PGA Championship

Valhalla Golf Club


How this major champion went from short hitter to the 300-yard club

April 08, 2020

Leo Wilkinson Photography

Think of the golfers you know. The big hitters have a lot of speed but no control, right? The short hitters grind away quietly, never missing a fairway. But power is not a fixed skill. Power can be reined in or built out, but the latter is by far the longer and tougher road.

“I knew there was risk,” says Francesco Molinari, a notorious short and straight hitter, of the swing changes he set in motion three years ago to add distance to his game. “I knew I could lose my contact with the ball. But I felt like I needed to do something to get to the next level.”

“I built my career on hitting more fairways and greens than anyone else, but as I looked at my game, distance was my opportunity,” Molinari says in his new video series “My Game: Francesco Molinari” on Golf Digest Schools and GOLFTV. “It’s never easy getting out of your comfort zone, but for me, it was a necessary thing to do.”

Molinari, who won the 2018 Open Championship, changed his workouts, changed his swing and, most important, changed his mind-set. With the help of London-based swing coach Denis Pugh, he turned his old-fashioned hands-and-arms swing into a body-driven power move, focusing on a bigger stretch in the backswing, a distinct squat coming down, and an explosive body action through the ball.

The results were extraordinary. In 2015, Molinari was 153rd on the PGA Tour in driving distance at 281.6 yards, but by 2018, he’d jumped to 52nd at 301.0 yards. As of last year, he was still hitting two-thirds of the fairways, in the top 50 in driving accuracy, and he peaked at fifth on tour in a coveted category called Total Driving.

Molinari and Pugh have a term they use to describe the changes they made: “Taking out the brakes.” They wanted to eliminate the moves or positions that restrict energy flow, such as limiting hip turn in the backswing or maintaining the flex in the knees. These restrictions might help a player feel more in control—something Molinari says he used to thrive on—but the downside is, they take away speed.

One traditional brake in the swing that they worked to release is the action of the front foot. Molinari went from keeping the heel down on the backswing to letting it come up to allow a bigger stretch and turn to the top. Going through the shot, that same foot now spins open, literally pointing to the target, to support a more aggressive body rotation. Taking out the brakes, yes, and hitting the throttle.

Molinari says, collectively, his swing changes gave him more speed, but also something he was not expecting. “Using the body more and swinging faster actually allowed me to get rid of some of the contact misses I had before,” he says. “I started hitting the ball more in the middle of the clubface.”

More speed, longer drives, better ball-striking. Where do you sign up?

To watch the six-episode "My Game: Francesco Molinari," go to Golf Digest Schools, starting with a 14-day free trial. Included are programs from Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, and top teachers like Butch Harmon, David Leadbetter, Michael Breed and dozens more. Check out nearly 70 full series and 400 video lessons.