Before two years ago, Jeff Flagg's biggest sports accomplishment was a five-year stint in the minor leagues playing first base. The 6-foot-6, 240-pound native of Jacksonville thought his destiny was Major League Baseball. Instead, he should have paid more attention to "the sound."
"My father still talks about it," Flagg says. "I was about 15, and we were playing golf at this muny. A bunch of guys were all around me on this tee box that was tucked back into the trees—like a theater. I was using these hand-me-down clubs, and I absolutely crushed a drive. The sound was unreal. It reverberated off the trees, and the ball flew 50 to 60 yards past the next-closest ball. That's the first time I ever remember knowing I had a knack for hitting long drives."
When his baseball career stalled, Flagg decided to see how much of a knack he really had. Smart move. In just his second attempt, the 29-year-old won the Re/Max World Long Drive Championship last fall in Mesquite, Nev., and $250,000 with a 365-yard blast in the finals. During the competition, he also hit one 463 yards, a personal best. (The ball carried about 425, he says.)
"Later on I was allowed to walk out onto the grid and see the spot where the ball came to rest," he says. "I looked back and couldn't see the tee. It was like driving a par 5."
When Flagg isn't bombing tee shots, he's in the gym working as a personal trainer for his new company, REPS Golf, or working on his body in hopes of defending his long-drive title in November. Here he shares his favorite tips for crushing the ball off the tee.
HITTING THE BALL FAR IS A CULMINATION OF THINGS. You gotta be strong. You gotta be fast. And it all has to work together. But if you're asking me what matters most, it's solid contact. Hit it in the middle of the clubface, and even if you didn't do everything right, it's still going to go somewhere.
THE ONE I HIT 463 ... I had a pretty good breeze behind me, so I knew if I made an adjustment to my swing, I could take advantage of the wind. I swung like Big Papi hitting a home run. I call it "back-legging it," meaning I feel like I'm sitting on my back leg a little longer. I still get over to my left side, but staying behind the ball longer allows me to launch it higher and ride the breeze.
I KNOW AMATEURS SWING OFF THE BACK FOOT A LOT. If they back-legged it instead, they'd sweep the ball off the tee and really gain some distance. What's the difference? Don't finish the swing on your back foot. You want your weight moving toward the target at some point in the downswing, just not immediately as you start down. Think of a batter hitting a high fly ball to get a runner in from third.
THE LENGTH OF YOUR BACKSWING DOESN'T MATTER. What matters is that it ends when you feel coiled but not stressed. At the top of my swing, I can have a normal conversation with you. I'm not straining. If you start straining, you'll lose the energy you were trying to store for the hit.
WHAT AM I THINKING ABOUT WHEN I SWING? My only real thought is, Right hand and arm drive the swing. That's it. I'm literally trying to make a sidearm throwing motion—like a 3-6-3 double play in baseball. If more golfers swung with the same motion, as if they were skipping stones, they'd pound the ball.
I RELATE THE GOLF SWING TO SPRINTING. For me, the feel is that my arms are out-racing my body. You know what track coaches say: "Fast arms equal fast feet." It's similar in golf. The faster my arms can go, the faster the club is moving.
IN TRUTH, MY HIPS LEAD THE DOWNSWING. But I don't think about that. They just do. Do you think pitchers, quarterbacks or javelin throwers think about clearing their hips before they throw? Their arms dictate all of that motion subconsciously.
IF YOU NEED ONE THING TO FOCUS ON, make it swinging your arms as fast as you can.
YOU WERE BORN WITH THE ABILITY TO HIT THE BALL FAR. Just like you could run, skip, hop and jump when you were a kid. What happens over time is, we forget how to be athletic. You lose the ability to swing hard because you stop moving how you were designed to move.
GYMS TODAY ARE A JOKE. They're filled with treadmills, elliptical machines, squat racks, benches. Everything trains people in only the sagittal plane—forward and back, like you're a robot. Train like a robot, swing like a robot.
TRAIN ON YOUR FEET AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE. Pushing, pulling, rotating, moving laterally and diagonally, changing directions quickly. The more you work out like that, the more coordinated you'll be. You'll get your athlete back.
TIGER RECENTLY SAID HIS GLUTES SHUT OFF. Honestly? Society's glutes have shut off. We're sitting too much, which is why so many people have low-back pain. Anything athletic starts with strong glutes.
WHAT'S THE BEST EXERCISE TO HIT THE BALL FARTHER? Can I pick two? Run sprints and throw balls—hard.
ONE OF THE REASONS I LIKE TO SPRINT IS, IT'S A DYNAMIC, powerful motion that starts quickly and ends quickly. You're using the ground for leverage, the muscles are moving in coordination, a lot is going on, and then in a flash it ends—just like a golf swing. And throwing teaches you how the body and arms work together, as they do when you swing the club.
REMEMBER ONE THING: Your body is not going to let you swing any faster than you can stop the club.
WHEN I TRAIN, THE MUSCLES ON THE BACK SIDE GET MOST OF MY ATTENTION. The glutes, hamstrings, back muscles—you can never get those muscles too strong. You need them not only for good posture and balance, but to safely stop a fast swing. I train the back side in a 3-to-1 ratio versus the front side.
BE CAREFUL OF SO-CALLED "GOLF-SPECIFIC" EXERCISES that get you to mimic swings with objects considerably heavier than a club. The big thing in the weight room is to take care of your joints. Put too much stress on them, and you're going to get hurt.
PLAY GOLF WITH THE SAME THOUGHT IN MIND. Swing in control to protect your joints. If you're feeling sore the day after a round, back it down a notch.
MY BALL TENDS TO FADE, but the shot shape that will get you the most distance is the straight ball. That's why I have a neutral grip. Some guys grip it with their hands turned almost under the shaft—a super strong position—and try to rip a big draw. That's inefficient. Use a neutral grip, and focus on squaring the club at impact.
A 400-YARD DRIVE FEELS LIKE NOTHING. In fact, if you try to put extra effort into the swing, you're probably not going to hit the ball very far. Let me ask you: What does it feel like when you hit your longest tee shots? I'll bet you can't describe it.