Film Study

The science behind golf's new 'super-bomber' — and what you can learn from it

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November 13, 2023

On paper Gordon Sargent doesn’t look like the kind of kid who could revolutionize the game of golf.

A skinny, 175-pound economics major from Vanderbilt, Sargent has a seemingly otherworldly ability to do something that pros and amateurs alike dream of: Hit the ball unbelievably far.

Sargent’s driving distances are so incredible—at times approaching 400 yards at points—that it’s plunging some of golf’s old guard into a kind of existential crises about distance in the game of golf, and breaking the brains of golf fans everywhere.

But what’s the science behind Gordon Sargent’s unbelievable speed? How can he hit the ball so far? Watch the video below to take a closer look...

Gordon Sargent offered a glimpse into what he’s capable of at the 2022 NCAA Championship. On the first playoff hole, a 520-yard par-5, Sargent hit a drive 380 yards, leaving himself just 140 yards for his approach. He wedged it to five feet, and made the putt to win.

A hard hole, which he made look easy.

So, how can Sargent squeeze so many yards out of a relatively normal-looking frame?

The truth is there’s no one reason why a golfer can hit a ball 380 yards. Sargent does lots of things well in his golf swing which give him his unbelievable speed. But perhaps the key move in his golf swing comes right here, at the top of his backswing.

Look closely and you’ll see as his hands and arms complete his backswing, his hips begin unwinding towards the target.

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It’s a small movement, but this helps Sargent create an incredible amount of torque, which he uses to create such incredible speed.

The reason why is because of a concept called X-Factor, a really innovative breakthrough that was created and popularized by the legendary teacher Jim McClean.

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X-Factor is a simple measurement in the difference between a golfer’s shoulder turn, and their hip turn, at the top of the backswing. If a golfer turns their shoulders 100 degrees on the backswing, and turns their hips 50 degrees, the difference is 50 degrees, so their x factor is 50 degrees. As of 2013, the Titleist Performance Institute says tour players have an average x-factor of 42 degrees.

But on the downswing, like you can see in Sargent’s swing, the hips start unwinding before the shoulders, so the X-factor actually increases slightly, by an average of about five degrees for tour players, TPI says.

That’s called the X-factor stretch, and it’s a big power source in your golf swing.

Basically every undersized, long hitter has a really big x-factor stretch. John Daly had a huge X-factor. You could tell Young Ben Hogan had one too. Jaime Sadlowski had a crazy huge X-factor, and so does Bubba Watson and Rory McIlroy.

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And that x-factor stretch is super important, because it torques the muscles in your body into a tight, tense knot, read to blow. A bit like like an archer, pulling back the bow as tight as he can, and then letting it go.

That’s what’s going on in Gordon Sargent’s golf swing. We’re not sure his exact numbers, but you can see his shoulders have turned well past 90 degrees. If we use Rory McIlroy’s 2014 swing as a reference point, Rory's shoulder turn was measured at close to 110 degrees, so I bet Sargent is something similar, meaning his X-Factor could reach a number close to (60 or 70).

And then, as Sargent finishes turning his shoulders, he begins firing his hips. That increases the angle between his shoulders and hips, which stretches apart his upper and lower body, and then catapults his arms down with incredible speed.

And it’s catapulting Sargent’s rise to the very top, too. Since that NCAA victory, Sargent played in the Masters, finished low am at the US Open and went unbeaten in the Walker Cup at the Old Course. Sargent is strong, athletic, flexible, speedy. And get ready, because Sargent just earned his PGA Tour card. Remember the name, remember the swing.

Once again, you can watch the full video here: