Golf Digest (South Africa) - - Front Page - BY MAX ADLER


WE’RE NOT SHOW­ING YOU PHO­TOS OF LEXI, Michelle, Cheyenne and Stacy in work­out gear just for fun. Fact is, if you want to hit the ball fur­ther, you have more to learn from th­ese women than from some ga­loot on the PGA Tour. Let’s be hon­est: You’re never go­ing to swing the club as fast as the top few hun­dred men on the planet. And though it seems un­be­liev­able, most of those guys aren’t max­imis­ing their dis­tance any­way. Maybe be­cause the fe­male anatomy isn’t de­signed to house as much bulk, LPGA Tour play­ers have be­come the ex­perts at squeez­ing ev­ery last me­tre a body can pro­duce. From how they swing to how they train, there’s a lot for male mor­tals to copy.

“It’s my con­stant mes­sage when I talk to club pros,” says Dave Phillips, co-founder of the Titleist Per­for­mance In­sti­tute. “For mem­bers who want to hit it longer, you need to get them to look more closely at women.”

De­spite a size ad­van­tage that can’t be all at­trib­ut­able to his gut, the typ­i­cal guy doesn’t hit it in the same postal code as a fe­male pro. Ac­cord­ing to Ar­c­cos Golf, the maker of a stats-track­ing sys­tem that pairs sen­sors in your grips with the GPS in your smart­phone, the av­er­age drive of 30-year-old dudes (in this case, a self-se­lect­ing group that’s avid and cu­ri­ous enough to buy such a sys­tem) trav­els 212 me­tres. Stacy Lewis, who is 5-feet-5 and 42nd in the LPGA Tour’s dis­tance rank­ing, hits it 230. The long­est woman, 5-6 Yani Tseng, is pop­ping it out there 254.

But the week­end war­rior should be en­cour­aged that he and the typ­i­cal LPGA Tour player swing the driver at the same speed: 151 kilo­me­tres per hour. Why do the women get so much more buck for their bang? Obvi- ously, strik­ing the ball with the mid­dle of the club­face helps, but there’s more to it. First is un­der­stand­ing how at the elite level, the fe­male driver swing is fun­da­men­tally dif­fer­ent from that of the male. Par­don any sweep­ing ob­ser­va­tions, but speak­ing broadly is a nec­es­sary evil for the topic.

“With­out a doubt, LPGA Tour play­ers are more ef­fi­cient than the av­er­age PGA Tour player at max­imis­ing ev­ery bit of club­head speed,” says Justin Pad­jen of Track­Man, who spends time on both tours pro­vid­ing fit­ting ad­vice. “The typ­i­cal PGA Tour player is swing­ing the driver at 182 kilo­me­tres per hour and launch­ing the ball at 11 de­grees with 2 600 rpms of spin. That’s not the way to hit the ball if the end goal is strictly dis­tance.”

Pad­jen says the un­re­alised po­ten­tial lies in attack an­gle, the path the club­head is mov­ing up or down as it strikes the ball. Ac­cord­ing to his re­search, PGA Tour play­ers tend to present the club­head level or at mi­nus-1 de­gree, which is hit­ting down on the ball slightly. This is a choice of con­trol over power. “They’re op­ti­mal for their speed and attack an­gle,” Pad­jen says, “but their attack an­gle is what pre­vents them from hit­ting it fur­ther.”

Adds Phillips: “With men, you see more sta­ble, cen­tred swings. They al­ready have the speed, so they’re mostly try­ing to cover the ball, squeeze it out there to make sure they find the fair­way.” Be­cause slower swings are less prone to wild misses, “women can hit way up on the ball more like long-drive guys,” he says. In­deed, the av­er­age an­gle of attack for an LPGA player’s drive is around plus-2 or plus-3 de­grees, says Pad­jen, who has seen sev­eral women hit up on the ball as much as 6 de­grees.

“The fel­las hang on to lag longer, whereas the girls re­lease the club ear­lier with more of a sweep­ing mo­tion,” says Golf Di­gest Teach­ing Pro­fes­sional David Leadbetter. “As much as some guys might not like to hear it, the girls get the club swing­ing in a much freer man­ner. Guys get so con­nected. Male pros gen­er­ate power by ro­tat­ing the torso; fe­males sort of halt the body at im­pact and let the arms ex­tend for­ward. If you can free your arms like this, you’re more likely to hit a nicely shaped draw.”

