Many people marvel at how far Richard Sterne is able to hit a golf ball. He’s not the tallest player, yet he is regularly one of the longest drivers on Tour. GRANT HEPBURN explains Sterne’s secret to power.
The key to Richard Sterne’s power comes from two things: his impeccable ball striking and his clubhead speed through impact. In his case, the latter comes from a very late release, where a powerful wrist action through the hitting zone forces the clubhead to catch up with his hands as he accelerates through the ball.
Sterne is helped by the fact he has special hand eye co-ordination. I’ve often considered squash to be a good sport for developing strong wrist action and good timing, and he was once a top-level squash player – as I found out to my detriment on one occasion when he challenged me to a game.
Richard played South African age-group levels up to U16, while his sister Farrah was the national champion a few years back. Sterne’s ability on the squash court goes a long way to explaining how he is able to effortlessly hold off his release until very late – storing the lag angles at the back of his wrists – before whipping into the back of the ball with tremendous power.
So often I see amateurs releasing the club too early and this is a massive power leak. Sometimes the early release happens because the player is subconsciously trying to scoop the ball into the air, but it could also be due to a weak (slicer’s) grip, where the player is inclined to throw the clubhead early in order to try to square up at impact. It’s always a good idea to have your PGA pro check out your grip to make sure you’re not getting into any bad habits.
Getting it right
In the first three images I have used a conventional backswing, with a nice turn, swinging my arms and hinging my wrists. As the downswing starts (pic 4), my legs drive towards the target, but notice how my right elbow has moved in close to the side of my body and the angle at the back of my wrists remains loaded, as it was at the top of the backswing. Pic 5 shows that although my hands are in line with the ball, the angle of the back of my wrist has not been released. At this point it feels as though my clubhead is trailing behind my arms and hands, but the leverage created allows the power to be unleashed at the last moment before impact (pic 6). In pic 7, see how there is no longer an angle at the back of my wrists, as I have released the club powerfully through impact before making a good finish.
Getting it wrong
From a good position at the top of my backswing (pic 1), I have made the mistake of releasing the club too early. Pic 2 shows how my right elbow has moved away from my side and the angle behind the wrist is already lost. This is a massive power leak – compare this position with the one in pic 4 of the good sequence. In pic 3 the clubhead has almost caught up with my hands and my hands are not even at the ball yet. This early release is a common fault among amateurs, and pic 4 shows how the ball has been scooped o the turf instead of trapped by a late release. The result is a loss of power and timing, while the ball flight will be high and weak.
In this drill, split your hands on the grip as I have shown. With your ball on a tee, make a normal backswing and when it comes to the downswing, pull the butt end of the club down until it is past the ball before you release the club and let go of the angle at the back of your wrists to hit the ball. Splitting your hands will help you learn how the right elbow needs to drive in to the right side on the way down, as it will exaggerate the correct feeling of that movement.
*Grant Hepburn has been a regular face in Compleat Golfer for more than a decade. His CV includes time coaching on the European and PGA Tours, and an impressive list of top amateurs and pros. He is the CEO of Golf RSA and the South African Golf Development Board.
Follow him on Twitter @granthepburn