All golfers know that speed matters. Both the speed of their swing and speed of the ball, which are closely tied together. The speed of a swing translates into speed of the ball, which impacts the distance the ball travels. And golf is all about two things; the distance and direction of a golf ball. If you get the distance and direction correct on every shot, you’ll be a very good player. So, when it comes to distance, the primary factor is speed.
In spite of what all the big golf companies want you to believe, hitting the ball far isn’t the most important part of the distance game. Hitting the ball the correct distance is more important. You really only want to hit the ball as far as possible on most drives and that’s not always the case either.
On par 3s you don’t want to hit it as far as possible, so that takes away about four from your 18 total tee balls in a round. Then, there are holes where you want to lay-up or short and tight par 4s where you can take less than driver. That’ll take away several more full power swings as well. That leaves you with, what, 10-12 swings per round where you just want to hit it as far as possible. The rest of them are about hitting the ball the correct distance.
Closely tied to speed is acceleration. Every golf shot starts from a moment of stillness; the address position. From there, every golfer must accelerate the club in order to create speed. The quicker you accelerate, the more speed you can generate and the more distance you’ll gain. But, like I just said, distance isn’t everything. Acceleration not only helps you gain distance, it also help you regulate and control your distance.
Let’s talk about that…
What Is Acceleration?
Before we get too far down this rabbit hole, we need to talk definitions. You probably already know what acceleration is, but we need to start there in order to talk about what it means in the golf swing.
Acceleration is the capacity of an object to gain speed. So, in the golf swing, it’s the rate at which the club goes from motionless at address to top speed (ideally near impact). The opposite of acceleration is deceleration. If you’ve heard of this word as it relates to the golf swing, you know it’s typically nothing good. Deceleration is the rate at which an object reduces speed.
Of course, every golf swing needs to decelerate at some point. In order for a swing to stop it must decelerate. But that’s not normally how deceleration is talked about. Sometimes, deceleration happens before impact. That’s when it’s a major issue.
Deceleration does the opposite of acceleration. As I said earlier, acceleration makes it easier to control distances and hit the ball far. Deceleration makes it more difficult to control distance. I won’t say it necessarily leads to shorter shots, but it does lead to worse contact. Let me explain a bit…
Why Is Acceleration Important?
We’ve all had those shots that we hit thin and ended up blading across the green. Often times, that’s a result of a deceleration of the club head before impact. Now, technically, those shots travel farther than we were hoping, but the added distance isn’t pretty or helpful.
So, like I said above, acceleration provides us distance and control. An accelerating club is a club that’s easier to control because it works with the natural movement of our golf swing. It helps muscles to remain relatively relaxed as they move around the body. Acceleration also leverages the laws of physics to hit the golf ball in the most efficient way possible.
Think about it, an object that is dropped from about 5 feet in the air is going to accelerate towards the ground because of gravity. Now imagine the top of your backswing. Your hands and golf club are up in the air and must drop, or travel down, in order to reach the golf ball. The most efficient way to do that is to work with gravity, not against it. If a club were to drop on its own, it would accelerate. Your job, as the golfer, is to guide the club toward the ball on the way down to the ground.
Deceleration, on the other hand, is much more difficult to control, primarily because muscles are tense and deviate from their natural swing position. Once you start your downswing, the only way for the club to decelerate is for your body to work against gravity. Your muscles must start to engage more to slow the club.
Now, obviously deceleration doesn’t happen right away in the downswing. Instead it takes a couple fractions of a second after you’ve started accelerating in order to start decelerating. That process has a lot of different things going on. First, you have the pause and change in direction at the top of your swing, then you have an initial acceleration downward, then you have your body reacting to slow it down. Once you decelerate, it knocks your club and body slightly off-path, affecting the quality of the impact position.
Why Deceleration Happens?
Deceleration typically happens when a player, often subconsciously, thinks they’ve swung too hard to too far for the desired shot. It can also happen if a player is startled in the backswing or if they noticed a swing flaw that they want to stop or correct. The last reason it happens is that a player doesn’t trust that they picked the correct club and thinks, mid-swing, that they grabbed too much.
Deceleration due to Swing Flaw
Let’s start with being startled or noticing a swing flaw. Both of those are very similar because you could say that a player was startled by a swing flaw they felt in their swing. A bullhorn being blown in the middle of your backswing is one thing that you can’t control and happens too infrequently that we won’t even really address it much more than this. But, for example, maybe a player notices that their swing path is coming too far outside-in (which would result in a slice).
