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How They Hit That: Shanshan Feng and Dustin Johnson--where distance comes from

Editor's Note: Every Monday Kevin Hinton, Director of Instruction at Piping Rock Club in Locust Valley, N.Y. and one of Golf Digest's Best Young Teachers, tells you how a tour player hits a key shot. This week, Kevin compares and contrasts the method for producing extra yardage by LPGA Championship winner Shanshan Feng versus FedEx St. Jude (Memphis) winner Dustin Johnson. Which one will get you the most distance?

Roger Schiffman
Managing Editor
Golf Digest
Twitter: @RogerSchiffman

By Kevin Hinton
Twitter: @KevinHintonGolf

Dustin Johnson's win in Memphis in only his second tournament back after injury was an amazing feat. It might also set the tone for a U.S. Open victory this week at the Olympic Club in San Francisco. While as entertaining as it is to watch 6-foot-4 Dustin bomb it 300 yards plus on every drive, I also came to the realization of how few of us can actually relate to Dustin's game. There are certainly things to learn from his swing, but I don't teach many people whose driver clubhead speed averages 125 mph and who can fly 7-irons 200 yards when needed. The reality is, the average male golfer can certainly relate much closer to the games of female professional players. With that in mind, this week we'll look at the swing of 5-foot-7 Shanshan Feng. Shanshan became the first player from mainland China to win on the LPGA Tour, winning the Wegman's LPGA Championship over the weekend. The 22-year-old rising star is now ranked No. 5 in the world. Shanshan currently ranks 26th on tour in driving distance, averaging 262 yards off the tee. The average LPGA Tour player's driver clubhead speed is 94 mph, and she averages about 250 yards. Those are numbers I often don't even see among male amateurs. Let's take a look at how Shanshan creates her power and discover what you can learn. Let's hope that by adopting some of Shanshan's technique, you can add some distance to your game.

First, let's look at Shanshan's swing (note her angle of ascent into the ball and her full follow-through, resulting in clubhead speed diminishing only after impact...)



Speed Equals Distance....Potentially   
No doubt, this relationship exists, but there is more to the story than simply learning to create more clubhead speed. For the ball to actually go farther, there are many variables involved, and possibly an infinite number if you talk with a scientist or a highly knowledgeable club-fitter. Here are the most common ones I pay attention to as a teacher.

1. Center Contact: As forgiving as golf clubheads have become, you still must hit the center of the face to gain the increased distance that comes from creating more speed. This can definitely be a challenge, and I recommend my students practice with impact tape to monitor this. Normally, players will find that the ball doesn't go its farthest when they swing at 100 percent, the main reason being the centeredness of contact is too sporadic. As you learn to increase your "max" speed, experiment to find what effort level actually turns into more distance. It's often no more than 90 to 95 percent of your maximum speed.

2. Speed...But Speed in the Right Place: To maximize distance, it's essential that the clubhead is accelerating so that it reaches it's maximum speed at the moment of contact with the ball. In the clip of Shenshan's swing (above), notice how she maintains her "lag" as she




approaches impact. Lag is the angle between the left arm and the shaft. If she loses most of that angle prior to impact, she'll lose her ability to reach her maximum speed potential. This is a common mistake seen by instructors. As a simple drill, I recommend making practice swings even with the ball, and listening to where you hear the swoosh of your club. Be certain it is even with, or in front of, the ball.

3. Angle of Attack: Whether the clubhead is ascending or descending at impact is an important variable in driving distance. In general, the more you hit down, the more a ball will spin. Excessive spin can be a distance killer, especially if your clubhead speed is high. Many amateurs struggle with slicing the driver. These players often hit down too much in the process as well. The average angle of attack of a PGA Tour player is actually negative 1.2 degrees (perhaps because these players are more concerned with accuracy that with distance). While on the LPGA Tour, it is a positive 3 degrees (perhaps because these players are more concerned with distance than accuracy). This is a significant factor in distance, and is another reason why LPGA Tour swings can be a better model for the average player. Maximum distance comes from swinging up at your driver. You might find you hit it straighter, however, if you hit down slightly. So decide: Do you need to hit your driver farther...or straighter? Having both isn't impossible, but they often do have an opposite correlation.

My thanks to Dr. Rob Neal from Golf BioDynamics for the technical input in this week's blog.