A few months back we called Cameron Champ the “longest player on the pro tours” after watching him crush drive after drive on the TPC Sawgrass range in Ponte Vedra Beach. A few of his balls rose no higher than 20 feet off the ground, yet still rolled up to a golfer on the other side of the practice facility, about 350 yards away. We’re still high on Cam, but it turns out he’s not alone when it comes to destroying golf balls. Keith Mitchell might be just as long with the driver, and we’re going to enjoy this two-man competition as it plays out the rest of the year.
In his second season on the PGA Tour, the 27-year-old Mitchell averaged more than 300 yards off the tee in his win at the Honda Classic on Sunday. And if you watched the tournament, you know his 305.8-yard average at PGA National was virtually all carry thanks to soft fairways. In his first season, Mitchell’s driver swing speed led the tour at 124.83 miles per hour, with his fastest swing was 129 mph. Champ has him beat, with a blinding average of 129.87 mph this season, but the coaches for both players suggest they still have another gear.
“All the long hitters have that,” says Chan Reeves, director of instruction at the Atlanta Athletic Club in Johns Creek, Ga. Reeves has been coaching Mitchell for more than a decade. “Trust me, Keith can hit it farther if he wants to.”
After capturing Mitchell’s swing with high-speed cameras a few days before his big victory at the Honda Classic, we don’t doubt his length. Here’s an analysis from Reeves of the things that make Mitchell easily one of the longest golfers in PGA Tour history.
The width of the swing arc is critical to hitting 300-yard drives, Reeves says, and Mitchell is using his 6-foot-1, 190-pound frame to max out that arc as he takes the club back. Note that he’s not letting his arms dictate the backswing; it’s being controlled by his body turn, which is why the club stays on front of his torso.
Among the duties of a backswing is to create and store as much power as possible, and Mitchell is doing a great job of that here, Reeves says. With significant rotation in his upper back and his hips, Mitchell looks wound like a spring and ready to uncoil hard into the ball. You can tell he took his time to reach the top, because the club isn’t significantly past parallel, Reeves says. If he rushed to get to the top, the club’s shaft would be pointing more toward the ground and his timing would be off.
Although his hips are unwinding super fast in the downswing and he’s also made a lateral move toward the target—both power generators—Mitchell says all he thinks about is, “turning my upper body toward the target as fast as I can.” His hands stay quiet, and it’s his torso pulling the club into the ball. “I’m using my strongest muscles,” he says.
Mitchell plays a power fade, and he creates the slight right-to-left ball flight by virtue of how fast his body rotates toward the target. The club only catches up with that rotation at impact but is slightly open to his swing path. “If you let your hands naturally fall from the top, they’ll nearly catch up by then,” Mitchell says. The thing Reeves likes best is how quiet his lower body stays throughout the swing—especially the feet. “Part of hitting it long is making sure you hit it in the center of the face,” he says. “Keith is able to do that because he maintains great balance despite swinging as hard as he does. That’s a lot tougher to do if you’re feet are moving all over the place.”
If you look at Mitchell’s takeway and put it side by side with this photo of his follow-through, you’ll notice they look like mirror images from the waste up. Reeves says that’s a result of maintaining great width in the swing well past impact and swinging around his body from start to finish. “He swings around so well, his arms can move really as fast as he wants, and there will be no issues with timing,” Reeves says. “And he’s always had a lot of arm speed. Put that together with his ability to rotate his body and that’s why he hits it so far.”