Tour players seem to have a mystical ability to strike their shots like missiles. The sound from impact and the flight are the envy of many club players. So how do they do it? There is no such thing as voodoo magic, so here we will break down the mechanics of how to strike golf shots like a tour player, and look at some drills to help you master the mechanics.
If you’re looking for the basics of how to strike your irons well, you may wish to check out this post first. However, for the rest of you, let’s dive in.
Impact of tour striking
The golf ball doesn’t care what you do in your golf swing, it only cares about how it is hit. The mechanics during your swing are important, but impact is the only thing that really matters.
For this reason tour players have wide-ranging techniques, but as they approach the last 1-2 feet before impact you will see little variation in what the club head does. The mechanics through impact that are discussed below are what all tour pros have in common.
Ball speed and energy transfer
Ball speed is critical in striking it like a tour player. The fizz of the golf ball through the air is largely due to a high ball speed. Yet, if you ask most golfers to swing faster, they tend it hit the ball less distance, why? This is because they become less efficient in transferring energy to the golf ball at impact.
The common term used to describe the energy transfer is ‘smash factor’. Smash factor is calculated by dividing the ball speed by the club head speed. For example, a shot hit with a club head speed of 100mph and ball speed of 150mph would have a smash factor of 1.5 (150/100 = 1.5). If the same club head speed produced a ball speed of 120 mph you would have a smash factor of 1.2 (120/100 = 1.2).
With the current limitations on modern equipment a smash factor of 1.5 is optimal with a driver. This optimal smash factor reduces as clubs get more lofted, due to a less direct impact (more energy going into vertical launch and spin).
The average male amateur has a driver club head speed of 93.4mph and a smash factor of 1.42. Meaning that their average ball speed is 132.6 mph (93.4 x 1.42). If the average golfer was to increase their smash factor to optimal (1.5) their ball speed would increase to 140.1 mph. This would lead to a staggering 15 yards increase in driving distance!
Key point here folks – get very good at optimising energy transfer.
There are two major keys to achieving a great smash factor:
1. Centeredness of strike
Golf clubs all have a percussion point or sweet spot. As the ball impact spot moves away from this sweet spot the transfer of energy becomes less efficient. To check where you are striking your shots you have a few options.
For you golfing geeks buy some impact tape or impact spray. For the DIY option, just apply a dot of permanent marker to your golf ball, and hit shots with the marked dot facing towards your club face.
2. Squaring your club face to your swing path
The second factor in optimising energy transfer is ensuring your club face is square to your swing path. If you have a very open or closed club face relative to the swing path of the club head, you will reduce your energy transfer and ball speed.
If your swing path is wildly out to in, or in to out you not wish to achieve a square club face to your swing path. Instead you will have to compensate with your club face to fade/draw the ball back to your target. This is fine, but will diminish your relative ball speed.
Why fades don’t travel?
Since we’re on this point I may as well point out that the two reasons stated above are why fades lose distance. When you hit a fade, the club face is open to the swing path. The open club face also adds loft (changing a 6 iron into a 7 or 8 iron). It is the increased loft and non-square impact that reduces your energy transfer and robs your fade of ball speed and distance.
Drilling down into impact
The last factor that separates tour players’ strike from the rest is their angle of attack. Tour players create a descending strike with their irons. This has a few advantages.
Sweeping irons shots off level from tight lies leaves little room for error (a fat or thin). Where as a descending blow means you have a more chance of striking the golf ball cleanly.
Also, the descending strike creates a slightly lower ball flight, due to less dynamic loft on the club face. Lastly, the difference created between the downward strike and loft pointing upwards, imparts additional backspin onto the golf ball.
Yes, thats right folks, this is what you need for those wedge shots that zip back towards the flagstick.
Building a swing to strike golf shots like a tour player
So we now know what we are after, how do we achieve this?
1. Centring our strike
Until you can’t hit the middle of the club face consistently there is no point worrying about much else in golf. This is true for a beginner, but also as you progress through single figures towards scratch. You need to get dam good at striking that little, white golf ball out the centre of the club face.
Take time to refine your basics. Your posture should be athletic and balanced (pictured below). Note the slight knee flex, most golfers have too much knee flex, which makes it tough to create an athletic swing. Also have a look at the spine angle and how the arms fall down to hold the golf club. These angles should all lead to your weight being centred through the middle of your feet (too much through your heels is a common mistake).
If you maintain your balance all the way through your swing from this set up, you should have no reason to miss-hit shots. A great drill is to hold your finish and pose until the ball lands.
2. Squaring your club face to improve striking
A sound grip beats all else in squaring your club face at impact. This isn’t the focus of this article, but grab a good golfing pro, or read this post if you’re struggling with a fade.
Your main piece of feedback to continually improve your club face ~ swing path relationship is right in front of you. It is your ball flight. A ball that travels straight and true through the air is the result of a club face perpendicular to your swing path at impact. Keep refining your ball flight.
3. Descending strike with your irons
Here is where most golfers struggle, so I have invested some time into helping. A descending strike with your irons requires your body to be rotating though to your target and your weight favouring your front foot as you reach impact.
This is not possible with a bad set up, so please pay close attention to part one. If your body mechanics are reasonable to good, you should be able to generate an impact position with your hands ahead of the golf ball at impact.
These three factors combined with a good set up will super-charge your progress towards creating a descending blow with your irons and tour-level ball striking.
How to practice
The first drill to get the feeling you are after is to rehearse a great impact feeling. This can be done with the simple drill below. Or with an impact bag and a couple of other fun drills.
Really focus on the feeling in your left leg, left hip, left hand and left arm in this impact position. You can really apply some pressure into the floor from this position.
Once you have this feeling of what you are trying to achieve at impact I suggest using the following drill. Take 10 balls and begin by hitting a chip, but a chip with a great strike. With each ball slowly increase the distance you are trying to hit it, but ensure you create a great impact with each shot. If you fail to do so, repeat that distance until you can.
Your aim is to see if you can complete all 10 shots from chip to rip, with a great strike on every shot. If you are not used to creating a descending strike, you will find that you struggle more as you try to hit it harder. Find your threshold and continually work to improve the quality of your strike at this distance.
Hit the links
Last up, hit the links. Imagine you are practicing for the British Open. Your aim is to master the punch shot. You have two ways to hit a low shot with your irons.
- Top/thin all your golf shots.
- Strike the golf ball out the centre with a lower dynamic loft.
If you wish to take the latter approach, then the only way you can create a lower dynamic loft is with an exaggerated version of the impact position that we have described in this post.
I love this drill, as it takes the focus away from technique and onto hitting great golf shots. Take 20 golf balls and 4 clubs. Your aim is to hit great punch shots with each club (5 attempts with each)
Ramp up your club head speed
Only when you have the details above nailed down is it worth you even considering your club head speed. Yes, tour players strike their irons with around 90+ mph club head speed, compared to 70-80mph for an amateur; but trust me. If you get the pieces above in place you’ll barely care about this difference.
In summary: How to strike golf shots like a tour pro
There really are no mysteries in golf, just lots of small details to continually refine and improve. Enjoy using these drills to help improve your striking. If you want more help get in touch by leaving a comments below and if you want more of this good stuff sent directly to you sign up for the golf insiders weekly post.