The Florida Swing. For many a player a welcome change in course layout and surfaces, for others not so much. For me, it's a stretch of tournaments played over some wonderful venues in the Sunshine State. The Florida Swing also signals the start of the stretch run to The Masters in early April.
A plethora of the game’s elite showed up to get their Florida Swing on at The Honda Classic. The host venue was the Champion Course at PGA National, a seriously daunting venue designed by the legendary Jack Nicklaus. The Champion Course perennially poses the complete examination of any player’s game but it places a special emphasis on accurate ball-striking. It is also home to one of golf’s most daunting three-hole stretches. Hole Nos. 15-17 or The Bear Trap – a run of two par threes which are flanked by water short and right which sandwich a dogleg right par four. Play that series of holes in ten strokes and you are likely to gain shots on the competition.
Rory McIlroy took the tournament by the scruff of the neck with a first round of 63. He piled on rounds of 66 and 69 for 12-under par and the lead through three rounds. Indeed he led for the bulk of the final round, but a few uncharacteristic errors scuppered his designs on lifting the trophy for the second time in three tries. In the end he lost in a sudden-death playoff to the gritty Georgia Bulldog, Russell Henley.
Rory was sublime off the tee, driving the ball very long (310 yards on average) and quite accurately (62.5 percent in the fairway). In fact he lists the driver as a real weapon in his arsenal and I feel like there are a few things we can emulate in his dynamic approach to hitting the Big Dog:
Posture up: I have heard it said that you can’t fire a cannon from a canoe. That wonderful anecdote is so apt when it comes to driving for power and accuracy. McIlroy’s set-up to the driver is next to the perfect address position to launch a high and powerful draw. He sets up with a wide stance (the insteps of his feet are slightly wider than shoulder-width apart). He addresses the ball position, which is inside of his left heel, and then he tilts his spine slightly away from the target (setting his left shoulder above his right). This effectively guarantees a higher launch angle which is paramount to power off the tee. Finally, he allows his arms to hang down in a very relaxed and natural fashion from his shoulders. This tension-free environment in his arms goes a long way to creating the platform for the fierce whipping of his arms and hinging and rehinging of his wrists – a mechanism which is very influential in creating speed.
Turn your back on the target: Rory is a super model of how to wind up the shoulders against a stable core and get behind the ball in a balanced and poised fashion. He also does a super job of not unwinding his shoulders and upper body too early in the downswing. The driving of his lower body and the force of the club’s swing and release help to unwind the shoulders through impact into a balanced finish. So like Rory, turn your back on the target and try and stay in that inclination a smidge longer in the downswing. You will feel your arms get the full complement of your energy wind-up and you will transfer a lot of energy into the ball without losing balance.
Hit from the inside and hit up: A high draw needs a shallow and sweeping launch angle. Watch McIlroy and you will clearly see this as his downswing drops slightly under his backswing plane. This shallowing coupled with his tilted spine angle produce and a swing path that attacks the ball from slightly inside the target line and then delivers out. Further, it also allows a more upswinging angle of approach which is requisite to the high draw with a driver. So like Rory, strive to deliver a strike with the driver that approaches from inside the target-line (ball) and then swings upward through impact. It may not feel powerful but you will be pleasantly surprised at the results.