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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Norwegian Wood (The Driver, That Is)

Suzann Pettersen is one of the longest drivers on the LPGA. Although Yani Tseng leads the pack, Suzann's less than 10 yards behind. She's 14th in the driving stats at about 261 yards and since she won the Safeway Classic this past week (her second LPGA win this year), I decided to take a look at her swing to show you how she does it.

First, here's the customary slo-mo swing footage I found at YouTube:

That's a very smooth and powerful swing, don't you think? Suzann is also a very good skier, and her athleticism makes her stand out among most of the women on the LPGA.

For obvious reasons, Suzann isn't one of the most accurate drivers on the Tour -- long hitters rarely are. She's ranked 82nd, but that's a little misleading since the best LPGA players hit over 84% of their fairways. Suzann hits over 69% -- still good enough to beat the 67% I hold up as a goal and also to make her 15th or 16th on the PGA Tour. (Bear in mind that none of the PGA players who would be ahead of her hits it even average length, while Suzann is one of the longest drivers on her Tour. John Merrick's bio page lists him at 298 yards, but the stats page puts him at 283. No matter how you cut it, Suzann is pretty impressive with a driver.)

How does she manage to be so accurate? It's because Suzann ignores a commonly-held belief about the swing -- she doesn't slide her hips forward on the downswing. You'll see this is true for most long hitters who are reasonably accurate. Here are a couple of frames taken from the video. I've added an identical line to both, showing the position of Suzann's lead knee and shoulder both at address and impact.

Suzann Pettersen hitting a driver

As you can see, her hips do move forward ever so slightly because her weight has shifted to her lead side. But most of the apparent "slide" is an illusion caused by her upper body moving away from the target at impact. Her hips have not crossed that line. You can check the video -- this is the most extreme part of her forward motion. And remember that this is with a driver. With most other clubs Suzann wouldn't be leaning backward this much. With them her lead shoulder would be much closer to the line.

Sliding your hips too much on the downswing causes you to lean backward, and that causes you to leave the clubface open and hit a slice. (A few of you would manage to flip the clubhead and hit a big hook.)

One of the keys to long straight drives is to keep your body -- all of it -- moving together through the swing. If you keep your lower body more centered beneath your upper body, the way it is when you throw a Frisbee or hit a tennis forehand, you'll find it much easier to hit the ball hard and still keep it in play.

Take it from Suzann. She's an athelete -- and #2 in the Rolex Rankings, btw -- so she ought to know.


  1. This is something I have been working on. During my last round, all of my misses were to the left. I deduced it was because my upper body was getting way ahead of the ball before impact. When I told my self to "stay back" on my swing, the results were better. Now that I see Suzann's stills, it makes sense.

    I also noticed that if I leaned back too much, I would hit a slice. So maybe I should think, "stay centered" as you mentioned. I missed a lot of fairways and as a result shot an 89 because I was on the constant scramble. Nowhere near 67% that day.

  2. Yeah, that hip slide messes up a lot of people. It's one of those things that happens naturally to some degree, but once you start trying to do it, you get all out of position.

    I really have found that the kind of balance you have when you throw a Frisbee™ disk is almost perfect for learning the proper move. Very few people lean too far one way or the other when they throw one, and it's a very natural thing to do.

  3. At the top her hands are above her shoulder and half way down her hands are on the shoulder plane. Martin Laird hands work the same path. But at 70 years old, 6'7", and 210 lbs all I get is a real steep approach angle (which is great for middle/long irons but the pits for hybrids/woods). I could drop it down to my hip plane like Mclean and you advocate but it is hard to stay centered after the hands drop down -- I've already extended my right arm so I have left is rotation.

    I'd like to not to have to wait until I'm over 100 to shoot my age, so I'm thinking of hybrids (e.g., Cleveland Hi-bore). I feel comfortable with the centered swing, I just can't seem to get hybrids and woods to work with it.

  4. Sorry I didn't answer sooner, Joel. I've been away from my email for a couple of days.

    I have a suggestion. Because you're so tall, you don't have to worry about hitting down on the ball like us shorter players (I'm about 5'10") so you can make a flatter swing and still get most of the advantages of an upright swing. I think it would let you keep your centered swing while helping you learn to "sweep" your hybrids and woods.

    I noticed you said you'd "already extended my right arm." (I'm assuming you play right-handed.) Flattening your swing like I'm suggesting would help you keep your right elbow bent longer, so you'd probably pick up some distance as well.

    The guy I think you want to look at is Matt Kuchar. Kuch is 6'4", so what worked for him might work for you. I've done a couple of posts on him; the 2nd one listed includes video:

    To help you make this move more easily, think about the flatter swings in other sports. Have you ever thrown a Frisbee™ before? Another example is a tennis backhand. Basically we're eliminating the "drop from the top" by not lifting the club so high to begin with. Give it a try and let me know how it works.

    1. Thanks Mike. I looked at your refs and the followed Kuchar on you tube with Chris O'Connell's analysis of his swing and Josh Zander's one-plane swing mechanics videos (which amplified O'Connell's work).

      I tried increasing my spine angle bu using a taylormade icw5 and a macgreggor MT 6 iron - both are about 1.5" shorter than my usual clubs (old school steel standard length).

      The results were surprising. By following O'Connell's and Zander's advice I hit clean, crisp shots with these old school blades. I don't know about the divot since I was hitting of synthetic turf.

      I'll practice some more so I can know what this swing feels like (and make sure it doesn't hurt my lower back - a lifetime of writing software has left a messed up lumbar area; see the review of Sean Foley's back preserving swing tips at Then I'll head for the range a watch the flight of balls to see how all of the clubs work.

      Thanks again for the pointer.

    2. You're welcome, Joel. Let me know how it goes.

      BTW, I did a post on Foley's back advice based on an article he did for Golf Digest (I think -- it may have been Golf Magazine). One of my 3 tests of a good swing is that it doesn't hurt. ;-)



  7. Martin Hall mentioned her hip thrust before her waggle