In this way, women are per­haps a prod­uct of cir­cum­stance. PGA Tour set­ups tend to re­ward meaty carry dis­tances over haz­ards, per­fect for a re­li­able power fade. LPGA Tour cour­ses – and likely your home course – en­cour­age find­ing dis­tance with drives that roll out.

A key to that bound­ing LPGA Tour draw? You won’t find it by study­ing the swings of Tiger Woods or Adam Scott. In­stead, check out Lexi Thomp­son. “As I hit the ball, I get way up on both of my toes, and that’s how I got the nick­name Tippy Toes,” she says.

“You see a lot of girls with both heels off the ground at im­pact,” says Leadbetter, who coaches US Women’s Open champ Michelle Wie and sev­eral other LPGA stand­outs. “They come out of their spine an­gle at im­pact and stand up straight

like a base­ball slug­ger.” If this free­wheel­ing, un­ortho­dox mo­tion re­minds you of some­one on the PGA Tour, it’s prob­a­bly the dis­tance king. You heard it here first: Bubba Wat­son swings like a girl.

“Bubba Wat­son’s is ac­tu­ally the only swing I’ve ever heard tele­vi­sion com­men­ta­tors com­pare mine with,” Thomp­son says.

Adds Pad­jen: “Bubba’s in­ter­est­ing. Depend­ing on the tra­jec­tory of the tee shot he’s try­ing to hit, we’ve seen his attack an­gle range any­where from plus-3 to mi­nus-3. It’s what makes him a ma­gi­cian.” Bubba learned his swing slap­ping Wif­fle balls around his back yard, but oth­ers have tried in­grain­ing this “LPGA Tour move” more de­lib­er­ately. Jumbo Ozaki once trained with a base­ball coach to groove the stand-up mo­tion just for his tee ball.

SLAP SHOTS Ap­ply­ing power se­crets from other sports has also been Thomp­son’s trade. Three years ago she con­nected with Craig Slaun­white, then the strength and con­di­tion­ing coach for the Florida Pan­thers hockey team. The lie an­gle of a hockey stick is sim­i­lar to that of a golf club, and cross­over leg­ends range from long-drive bruiser Jamie Sad­lowski to, of course, Happy Gil­more.

“Craig was all about strength­en­ing my core. I ba­si­cally live stand­ing on a Bosu ball,” Thomp­son says, re­fer­ring to the in­flat­able, un­sta­ble, hemi­spher­i­cal plat­form. Her bal­ance is such that she can hold her­self up­right on a physio ball by just grip­ping it with her knees, all while per­form­ing medicine-ball throws. “Ex­er­cises like this help build the strength so you can swing within your­self,” she says. “A lot of am­a­teurs over-swing be­cause they’re not strong enough to stay in con­trol.”

Slaun­white’s other con­tri­bu­tion was get­ting Thomp­son into boxing. “I love it,” Lexi says. “Punch­ing teaches you to get power with your whole body. And it gets the anger out. Like the golf course, you can get in your own lit­tle world where noth­ing mat­ters.” Slaun­white has re­lo­cated to Canada, but the seed has been planted. Thomp­son is house-hunt­ing in the Jupiter area, and she says if she gets one that will ac­com­mo­date a gym, one of her early ac­qui­si­tions will be a heavy bag.

Cheyenne Woods says at least a few me­tres of her 230 av­er­age are thanks to fit­ness train­ing, but she’s quicker to speak of the psy­cho­log­i­cal benefits: “I just love be­ing out­side, the adrenalin, and know­ing that I’m fit.” On a given week home in Phoenix, she’ll spend two af­ter­noons at a lo­cal high school run­ning on the track and jump­ing up the bleach­ers. The stu­dents don’t recog­nise her, and those who ap­proach will ask if she’s train­ing for a spe­cific race. “It’s nice to be mis­taken as a track ath­lete,” Woods laughs. (She did com­pete in the long jump and triple jump at high school.) “Peo­ple are usu­ally like, ‘Wow, I didn’t know golfers ran.’ It’s cool to show that golfers are ath­letes, too.”

