with the additional club head speed you really aren't going to gain anything from it.
Once we dialed in some of these numbers, we moved onto making a couple of technique modifications to help promote speed. From a technique standpoint there were three things that we focused on:
Trigger Move: one of the first things he noticed was that I had a very static start to the swing. Bobby suggested that I experiment with adding a little bit of trigger move to become more dynamic and athletic in the early stages of the swing to help set the stage for more speed. Of the technical changes I made, this is the one I am still experimenting with the most to see what feels the most natural and produces the best results.
More Hip Rotation in Backswing: The next thing he noticed that was that I didn't have very much rotation from my hips or pelvis in the backswing and had a lot of separation between my upper and lower body. From a speed standpoint this was limiting my turn somewhat and how far the hands could travel in the backswing. In addition, he thought that restricting the hips would also put a lot of stress and torque on my lower back, especially when trying to go for max speed (I agreed with this). In order to help accomplish this, we allowed the left heel to lift slightly in the backswing to help promote more lower body rotation
Higher hands at top of the backswing: The higher the hands and club travel in the backswing, the more time and potential for energy the club can generate on the way down. I also noticed that step two (increasing my hip rotation) made it much easier on my shoulders to elevate and get the hands higher.
I did experience a jump in speed of a couple of miles and hour with these modifications without any perceived increase in effort.
Time to push for speed
After some of these technical changes it was time to push the speed. At this point we switched the Trackman to only show club head speed and ball speed and try to push the body's limits with no regard for where the ball was going. Initially Bobby instructed me to hit 50 balls with the goal of trying to max speed and hopefully reach 130 club speed/190 ball speed. As I started I was hitting balls I was sitting around 125 club head speed and 182 ball speed over my first 25 balls. After about another 10 balls the speed started to creep up a little more with an occasional 128 club head speed and mid 180s ball speed. As I approached my last 10 balls the speed started to creep a little higher and I hit 129 and 189.8 ball speed. However, by the time I reach 50 balls I had not quite accomplished my goal. My body still felt ok, so I asked if I could continue. I ended up hitting 30 more balls after this. These were the fastest club and ball speeds I have ever consistently hit in my life. I broke 130 several times during this set of swings and finally eclipsed 190 ball speed as well with my average ball speed over these last 30 balls being around 188 mph.
Make sure your body is ready for this type of training: In previous posts I have highlighted how your body's physical capabilities can give a good indication of your potential club head speed and ball speed. Training can absolutely help raise your speed potential. However, in addition to that training can also be protective to the body during your speed training. Speed training can be intense and training can help make sure the body is ready to safely handle this to help avoid any injuries. I hit a lot of balls when I was at the One Stop Power Shop, 80 of which were close to max effort swings. While I was getting tired at the end, I had no pain or soreness and felt fine. My body was prepared to handle this. In addition I had been hitting balls regularly which also prepared to handle this type of training. If you haven't been doing any type of physical training or swing training you are going to gradually want to build up your volume of training to safely handle this. Attempting to do a speed session like this right out of the gate with no physical preparation is a recipe for disaster.
How did I get faster at the end of the session after hitting that many balls? This was one of the most perplexing parts of my session at One Stop Power Shop. After making 80 swings I would never have guessed that my last 30 wings would have been the fastest swings of my life. I figured fatigue would have set in by that point and I would get slower. So why did I actually get faster? I attribute this to a couple of different reasons. I think I my sequencing at the faster speeds started to improve the more I hit. In addition I think this type of training is as much mental as it is physical. It is easy when trying to hit a ball, to start to limit your speed to try to control your accuracy. Being able to totally let go and unleash all your speed, without caring what the ball does can be challenging. The more I forced myself to do this, the more speed I gradually picked up until I hit my new personal records.
There is no replacement for hitting balls with the intent of speed. While training systems such as the Stack, SuperSpeed Golf and others are very helpful in raising your speed potential, you still need to apply that to hitting a ball. For me, there was a disconnect that needed to be addressed if I was going to reach my true speed potential.
There isn't a one size fits all approach to increasing speed. Everyone has unique needs when it comes to increasing speed. What worked for me might not be appropriate for you. Going through an assessment process that looks at these different factors can help identify what you need to focus on. In my case I had a really solid base of flexibility, strength and power that focusing all of my efforts in physical changes likely wouldn't have yielded the results I was looking for. I needed more work on improving swing mechanics and technique. However, I have evaluated many other golfers who are very solid technically, but are lacking physical characteristics to increase their speed. Other golfers are solid physically and in their swing, but struggle with the ability to take the governor off their body and unleash the speed. In these instances speed training systems such as the Stack and SuperSpeed can be very beneficial. Taking the time to assess and identify your unique needs can efforts that much more effective. With that being said regardless of what you need to address, there are no shortcuts. You will have to put in the work.
You can work on speed without ruining your swing. One of the most common concerns when pushing speed is that this is going to ruin your swing and lead to spraying the ball all over the place. As you are pushing your limits of speed in training you are going to sacrifice some of your accuracy. However, these are not intended to be your on course swings. These are meant to help raise your max speed, which in turn will also raise your cruising/playing speed. In addition, you can still have your other days where you focus more on technique and ball striking to balance out the speed training.
There will be ups and downs along the way. It would nice to assume that your progress when training for speed would linear and just keep increasing every time you train. However, that is not realistic. There will be days and even sometimes weeks where you will be slower. Keep at it and you will eventually break through.