Ball speed and distance dominate golf news headlines and TV coverage. Tune in to any pro event and you don't have to wait long before you'll hear the announcers discussing the mammoth drives of Dustin, Rory, Bubba and all the other really big hitters in the game. Each player's ball speed is displayed on the screen like it's the holy grail. This sends a clear message to players of all ability levels - get fast or get left behind. Younger players know this and talk about their longest drives like a badge of honor, regardless of how it affects their scores.
With all this emphasis on hitting the ball far, there are some things we need to understand about ball speed (the source of these prodigious drives) and its relationship to low scores and playing the game at a high level.
Do Higher Ball Speeds Mean Lower Scores?
In general, yes. More ball speed and distance make the game far easier, especially for younger golfers. Golfers that hit it a long way have several advantages. Here are a few of the most significant.
1. Longer drives make it easier to hit approach shots closer to the flag, thereby having a better chance of making birdies and avoiding three putts.
2. Longer and higher drives give players the ability to carry bunkers and cut the corners on doglegs, setting up even shorter approach shots.
3. Long hitters also are better out of the rough which reduces the penalty for offline shots.
What is a Really Good Ball Speed for a Junior Golfer?
We track ball speed and distance for all of our junior golfers and have noticed a strong correlation between multi-sport athletes and higher ball speeds. Below lists the top 20% in driver ball speed by age.
13-14 years old - 140-148
15-16 years old - 148-155
17-17 years old - 155+
13-14 years old - 126-133
15-16 years old - 133-140
17-18 years old - 140+
Can Players Improve Their Ball Speed?
Yes, without a doubt. Here are some of the best ways to improve ball speed.
1. Improve impact dynamics. Regardless of your club speed, the best way to maximize your ball speed is to hit the ball as close to the center of the face as possible. Ball speed also depends on the club's movement through the ball (angle of attack and club path) and the orientation of the club face at impact (dynamic loft and face angle).
2. Train hard in the gym. For competitive juniors, golf fitness has shifted from a recommendation to an expectation. The gains made in the gym starting with more mobility and stability contribute greatly to a player's ability to generate and control speed.
3. Swing faster. It sounds simple, but it works. Training the body and brain to swing fast produces measurable gains.
4. Get properly fitted. The right clubs can make a big difference in club speed and a golfer's ability to find the center of the face. Poorly fitted clubs on the other hand, can have a negative influence on ball speed.
For players that are looking to increase their ball speed and distance, I would strongly recommend finding an experienced coach who understands the junior development process. For players that already possess faster ball speeds, skill development should become the top priority.
There's no denying that on tour, in college golf, and among junior golfers there is a trend toward faster ball speeds. The standard at all levels has changed and successful coaches and players will adapt to this new style of play.