BIO: 30 / 6-foot-2 / 170 pounds
Driver: Callaway RAZR Hawk Tour, 8.5 degrees
Ball: Titleist Pro V1x
Driving distance (rank): 305.8 yards (first)
Driving accuracy (rank): 54 percent (166th)
Silly of us to think that this net was going to stop a ball tattooed by Nicolas Colsaerts. When we photographed his driver swing in February, we knew he was long--real long--but we didn't brush up on our ballistics. Luckily, no one was standing behind the net.
More than 20 years ago, Colsaerts' coach, Michel Vanmeerbeek, instructed him to "hit the ball as hard as you can." That's like being told it's OK to eat the entire half-gallon of ice cream or toss the football around the living room. When you're a kid and you get that kind of green light, you don't wait for the adults to change their minds. And Colsaerts has been doing it ever since. In 2012, he led the European Tour in driving distance (318.3-yard average) and played a key role in last year's European Ryder Cup win.
Colsaerts has since brought his free-wheeling swing to the PGA Tour full-time and has quickly assumed a familiar perch at the top of the driving-distance stats.
"It's a game of distance, so you first try to hit it as far as you can, and then you try to get control of it," Vanmeerbeek says. "You don't do it the other way around."
Adds Colsaerts: "I try to hit it harder because I know I'll hit it better when I do."
Colsaerts developed his swing by studying the power transfer from athlete to ball in other sports and comparing it to how golf's longest hitters do it. He says there's a surprising lack of efficiency in many of their swings. Doing things like squatting during the downswing and trying to keep the body turning through impact--common moves of many long drivers--make it tougher to deliver maximum energy into the hit.
"You don't want to pollute yourself with all those extra moves," Colsaerts says. In these photos, you'll notice that his head remains very still and level. He doesn't squat as he starts down, and when the club gets to impact, his body rotation is slowing, Vanmeerbeek says, which allows the power he has built up to move through his arms, down the shaft and into the ball.
Another source of power is the late release of his wrist hinge. When he starts down, his arms simply drop, and his shoulders barely rotate until just before impact. Vanmeerbeek says this causes the club to pick up tremendous speed at the ball.
"But you don't need a fast, furious action to hit good drives," Colsaerts says. "Distance for most of you comes from centering the hit on the clubface."