Some people might have been born to be World Long Drive champions, but you can’t always tell by looking at them.
Golf Digest 50 Best Teacher Bernie Najar met Kyle Berkshire, the newly minted, 22-year-old champion, when Berkshire was a scrawny, pre-growth-spurt 12-year-old hoping to make his high school golf team.
Fast forward to 2019 and Berkshire is a 6-foot-3, 200-pound ball-smashing machine with 150 miles per hour of clubhead speed. And the king of the long-drive world with his title on Wednesday.
The reality is that Berkshire is doing completely different things to a golf ball than you are, but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn something from what he does.
“When Kyle came to me, he had an unusual swing—he had a super strong grip and a lot of foot action, because it was the only way he could generate any speed,” says Najar, who is based at Caves Valley Golf Club outside Baltimore. “My intuition was, Work with it and don’t steal the athleticism. And that’s the first thing I’d say to any player—improve your swing, but do it without taking away the fundamental elements that make it yours.”
As Berkshire transitioned from college golf into long drive, he and Najar began tuning a swing built specifically for speed (Berkshire also trains with Long Drive specialist Bobby Peterson).
“The main thing we found was he could create an explosive impact by applying a combination of more arc—higher hands—and being able to push against the ground as hard as he can and release as hard as he can without any loss of accuracy,” says Najar.
“For us average humans? That means you don’t have to feel like you have to be glued to the ground. Let your feet move as you go back and through, and understand that that foot action isn’t something you’re doing intentionally with your feet, but something that happens as a response to what the rest of your body is doing.
"The other thing to understand is that even though you can’t swing like Kyle, you’re never going to be able to hit it as far as you can unless you take the governor off your swing, so to speak. You have to change your spine from flexion to extension. If you stay bent over, you’re never going to hit it very far.”
As Berkshire has proved all year, rising to No. 1 in the world rankings, there’s far, and then there’s very far. When Najar and Berkshire work together at Caves Valley, they have to deal with one specific practical problem that Najar has never experienced with any other student.
Caves Valley’s plush, two-sided range is 390 yards long, and Berkshire’s shots routinely carry from Najar’s hitting bay back to the farthest reaches of the members’ practice tee up by the clubhouse, uphill.
“The last time he was here, he literally started hitting it out of the park,” says Najar. “That’s a good problem to have.”