First of all, that’s a great step in correcting your mistakes when you can notice the issue mid-swing. But reacting to that swing flaw can result in making the problem worse. Maybe you’ve felt that your path is off. You might try to slow your swing, without even realizing it, in order to minimize the distance the ball travels to the right. Instead, the likely result is hitting the ball fat or thin, which I’d argue is worse than hitting a slice. You must learn to suspend judgement of your swing until after the shot is hit. Trust your swing even if it doesn’t feel right in the moment.
Too Long of a Backswing Causes you to Decel
The other situation is that a player notices that they’ve swung too far in their backswing. This typically happens when pitching or chipping. It happens most often when a player isn’t hitting a full shot. They are trying to guess how far they need to swing the club in order to hit it a certain distance and then halfway through the swing they doubt, slow down, and hit a worse shot than they would’ve anyway. This is a very common issue in amateur golfers.
Hitting the Wrong Club
Finally, when players choose the wrong club, they often decelerate without even knowing it. For example, maybe a player has 150 yards to the green, it’s a bit downhill and there’s a tailwind. Normally the player would hit an 8 iron 150 yards, but because of the slope and wind, they decide to go down a club and hit a 9 iron. As the player stands over the ball, the wind picks up a bit more and doubt starts to creep into the player’s head. They start to think that even a 9 is too much club, so instead of stopping and picking a new club, they swing. The result, often times, is deceleration.
The cure to all of these situation is to accelerate through impact. Acceleration can only occur when there is trust. Trust in the club chosen, trust in gravity, trust in the distance the club will travel, and trust in the swing.
Now, I realize that’s easier said than done, so let’s talk about how to accelerate…
The Deceleration Cure: Accelerate Through the Ball
Accelerating through the ball isn’t as difficult as it sounds. Most players, when told to accelerate through the ball, think that they need to swing harder. It only makes sense, right? Faster things accelerate more. But that’s not necessary in the golf swing. It’s possible to swing slow, but still accelerate; the rate of acceleration is just slower in a slow swing. When seeking acceleration, you just need the speed to be increasing. It doesn’t need to be increasing faster than what’s natural.
Instead of trying to swing harder, whether it’s a full shot or partial, simply focus on relaxing your muscles. Deceleration happens when muscles tense up and your body tries to fight against gravity. A relaxed muscle is one that is partnering with gravity and hanging on for the ride. Since your club is dropping from the top of your backswing to the ball, the club will naturally accelerate even if you did nothing. Now, of course, doing nothing wouldn’t create much speed, but it would ensure that your club accelerated all the way through impact.
The muscles you specifically want to focus on keeping relaxed is your arms. Those are the ones that, when tense, will do the most harm in slowing down the golf swing. Instead, you can focus on firing your core and hip muscles through impact in order to create speed that translates to acceleration and distance.
Now that you know the importance of acceleration and what it and deceleration does to your swing, here are some drills you can do to practice acceleration in your golf swing.
Clockwork Pitching Drill
Like I mentioned, pitching and chipping is a moment when many players will decelerate through impact. In order to better accelerate through impact, it’s important to trust your backswing and how far the ball will travel. I like to imagine my swing is a huge clock with 6 at impact and 12 at my head.
- When I’m on the range, I take each wedge and practice hitting shots where I stop my backswing at 7, 8, 9, 10, and 11.
- Then, I note the distance each one travels without me trying to dictate it. In this drill, it’s important to not try and swing the club, but instead, really lean into gravity. Allow gravity to swing your club.
After a while, you’ll develop a trust in the distance the ball travels when you swing to different backswing lengths. This really limits deceleration because you can trust that your backswing length and gravity will take the ball the correct distance.
If acceleration occurs, then the follow-through should be about the same height and length as the backswing.
- Specifically when it comes to pitching and chipping, pay attention to how far the club naturally follows-through when you hit partial shots.
- This will give you a good indication as to whether you accelerated or decelerated through impact.
Focusing on the follow-through, even from the beginning of the shot, can make it easier to avoid deceleration. Take some partial swings without a ball. Watch how high your club travels on its own on both sides of the ball.
Impact Bag Drill
There’s a training tool called an impact bag that can be very helpful in creating acceleration. If you don’t have one, you can use a towel or pillow.
- Put the impact bag where a golf ball would be.
- Then, take some swings into the impact bag.
- Obviously you won’t have a normal follow-through, but the backswing and downswing should be normal. You can tell whether you accelerated or decelerated just by how the club makes contact with the bag.
- If the club recoils or rebounds off the bag, that often indicates deceleration. Instead, try to hit the bag where the club stays in contact with the bag even after impact. Try to move the bag a few feet forward past impact when you hit it.
Now go out there and make sure that on every shot you’re accelerating through impact. The more you’re able to do this, the more consistency you’ll have in your distance, direction, and quality of impact on all your clubs from driver all the way down to your lob wedge.