One of the smoothest players of all time issues a frightening warning about swing speeds

Ernie Els hits his tee shot on the first hole at Norwood Hills Country Club on Saturday.

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The Big Easy is worried about those who swing hard.

Ernie Els had some thoughts on one of the most debated topics in modern golf.

“The body is not built,” he said, “to hit a driver at 130 miles per hour.”

Els was speaking ahead of this week’s Ascension Charity Classic on the PGA Tour Champions circuit, and while he’s not a doctor, he can safely be described as a swing expert. There’s the resume: He won 19 times on the PGA Tour, including four majors, and 42 times internationally. There’s also the nickname. Els is not called that because he is difficult to handle the ball.

But here’s his take on the “Big Easy” nickname:

“If you look at my swing, it looks like it’s kind of a slow-motion swing,” he said a few years ago. “Although sometimes I don’t feel it, sometimes I feel like I’m swinging too fast. But because of my stature, my swing seems wide and a little slow. And hence the word Big Easy – a big swing and an easy rhythm. It’s stuck.”

So no, it wasn’t surprising that Els at least thought about swing speed, even though the topic is front and center. In short, the harder you swing, the further the ball flies and the subsequent shots get closer – and players have embraced it. A look at the PGA Tour’s statistics on clubhead speed shows that pros averaged 115.20 mph this year, which is short of what Els recorded but has been since 2007, when the metric was recorded was started, increased by 3 miles per hour. Also notable is that ball speeds have increased over this period – this year pros averaged 173.01 mph, an increase of 8 mph since 2007.

And that led to this exchange at Ascension, initiated by a reporter:

“When you were on tour as a young man and still developing your game, how would those percentages have broken down across the course, the range and the short game? And how much has that changed since technology has become an important part of this process?”

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“Good question,” Els began. “I mean, I felt like I was a little removed from tournaments. I didn’t really spend all those hours at the shooting range at tournaments. I basically did all of my work before coming to tournaments, especially with David Ledbetter, especially when we lived in Orlando and David was in Orlando. I was out there. If I had a week off, I would be there five days out of the week. There is a lot of work at the shooting range.

“My short game has always been pretty sharp. I think I was just gifted with that kind of ability. But I spent a lot of time on the short game. The putting was always there somehow.

“Now it’s turned around a bit. I spend a lot more time around the greens and on the greens, a little less time on the range, just because of the body. The body is a little different now.”

“What about the technology?”

“The technology is very different now,” said Els. “Back then we didn’t have the full help of technology and the game was different. I didn’t have to go after the ball so hard. Now it looks like everyone is 100 percent behind it. I always felt like I played 85 percent just to keep the ball in play long enough to do that.

“Now things have changed. You have to give 110 percent to the driver. I think the body will break down even faster now, even if the boys are so strong. The body is not built to hit a driver at 130 miles per hour.”

At this point we realize once again that Els is not a doctor. And that actual protocols are in place to build speed safely. And players adding speed are now almost universal.

But like everything physical, there are limits.

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So Els is worried.

But maybe there is a solution. At least says Bryson DeChambeau, who clearly opted for speed.

We’ll end things here with this exchange he had last year with teacher and analyst Mark Immelman Immelmans On the track Podcast.

In it, DeChambeau said that his work with Kyle Berkshire and other long drive celebrities showed that “it doesn’t matter how fast you swing the golf club” to generate more speed.

“Like the November Masters, I just swung as fast as I could. Back and forth as fast as I can,” DeChambeau said. “So from start to impact it was super fast. That doesn’t mean I’m going to swing fast. … In order to reach the highest speed at a given time, you must have time to accelerate. And distance.”

“Like Talladega versus Bristol Speedways,” Immelman said, referring to NASCAR’s longest track and one of its shortest.

“You have to have time – you can have a huge engine and get there very quickly, but this is a shorter distance, right,” DeChambeau said. “Or you can get there by doing a super long swing that puts the same amount of acceleration on it. So you want something that has the same acceleration over a longer period of time, allowing you to reach higher speeds.

“That’s why people walk faster when they swing slower and more gently. Because the muscles’ stretch-shortening cycle is much more efficient because there is no tension. The tension is what completely ruins the stretch-shortening cycle. It’s like a rubber band that you pull back and let go. If people swing gently and take a little longer on the back of the club and give themselves more time going up, they have the opportunity to accelerate the club much more efficiently through the stretch-shortening cycle and hit it further.

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“So I just tried to swing as fast as I could to get as far as possible. Well, that caused a concussion. It’s obviously not the right way. So don’t try to swing quickly when hitting hard. The key is to hit further, achieve faster ball speed and faster clubhead speed at the right moment. You don’t need to accelerate the club really quickly. You must reduce speed until impact. So in order to generate more speed through the ball, you have to make a longer, softer and wider swing. And if you can do that and load and then unload the wrists and stay upright at impact – don’t shrink, because that increases the lever length and you can rip the club much faster – then you produce more speed in the golf swing. And I realized that after I saw Kyle.

“We synchronized both of our golf swings. His golf swing took almost 0.2 seconds longer. .2 seconds longer. I had a faster swing and it was 20 miles per hour faster. At that point I was hovering around 135 and he was almost at 155.”


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Nick Piastowski

Nick Piastowski Publisher

Nick Piastowski is a senior editor at and Golf Magazine. In his role, he is responsible for editing, writing and developing stories across golf. And when he’s not writing about ways to hit the golf ball farther and straighter, the Milwaukee native is probably playing the game, hitting the ball left, right and short, and drinking a cold beer to wash away his score. You can contact him about any of these topics – his stories, his playing or his beers – at One of the smoothest players of all time issues a frightening warning about swing speeds

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