What is a ‘governor’? The mental speed bump that’s costing you distance

For Padraig Harrington's recent distance increase, it all started in his mind.

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Welcome to Play Smart, a game improvement column and podcast from editor Luke Kerr-Dineen to help you play smarter, better golf.

Strange as it sounds, a huge component of clubhead speed has nothing to do with the way you swing the golf club.

It’s in your mind.

As pros from every background attempt to unlock more distance off the tee, they quickly arrive at a speed bump, of sorts: They physically can go faster, but their brain is preventing them from doing so. There’s a few things that may be causing this, but mainly, that your subconscious is worried about getting injured, or that you’re just generally afraid of hitting the ball off the planet.

But those fears, while legitimate, aren’t always rational ones. It’s why Bryson DeChambeau endorses a speed training regimen that involves hitting hundreds of golf balls in a single session (though regular golfers should start much smaller).

“What most people don’t understand is that it’s neurological,” he says. “Your body can go much faster than you think it can, it’s your brain that’s telling it to slow down.”

What Bryson’s referring to here is what TPI’s GOLF Top 100 Teacher Dave Phillips calls a “governor.” An internal clock of sorts, that holds your ability to go back fast.

Speaking on a recent TPI session, Phillips revealed that’s exactly the problem three-time major winner Padraig Harrington was struggling to overcome. His swing speed had been trending in the wrong direction as he grew older, hitting a low of 113 mph in the 2018-19 season, leading to an average of 296 yards.

But this season? At the age of 51, Paddy’s clubhead speed is up to 116 mph, with a driving distance over 300 yards.

How did he do it?

“I asked him: ‘dude, what did you do?’ He said ‘honestly, I convinced my brain that it’s ok to go fast, and that you can go fast on the golf course. So many players have this governor where, when they get on the golf course…they start to guide it.”

Getting comfortable going faster

This, of course, came in addition to some great technical work with GOLF Top 100 Teacher Michael Jacobs.

As for how you can try to remove your governor? The easiest way, according to teachers and teachers, is to spend a few minutes every range session swinging as hard as you can. It can be as little as five golf balls, or may involve hitting no golf balls at all, just making swings. Employing the use of a speed training aid, like The Stack or Super Speed, will help too.

But ultimately, it’s about creating a new comfort level for yourself. Get comfortable going fast, and you’ll enjoy the benefits it brings.

Luke Kerr-Dineen

Golf.com Contributor

Luke Kerr-Dineen is the Game Improvement Editor at GOLF Magazine and GOLF.com. In his role he oversees the brand’s game improvement content spanning instruction, equipment, health and fitness, across all of GOLF’s multimedia platforms.

An alumni of the International Junior Golf Academy and the University of South Carolina–Beaufort golf team, where he helped them to No. 1 in the national NAIA rankings, Luke moved to New York in 2012 to pursue his Masters degree in Journalism from Columbia University. His work has also appeared in USA Today, Golf Digest, Newsweek and The Daily Beast.