The rest of the week Woods at­tends group-con­di­tion­ing classes where the tem­per­a­ture is cranked to 40 de­grees. The ex­er­cises in­cor­po­rate only body weight, such as lunges and moun­tain-climbers. “You never know what you’re get­ting your­self into,” Woods says. “You’re drip­ping with sweat, and you just go un­til he says, ‘Stop,’ so it’s re­ally men­tal.”

“The girl’s got drive,” says trainer Karen Mullarkey, who lists Woods among her clients with LPGA as­pi­ra­tions. “But she’d never re­ally been pushed hard, be­cause I think her pre­vi­ous coaches were ner­vous of in­juries.”

Mullarkey isn’t cav­a­lier, es­pe­cially when her client re­cently earned her first LPGA Tour card, but she laments that fe­male ath­letes are of­ten not eval­u­ated and chal­lenged ap­pro­pri­ately. Ini­tially, Woods was “quad-dom­i­nant,” mean­ing the mus­cles on the front side of her lower body over­matched the strength of her ham­strings, calves and glutes on the back side. This im­bal­ance is a com­mon con­di­tion among women, Mullarkey says, largely be­cause of the wider an­gle at which the fe­mur meets the knee, an ac­com­mo­da­tion for child­birth. For this rea­son, Mullarkey usu­ally as­signs two days of leg work a week for fe­male clients, as op­posed to one for males.

“My ten­dency was for my right knee to kick in too early on the down­swing, so I’d ei­ther hit a push or a hook,” Woods says. “Now that we’ve strength­ened my hips and butt, I’m do­ing much bet­ter with that.” DE­VEL­OP­ING SPEED Rel­a­tive to men, women are strong­est in their legs. In one ma­jor study, a group of women were found to be only 52 per­cent as strong as men in their up­per body, but 66 per­cent as strong in the lower body. Yet for fe­male golfers, mak­ing their lower body even stronger can be smart. “Women have the great abil­ity to cre­ate torque be­cause they can turn bet­ter than men, and that’s why you see a lot of long swings on the LPGA Tour,” Phillips says. “If a woman can get a re­ally strong lower body, she can de­velop speed just as quick as a man.”

Adds Lead bet­ter: “Michelle (Wie) was 20 me­tres longer when she was 13 than she is now. She was car­ry­ing the ball 240 to 250. She had so much shoul­der turn against very lit­tle hip turn, high hands, and this in­cred­i­ble whip­like ac­tion. I haven’t seen any­thing like it be­fore or since.”

Freak­ish dis­tance is nice, but it doesn’t make a com­plete player. Sev­eral months be­fore she won the US Women’s Open, Wie told trainer David Donatucci of the Florida In­sti­tute of Per­for­mance that her goal for the 2014 sea­son was to be in­jury-free.

“She was al­most too flex­i­ble in the wrong parts,” Donatucci says. “Her joints were over­stressed.” Be­cause Wie looked fan­tas­tic and ate nu­tri­tiously, “she had the be­lief she was in great shape, but we saw faulty move­ment pat­terns when she did squats or stepped onto a box with one leg,” Donatucci says. Af­ter dili­gently tar­get­ing spe­cific small-mus­cle groups with cor­rec­tive ex­er­cises, Wie has a swing that’s more sta­ble than ever.

“Doesn’t mat­ter if you’re a man or woman,” Leadbetter says. “As you age, your flex­i­bil­ity might lessen, although your strength in­creases. You end up gen­er­at­ing power in a dif­fer­ent way.”

As much as Wie’s body has im­proved, Stacy Lewis is one of Donatucci’s best clients. “She sets the bar for every­body else here, guys in­cluded,” he says. “She’s never with­out her log­book, and she’s al­ways try­ing to lift more weight.” That in­cludes 52kg on a sin­gle-leg squat. Not too shabby for some­one who weighs just 57kg.

“I don’t know how hard the PGA Tour guys work out, but out here we’re work­ing pretty hard,” says Thomp­son, who would hap­pily take seven more kilo­grams of mus­cle to­mor­row for her 6-foot frame. “Even af­ter long days, there are a lot of girls in the fit­ness trailer.”

As Lexi and friends con­tinue to in­spire young girls and draw promis­ing ath­letes who might have played soft­ball or field hockey, the LPGA Tour awaits a player av­er­ag­ing 270-me­tre drives. She’s out there.

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