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Outdrive Your Man
Catrin Nilsmark

Even though I'm a professional golfer and play this game for a living, male playing partners in pro-ams are always surprised when I launch a drive that flies 20 or 30 yards past their best effort. And the funny thing is, the more those guys then try to 'muscle' the ball off the tee, the greater the distance they find themselves behind me in the fairway.

A few gentle reminders that brute force is not the name of the game are usually enough to have them hitting their best drives ever by the end of the round. The No. 1 lesson in driving is to allow the quality of your technique to produce the power for you, and in this article I'll show you how to do exactly that.

Most amateur golfers think that holding the club tightly will enable them to really give the ball a good clout but, of course, the opposite is true. Increasing your grip pressure creates tension in your hands and forearms that eventually finds its way into your arms and shoulders, too, making it very difficult to produce a free-flowing and relaxed swing. The key is to grip the club as softly as you can without losing control. As a reminder, waggle the club in your hands before hitting each shot so that you shake the tension out of your golf swing.

Accurate alignment helps you to sneak a few extra yards

Although good alignment is important on every shot, with the driver it’s absolutely crucial. While you may get away with the odd flaw in your set-up with your wedges or even a mid-iron, the driver (being the longest and least forgiving of all clubs) will magnify any glitches and ruthlessly expose them. So you need to pay even more attention to your basics if you want to use it to its full potential, and that’s where a pre-shot routine can help (see left). Start by standing behind the ball to pick out your intended target in the fairway (and make it a specific target). Then walk into the shot and carefully aim the clubface at an intermediate target, perhaps three or four feet ahead of the ball.

Now complete your stance, making sure that you position your feet and your body square to the leading edge of the clubface. Confident that you are perfectly aligned, you can then go ahead and make an uninhibited and free-flowing swing.

Look like you mean business at address!

More than anything else, you need a stable base to your swing. Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart and play the ball opposite your left instep. I also like to set fractionally more weight on my right side - say 55:45 - to help me get fully behind the ball on the backswing.

Notice also how my left arm and the clubshaft form a straight line. Not only does this allow me to create maximum leverage in my swing, it feels powerful.

As for your alignment, you want to create this parallel relationship between your body and the target-line. You also want to think in terms of creating an 'athletic’ posture at address, so get your weight centred between the heels and toes for perfect balance. Try to stand up tall while still creating a nice angle in the lower back.

The first move away from the ball pretty much sets the tone for the swing. Think about keeping your left arm comfortably straight as you start back, and you will create and enjoy similar width in the backswing.

As I mentioned earlier, I like to set-up so that my left arm and the club shaft form a straight line at address. This creates a lever that will apply maximum pressure to the ball at the point of impact. To help me achieve this, I think about keeping my left arm gently extended throughout my whole swing - back and through. The key word to remember in that last sentence is 'gently'. Don't jam your left arm into a rigid position - that will actually reduce the distance you hit the ball. There has to be a little softness at the elbow.

It's impossible to release power through the ball if you don't first of all create it on the backswing. One of my main swing thoughts with the driver is to get my left shoulder behind the ball at the top of my swing while keeping my right knee flexed (left). In fact, the greater the distance between your left shoulder and the ball, while resisting the coiling motion with your lower body, the farther you will hit the ball.

The leading American coach, Jim MacLean, calls this the 'Y' factor, illustrated here with a graphic. The key here, however, is to avoid swaying to the right, as that is a false way of getting behind the ball and it doesn't generate power. You have to learn to turn your shoulders and coil into the right side while keeping your right knee flexed and as steady as possible. Once you are able to do that, you will enjoy the true sensation of 'coil and release' - creating and harnessing real dynamic power that is translated into clubhead speed.

Look to reach maximum swing speed just after impact

One of the main reasons why most amateur golfers don't hit the ball as far as they should is that they deliver the power at the wrong stage in their swing. In most cases, the average club golfer generates the power too early - at the start of the downswing in an effort to lunge at the ball with the upper body. However, by the time the clubhead then reaches impact it is slowing down and therefore transmits very little power to the ball. On the contrary, I'm looking to achieve my maximum swing speed just after impact. That way, I am certain that the clubhead will be accelerating as it passes through the hitting area.

Quick tip: Hover the clubhead at address for a clean takeaway

A smooth tempo is one of the most important keys to generating a powerful backswing. I like to hover the clubhead just above the ground at address so that I can sweep the club back away from the ball without any fear of it snagging the grass and disrupting my rhythm.

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