Getting more distance is the goal of every golfer. Kevin Ward, Founder and Director of The Golf Stable, says you may be looking in the wrong place.
Tell me if this sounds familiar.
You’re a mid-handicapper who can occasionally sneak a score into the high 70s. You also throw up a few 90+ scores over the season. You have the ability to play well, but lack the consistency to take your game to the next level.
In the search for longer drives, more consistent iron play, and lower scores, you buy a new driver and irons. You decide custom-fitting is the secret to improving so you spend an extra $200 on that, too.
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Then you take a few lessons to dial in your new weapons. You play a couple of good rounds and figure you are ready to really step up your game.
Fast forward a month and your new clubs are performing worse than your old ones, you can’t hit a fairway, your scores are inching higher, and you start asking if they sell valium in the Pro Shop. You’re also about $2,000 in the hole.
Then next year you do it all over again. Does that sound like anyone you know?
It’s no surprise that experts like Kevin Ward say the approach outlined above is the completely wrong way to go about improving your distance and your overall game. In fact, he believes you might be doing everything in exactly the wrong order.
After a brilliant amateur career that included three Missouri state titles in high school, Big 12 All-Conference selection in college, and winning both the Kansas and Missouri Amateurs in 2004, Ward turned pro. He spent time on the Nationwide, Hooters, Gateway, and Canadian tours before starting The Golf Stable.
On top of that, he’s worked with some of the biggest names in golf instruction, including Chuck Cook, Randy Smith, Stan Utley, Pia Neilsen, Matt Christian, and Brech Spradley.
I tell you this because Kevin knows his way around the game. He’s seen and done it all. Now he’s sharing what he’s learned and it might be your key to better scores, fewer injuries, and more years of good golf as you get older.
While seeing professional golfers spend more time on fitness is not a new concept, Ward sees specialized training starting to emerge in the amateur game.
“I think now there’s going to be more of an emphasis on things like fast-twitch muscle training.” And while he admits, “You’re also going to see bigger guys out there, no question,” he says pure muscle is not the answer. “There are smaller guys who are more pliable who can still bomb it. That’s an overlooked key to distance.”
So how can both big and small guys bomb it? Core strength, balance, pliability, and flexibility. In fact, given a choice, Ward says, “Flexibility is just as important to hitting it long as shear strength. That’s how these smaller guys do it and that’s why we stress flexibility and core training in our program.”
“The first thing we look at is body movement and flexibility through a custom TPI K-Vest Screen,” Ward says. “This helps give the golfer a baseline for how they move and what they can and can’t do.”
He believes, without a doubt, the best way to improve your game starts in the gym improving core strength, flexibility, and balance. “We have to retool how people think about improving their game. If they can’t do a certain golf movement without a club in their hand, I don’t like their chances when they get out on the course ”
Will custom fit clubs and lessons help? Sure. But Ward says lasting improvement starts in the way you train your body to perform a golf swing. In his experience – and the results are showing for his Golf Stable students – start with the body, then work on the swing, then custom fit equipment.
“Most golfers do things in the opposite order. And they do it because it’s fast and easy to buy new clubs and expect better results,” Ward explains. “Taking lessons is always a good idea, but I want players to understand they can extend their good playing days and improve their scores the most by taking care of their bodies.”
Ward points out that, within the USGA rules for club conformity, every new driver is pretty much maxed out to the limit, regardless of manufacturer. It has been that way for several years now.
In other words, a new off-the-shelf $500 driver has the same performance capabilities as last year’s model. “Where we try to help golfers gain distance on the fitting side is trying to find a shaft that will optimize launch angle and spin.”
“Playing the right clubs, with the right shaft, and grooving a good swing are obviously going to help anyone. But if you are spending thousands of dollars on your bag and not seeing the results you want, you might be wasting your money,” Ward advises.
The more you think about it, the more it makes sense.
Now, as a registered club addict, I will never fault someone who enjoys playing the latest and greatest tech. A Hyundai can get you to the course, but it’s more fun to roll up in a Ferrari – even if you’re never able to get the thing out of second gear.
As you browse the new 2021 club offerings, it might be smart to spend the winter downtime working on your core stability and flexibility. If your clubs are 10 years old, you might see some performance difference by upgrading, but it will be temporary. A lasting swing that creates better shots and prevents injury is found in the gym.
“It’s not just upper body strength,” Ward insists. “You have to build a strong base in your legs, create a solid core to rotate, and have the flexibility to make a smooth, flowing stroke. Big biceps alone don’t hit bombs.”
The bottom line is that getting in better shape, taking lessons, and getting your heads and shafts fitted is a proven, linear process. Do all three, in that order, and you’ll almost certainly see lower scores and fewer aches and pains.