This 2021 U.S. Open pro reveals his secrets to hitting 400-yard drives
At Ping Golf’s Tour department in Phoenix, Ariz., there’s a driving range out back where Ping staffers come to test equipment and dial in their games.
Every year, big hitters such as Bubba Watson, Tony Finau and Cameron Champ show up to rip drives and fit into the latest Ping equipment. Since the range is tucked into the Phoenix-area side streets and neighboring corporate buildings, Ping has a large net guarding the end of the range to keep stray golf balls from flying off property.
From the indoor hitting bay, which sits behind the common outdoor teeing area, Ping estimates that it’s a 385-yard carry to clear the net. No worries there. Most Ping staffers and human golfers can’t reach the base of the net, and Ping Tour rep Kenton Oates has seen just a few players even hit it on the fly. Finau, Watson and Champ are on that list.
No one hits it over, though. Wilco Nienaber, a 21-year-old Ping staffer who plays on the European Tour and Sunshine Tour, however, may have given Ping reason to consider increasing the height of that net.
You may know Nienaber from his 439-yard drive, or his recent win at the 2021 Dimension Data Pro-Am in South Africa. He’s also playing in this week’s Palmetto Championship at Congaree, and the upcoming 2021 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines.
I recently sat in on a hitting session at Ping HQ with Nienaber, and something struck me as his golf balls caromed off the very top of the net, drive-after-drive: Nienaber wasn’t straining. His swing looked effortless, but in reality, he was firing the club head at an astounding 138 mph, routinely hitting ball speeds of 200+ mph.
To put that in perspective, Bryson DeChambeau, according to PGATour.com, currently leads the PGA Tour in club head speed and ball speed; he averages 132.47 mph of club speed (his fastest recorded speed in 2021 is 138.39 mph), and 190.42 mph of ball speed (199.55 mph is his fastest).
There’s more to professional golf than distance, of course, but in the speed-focused modern game, Nienaber just might be head honcho. Through his first round at Congaree, he’s averaging an eye-popping 352.7 yards off the tee.
While at Ping HQ, I was able to catch up with Nienaber about his equipment for a Q&A.
In our Fully Equipped Instagram video embedded above, Nienaber reveals a few interesting insights on distance, how he hits the ball so far, and what’s in his bag.
Most notably, Nienaber uses a Ping G425 LST driver (9 degrees at 7.6 degrees of actual loft) that measures out at 46-inches, which is 0.75 inches longer than his previous build. He’s also using Ping’s unreleased i59 irons, and a custom-built putter that has a face-balanced construction, which matches up better with his stroke style.
What are his keys for gaining more distance? A long driver and a slow backswing.
“One thing that had helped [with distance] was changing into a little bit longer driver shaft,” Nienaber told GOLF.com. “One thing I always think of when I try to go after it is just make sure I keep the backswing nice and steady, and finish the backswing, and then go at it as hard as I can…[most amateurs] try and hit it long on the backswing.”
As you watch Nienaber play in Palmetto Championship at Congaree, and in next week’s U.S. Open, pay careful attention to his tempo on the backswing. If it helps Nienaber hit rockets over 400 yards, it just may help you pick up some distance, too.
Want to overhaul your bag for 2021? Find a fitting location near you at GOLF’s affiliate company True Spec Golf. For more on the latest gear news and information, check out our latest Fully Equipped podcast below!
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PING G425 LST Driver