Understanding Clubhead Speed and Its Impact on Driving Distance

Understanding Clubhead Speed and Its Impact on Driving Distance

If you look at professional, college or high level amateur golf, the players are getting bigger, faster and stronger. They are swinging the club at greater speeds and seeing an increase in ball speed and ultimately, driving distance. 

This improvement in driving the golf ball is undeniably contributing to lower and lower scores. 

In recreational players, hitting the ball further will help you score better. But, in older players, we see a concerning trend. As clubhead speed starts decreasing, players lose distance and start seeing scores rise.

Importance of Clubhead Speed in Golf

At its core, golf is physics. With the introduction of new launch monitor technology, we now know “optimal launch conditions” with metrics like angle of attack, smash factor, spin rate, MOI, etc.  I won’t bore you with a detailed physics lesson on ball flight.

But, assuming that “optimal launch conditions” are achieved, then it gets relatively simple. The faster the clubhead moves into the ball, the faster the ball will move off the tee. The faster the ball moves off the tee, the further it will fly.

So, the ultimate goal is to improve your clubhead speed to help you improve your golf driving distance.

Something I've learned over the last several years working with world long drive competitors is they pay less attention to ball distance and more attention to clubhead speed and ball speed. Those are the two factors that they find to be in their control and not dependent on weather, wind, firmness of the ground, altitude, etc.

Factors Affecting Clubhead Speed

Discover the various factors that can influence your clubhead speed, such as swing mechanics and equipment choices.

There are several different factors that can affect clubhead speed. 

  1. Equipment: the lighter the club, the more flexible the shaft, the longer the shaft the faster you will be able to swing it. 
  2. Physical: there are four main power sources that impact club head speed:
    1. Vertical Thrust: how hard you can push through the ground
    2. Rotational Power: how quickly and efficiently you are able to rotate your body
    3. Chopping Power: how explosively you are able to pull your arms down
    4. Wrist Release Power: how well you are able to release the club and generate speed
  3. Technique: how efficiently you move your club through a large range of motion to maximize the clubhead speed and deliver the club to the ball to optimize launch conditions.

Tips and Techniques for Improving Clubhead Speed

Now that we know a little bit about why clubhead speed is important and some of the factors that play into it, let’s dive into effective strategies to help increase your clubhead speed and drive the golf ball longer.

Proper Warm-Up Exercises

One simple, low hanging area most golfers can improve is by adding a warm up. (Yes, you should be doing more than just a few extra practice swings on hole 1!) Performing a simple warm up on the range before you play can help improve club head speed by 1-2 mph and driving distance by 3-5 yards.

Not sure what to do?

Try our free golf warm up that only takes 10 minutes before your round!

Swing Mechanics and Timing

First off, I am not a golf coach, I am a physical therapist. I highly recommend that players get connected with a golf professional to work on their swing. Curious to learn more from some professional golfers and trainers? Listen to our podcast episodes with Coach Jason Tipton and World Long Drive Competitor Josh Koch to get insider expertise.

However, I am a physical therapist with TPI training, and there are a few basic concepts that I know to improve your golf swing mechanics that will improve your clubhead speed. 

1. Move your body more efficiently with the proper sequence. 

In the golf swing, we see the same sequence with the fastest players. In the downswing, we see the hips rotate first, followed by the body, followed by the arms, and finally the wrists/club. This efficient pattern will help maximize the clubhead speed.

2. Make a bigger turn.

Moving the club through a greater range of motion will create a larger arc and more time to swing the club faster. This is typically through a bigger backswing turn, higher hands or more depth.

3. Using the ground more efficiently.

Almost all the energy in the swing is generated through the ground, and transferred to the club. The longest hitters in the world are very efficient in their “footwork”, that is, how they use the ground to generate clubhead speed.

Performance Training for Increased Clubhead Speed

Outside of optimizing your equipment and improving your golf swing technique, we can also improve your physical performance to help improve your clubhead speed and increase your driving distance. 

Overall, if we build a bigger engine, with a stronger, more powerful and more efficient athlete, we will typically see a corresponding increase in clubhead speed. 

Strength Training for Golfers

Muscular strength, or the ability to produce force, is a key underlying physical ability to generate clubhead speed. The stronger you are, the more force you will be able to transfer to the clubhead.

Golfers want to train the four major movement patterns of the upper and lower body to build strength. 

Lower body pushing strength will help improve vertical force production, a key driver of clubhead speed. A great bench mark is to be able to perform 5 repetitions of a split squat with at least 50% of your body weight. To improve this movement, we suggest trying movements like squats, lunges or isometric pulls. 

Lower body pushing strength for golfers:

Lower body hinge strength, like a deadlift or RDL, are great to work on your ability to maintain a posterior weight shift and address hip extension. Hip extension is another key driver of clubhead speed. A few of our favorite exercises are Single Leg RDLs or Trap Bar Deadlifts.

