Golf Digest Logo Stretch Out Your Drives

The hidden power source in Min Woo Lee's golf swing, revealed

/content/dam/images/golfdigest/fullset/2023/1/GD0724_BODY_SEQUENCE_04.jpg

Photographs by Dom Furore

The PGA Tour doesn't have weight classes, but if it did, Min Woo Lee would be near the top of its pound-for-pound rankings.

Lee, 25, weighs 155 pounds, yet consistently ranks among the leaders in driving distance. Last year, as a PGA Tour rookie, he averaged 316.5 yards. Through 10 tournaments this season, he was averaging 311.8 yards and an incredible 188 miles per hour in ball speed. At slightly more than two yards per pound, few players squeeze more out of their lean frame.

Yet golf wasn’t Lee’s first love.

“I thought it was a boring old-men’s sport where you have to wear long pants,” he says. But that served as a blessing in disguise for his golf swing. Lee spent the early part of his youth playing soccer, Australian rules football, and lifting weights. It helped build strength in his developing upper and lower body. When he did finally catch the golf bug at age 15, it was in part because of how much fun he had hitting the ball far.

“I always played with older people,” says Lee, the winner of three DP World Tour titles, including the 2021 Scottish Open, now an official PGA Tour event. “I wanted to hit it as far as them.”

Wide arms for big backswing turn...

Lee went looking for power sources wherever he could find them. What he quickly discovered was that if he could keep his “arms wide, but compact” on the backswing, he could outdrive just about anyone. Many golfers collapse their arms and let the club fall behind them, which gives off the illusion of a long backswing but robs them of the width they need to create speed.

Lee’s hands are far away from his chest at the top, yet the club falls well short of parallel. This serves as a fail-safe against a narrower backswing, which Min Woo says is his bad tendency.

Ritchie Smith, Lee’s longtime coach, says that his “shoulder structure” plays a pivotal role in limiting the length of his arm swing. As Lee swings back, his left shoulder blade stays down, flat against his rib cage.

“We don’t want the shoulder blades being pulled up and out,” says Smith, who also coaches Min Woo’s sister, two-time major champion Minjee Lee. “Then you have less control where the arms go. You want the muscles between your shoulder blades controlling the motion.”

...extended arms on downswing for energy transfer

As his upper body unwinds powerfully through the ball, Lee’s hands remain extended in front of his chest—as they are on the backswing—and ahead of the ball. The result is an eye-popping amount of forward shaft lean at impact and one of the lowest launch angles on tour—only 9.14 degrees. The resulting ball flight is one that can pierce through any wind and looks “effortless,” according to Lee.

Though it works for Lee, most instructors would tell you that you’re better served catching the ball on the upswing with the shaft leaning away from the target. That will reduce spin and maximize carry distance for slower swingers.