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Zach Johnson
Golf Instruction

Snap Your Swing For Distance

How to get a power boost at impact—like the pros do

August 2014

Most golfers think power comes from turning the body hard on the downswing so it drags the arms and club through impact. Truth is, that's the weakest way to hit the ball. The most powerful way is to start your arms down and let your body actually stop to create a slinging action at impact. I call it snap speed.

This is not a new concept. The fastest moves you make in everyday life use the speed of your hands and arms. Your body is powerful, but it doesn't accelerate quickly. Distance in golf comes from speed, not force. A tour player's body rotates 7 to 12 miles per hour in the downswing. If you rely on your body turn to make the club move fast, you'll never hit the ball anywhere. Your body has to brake on the downswing so the energy you're creating moves out to the club.

Consider a few examples of acceleration. Snapping a towel comes from your hand stopping, even pulling backward, which sends the speed out to the tip of the towel. To throw a Frisbee, you swing your arm to a dead stop and snap your wrist. Picture a test car running into a cement wall and the crash dummies going through the windshield. In all these actions, there's a braking. That's what puts the energy into the object. If everything kept going forward, there'd be no transfer of speed, no snap. And that's how so many golfers swing.

Zach Johnson, whom I've worked with since 2000, is a great example of snap speed. He's not a long hitter, but he's in the top 10 on tour in a stat called total distance efficiency, which means he optimizes his speed at impact. If you want more distance, you've got to snap it like Zach.

To The Top

TO THE TOP

KEEP YOUR HEAD IN PLACE AND TURN YOUR HIPS

The best thing you can do in your backswing is keep your spine tilting away from the target. In every sport where you need speed—a baseball pitch, a tennis stroke, a javelin throw—the body leans away from the target in the windup. It's the first domino in creating snap speed.

To maintain that tilt to your right, you need to turn your hips without letting them sway and keep your head still. A good feel is that your right hip turns behind you and toward the target (left). The center of your hips shouldn't actually move, but to turn them in place, it helps to feel like your right hip pushes toward the target as it rotates. Couple that with a steady head, and your spine will stay tilted to the right.

The spine tilt sets up the other critical position at the top: Your hands need to be "deep," or well to the inside. Not high and over your right shoulder, but more around and behind you. Imagine you're set up with your rear end against a wall. Your hands would go deep enough to bump the wall.

This deep position, which a good hip turn promotes, allows you to swing down in a straight line to the ball. Before any braking, there needs to be acceleration in a straight line. Think of the towel or the Frisbee: You swing forward first, then brake to add speed.

Swinging Down

SWINGING DOWN

PUSH INTO THE GROUND AND SWING DOWN FAST

From the top, your focus should be swinging your arms down as fast as you can. Your hips will move forward a little, but only a twitch so they can support the arm swing. It's like the sprinter putting his foot in a block: The hips get in position so the legs can push against the ground. Without that resistance, the arms can't start down very fast.

Notice Zach's hips are facing the ball, not twisted way open (left). I've never seen a player who didn't move the hips on the downswing, so don't worry about hip action. The move you need to learn is starting the arms down fast. If the arms go, the hips will respond.

This bracing of the hips is the first braking action in the downswing. But it's not a conscious move. Focus on accelerating your arms to the ball, and your hips will naturally stop. Remember, there has to be a braking to transfer speed, and the hips brake first.

You'll know you're doing it right if you feel heavy on your feet—as if you were making footprints in wet concrete. When the lower body braces and the arms go fast, the club moves at a 90-degree angle to the spine. We know from high-school physics that the fastest way to swing an object is 90 degrees to its axis. So let the hips brake, and you'll accelerate faster.

At Impact

AT IMPACT

FACE THE BALL AND POUND THE GROUND

Now it's time for your shoulders to brake, which multiplies the speed of your arms. The feeling here is a firming up of the left side, from hip to shoulder. Imagine someone holding your left shoulder in place as you swing down. The goal is to get your chest facing the ball at impact, not turned open.

The last piece that creates snap speed is the arms stopping. The best image for this is: Pound the leading edge of the club into the ground. See how Zach's hands are ahead of the clubhead and his left shoulder is posted up (left). Like the hips, the shoulder braces so the arms can push against it and fling the energy down.

How can I say anything stops when the body clearly moves to the finish? Because each part starts up again—hips, then shoulders, then arms—to support the motion through the ball. If you focus on swinging your arms fast, the braking and restarting occur naturally. The body is supporting, not driving.

A final example. How do you jump from a squat position? You throw your arms up fast, then explode off the ground. You don't jump and then add your arms. That's what a lot of golfers do: They turn hard, and then try to get the arms through. Speed comes from the arms—and the body braking in the correct sequence.

The No-Turn Swing

4 DRILLS FOR CREATING SNAP SPEED

1. THE NO-TURN SWING

I hit a 7-iron 160 yards with no body turn through the ball compared to 170 with a traditional swing. Practice hitting balls with a normal backswing and no turn after impact. You won't believe how far you'll hit the ball.
The Spear Shot

2. THE SPEAR SHOT

Try this to feel the correct spine tilt. Hold an alignment stick like a spear. If you try to stick the ground in front of you, your spine will stay tilted right. That's where the leverage is. When your arm stops to fling the spear, you'll feel the acceleration.
The Throw Down

3. THE THROW DOWN

To sense the bracing of the lower body, hold a ball in your right hand, swing back, and throw it at a tee where the ball would be. Feel heavy on your feet as you swing down. Your body stops, and the energy goes to your arm, then to the ball.
The Quick Stop

4. THE QUICK STOP

Put a headcover on the ground at your normal ball position, turn your club over and make swings. Practice stopping right at the headcover. You'll feel a firm left side and your body braking—hips, then shoulders, then arms. That's snap speed.

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