Lower body hinge strength for golfers:

For the upper body, working on pushing strength and pulling strength will help with controlling the club and swinging it faster.

Upper body pushing & pulling exercises for golfers:

Power Training for Golfers

Building strength is a foundational element for golf performance. However, strength alone is not enough.  If it was, you’d see the PGA tour filled with body builders or world strongman competitors.

To improve clubhead speed, you need to improve your ability to express force quickly. This is something that you can test and improve on through training. 

One of the key physical elements that helps improve golf clubhead speed and driving distance is called vertical impulse, or how much force you can express over a given amount of time. 

We can assess vertical impulse on force plates through a vertical jump, and it is correlated with club head speed.

As a case study, here is what these jumps look like on force plates:

Golfer A: High School Player, driving distance ~150 mph golf ball speed and around 250 yard carry distance.

Golfer B: World Long Drive competitor, ~220 mph golf ball speed, longest drive around 450 yards.

What you can see between those two players physically is the world long drive competitor (Golfer B) is able to produce much higher force, much quicker (his peak is much sharper and higher). 

In numerical form, you can see that the long drive competitor jumped about 55% higher and produced about 20% more vertical force. 

Chart showing the difference between two golfers and their power measurements during sports physical therapy.

The physical aspect is important, being able to produce more vertical force quicker will give you more horsepower to swing the club faster. 

But, jumping ability alone isn’t enough, we still need to train our body to move quicker, more efficiently and improve our swing technique. 

To improve this physical ability, we like to incorporate weighted explosive movements, like goblet squat jumps or jump shrugs. 

Speed Training for Golfers

Speed is a skill, and you need to train your body to swing quickly

There are many different options to work on speed, but one of our favorites is the Stack System.  This is a product that has helped everyone from Major Champion Matthew Fitzpatrick to average golfers gain clubhead speed.Stack_Trace

We love this Stack System and use it religiously in our clinic. Use our code, KINETICSMP for 10% off your own Stack System, along with code PGAChamp for free shipping!Stack_hardware

Now, let's break down why we love this training tool. On average, Stack users gain 9.2 mph in clubhead speed which correlates to an average gain of 24 yards off the tee. 

Why is that?

Largely from a concept called speed reserve.


Speed Reserve

Let’s say that right now, if you took your driver and swung it as fast as you possibly could, with no consideration for hitting the golf ball straight, you could swing your golf club 100 mph. On the course your “playing” swing is 90 mph. 

So you are functioning at 90% of your best possible physical ability and would hit the ball roughly 216 yards in the air.

If we increase your “best possible” swing speed to 110 mph, and you still swing at the same controlled 90% swing on the course you would now swing the club at 99 mph. This would increase your driving distance to  about 240 yards in the air. 

This is a dramatic change, with no change of effort on the golf course. 

No amount of weight lifting, jump training, etc. will substitute for actually learning how to move your body more efficiently and faster with a golf club in your hand. There is no substitution for this sport specific training.

Flexibility and Mobility Exercises

Golfers love to work on mobility exercises. Most of the time, the first thing that players say is that they are inflexible and that is why their body hurts or their swing is slow. 

Sometimes, they may be right. If a player doesn’t have the required mobility to get the club into the proper position in the back swing, transition or downswing, it could limit their speed.

However, in the scientific literature, there is very little evidence to support that improving flexibility helps improve clubhead speed.

My suggestion? Focus on improving your strength, power, speed and maintaining your mobility if you want to improve your clubhead speed.  

While well designed strength training routines won’t make you big and bulky, you do want to ensure you don’t give overly tight or restricted as you start working in the gym more.

A few of my favorite moves for golfers:

Tracking Progress and Setting Goals

As you set out on your journey to gain clubhead speed and improve driving distance, it is critical that you have a sustainable model and consistently track your progress. 

You need a way to objectively track progress over time and set a plan for improvement. 

If you are working on strength, track your progress by consistently rechecking your 5 rep max of major movements, like split squats, every 4-8 weeks to track how much you’ve improved.

If you are working on power, track your progress by testing your vertical jump.

And finally, you must track your speed and have real feedback in your speed sessions to drive high intent and track progress.

If you use the Stack System, it will help you track speed and progress over time. If you are trying to speed train on your own, use some type of launch monitor in your range sessions to keep track of your drive speed over the course of time.

Remember that progress is not linear, you may go through sessions that you won’t see and improvement in speed every single week. Look at trends week after week to track improvements.

Are you a golfer that wants to hit it further? 

We’d love to help here at Kinetic Sports Medicine and Performance. Set up a free discovery call to learn more about how we’ve helped everyone from recreational players to competitive golfers and world long drive competitors improve their clubhead speed and drive the ball further!