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How the World Long Drive champs hit a golf ball farther than anyone on the planet

This week, we watched World Long Drive beasts send 430-yard rockets off the tee. In awe, we had to ask for tips on how they do it.

THACKERVILLE, Okla. -- Not to brag, but when I played on the LPGA tour, I was in the top 10 in driving distance. I averaged 274 yards and considered myself a "beast."

My ego, however, was deflated this week when I covered the World Long Drive Championship. At this event, 274 yards is chump change and it would take me a driver and a full wedge to reach Tim Burke's championship winning drive last year of 394 yards.

In all honesty, I grew up swinging hard. My dad gave me men's clubs that were far too heavy for me, but he believed that if I swung heavier clubs it would help build my golf muscles. At one point he told me, "If you're going to hit it like a girl, hit it like a big woman."

Basically he meant, "Swing as hard as you can."

So, I did. Over time I learned better technique, but overall, power was part of my game. Hitting it far came naturally, so I never thought about what I could do to add distance because I had plenty to compete on tour.

Then I met Sandra Carlborg, a four-time World Long Drive champion from Sweden. She holds the record for women with a 391-yard drive. Her raw power is astounding, and as I watched her hit balls on the range, I thought to myself, "How does someone similar to my size generate so much speed?"

Carlborg says she focuses mostly on lower-body strength. Since the swing is built from the ground up, she has found that having stability in her lower body provides her power to accelerate through the ball.

The stabilization of the lower body was reinforced with every long driver I spoke to.

Trevor Anderson, who is defending champion Tim Burke's trainer (and also trainer to LPGA World No. 1 Lydia Ko) stressed the importance of learning how to use ground force and legs properly in the swing.

Lisa Vlooswyk (aka "Lisa Longball"), who is a seven-time national champion in Canada, maintained that shoulder mobility is essential, and finds that too many people lift with their arms, rather than turning their upper body.

She focuses on keeping her back and shoulders loose, an important component throughout a day of competition where she can hit upwards of 76 balls at speeds of 120 mph.

In what is described as "golf fit," long hitters on the pro tours and Long Driver competitors have many similarities: they're flexible, they use their legs in their swing, have a strong core, and have good balance. These common characteristics help create the power needed to take some outrageously aggressive cuts at the ball.

Beyond having the physical ability, the setup to the ball is just as important.

Swing instructor Michael Breed, and host of The Golf Fix on the Golf Channel, took me through the differences of setting up for a "normal" driver compared to a long driver. The loft of a long driver is typically five degrees and the shaft is 50 inches. Initially when I set up to the driver, I was in a normal driver stance: shoulders slightly tilted and ball just inside my front foot. I could hardly get the ball in the air without it turning into a low slice.

Breed then instructed me to tilt my shoulders even more, to have my head cocked back, and to place the ball just outside my front foot.

He watched Vlooswyk and I hit and said the major difference between us was that she has a spring in the follow through, which made me look like I was hanging back initially in my swing. So I added what I dubbed as the "spring and swing effect," and it essentially felt like I was jumping through the ball with a little more force. In fact, I smashed the driver a few times and realized why people have become addicted to this sport.

Lisa then shared a tip with me that allows her to feel the swoosh of the club to help her swing through more efficiently:

These tips, while all effective, only matter if you do one thing correctly:

"Hit the ball in the center of the face," Burke said.

Easier said than done, Timmy.

Here are some of the top tips for distance after spending a few days with the biggest hitters in the world:

  1. Have shoulder mobility

  2. Have a stable lower body

  3. Spring and swing

  4. Get through the ball

  5. Swing in balance

  6. Hit center of the face