The Tour’s wraparound season starts this month, but in our book, October belongs to baseball. Wild-card games, walk-off homers, the World Series—there’s nothing like it. (Sorry, but the CIMB Classic is no Fall Classic.) Many baseball legends love golf, among them Hall of Famer and 13-time all-star George Brett (below). The Kansas City Royals great has cut his handicap almost to scratch by using the same, simple swing keys that got him into Cooperstown. The man who once hit .390 now hits it 290 off the tee, at age 63! To Brett, crushing drives is like crushing fastballs. And here’s his pitch: Your old baseball swing makes a great golf swing, just on a different plane. Batter up—it’s time to go yard. (No pine tar needed.)
KNOCK THE COVER OFF!
We’ve got four ways to boost drives using a baseball swing. It’s power, by George!
In 1980, George Brett batted .390, the third-highest average of the modern era. It was just one of 11 seasons in which he topped the .300 mark. “Hats off to my late hitting coach Charley Lau,” Brett says. “In my first few years in K.C., he gave me the fundamentals to survive 21 seasons in the bigs.” Lau stressed stance, rhythm, weight shift and release. As an avid golfer, Brett uses these baseball-swing basics to regularly shoot in the 70s and even in the 60s. “They help me create power, and you don’t need all-star talent to use them,” he adds. Intrigued? Well, read on, and soon you’ll be hitting with Major League power.
1. “Rhythmic” address
My old hitting coach Charley Lau was big on creating a balanced, workable stance—a position that let me shift from a rigid back leg to a firm front leg through impact. I found my stance using rhythm. When I played baseball, I was constantly in motion. Even in the on-deck circle I’d shuffle my feet and work the bat forward and back to better time the pitcher’s throws. Eventually, I’d find my comfort zone: balanced, loose and ready to react in a split-second.
Getting into a “rhythmic” stance is even more important in golf, because it’s up to you to initiate the action. With driver, I still shuffle and work the “bat” at address, and once I settle, I start back. Don’t hesitate. It’s tough to start an athletic motion from a static state. (That’s why batters call time out if the pitcher waits too long to throw.) Watch Brandt Snedeker on Tour. He’s a quick, get-set-and-swing guy like me. In fact, my golf buddies call me “Sneds.” I take it as a big compliment.
2. A light grip
I swung the bat with minimal tension. Tension kills—in all sports. It all starts with your grip. If you put a death hold on the club, your arms will tense up. And trust me: You can’t swing with a nice rhythm if you have tight muscles, nor can you max out your arm speed. Charley told me to grip the bat handle as if it were a tube of toothpaste with the cap off. The goal was simply to keep the paste in the tube. I had 3,154 hits in my career, including more than a thousand extra-base hits. I did it all with a light grip, tension-free arms and using only about 70 percent of my total swing power. My mantra? Hit the ball hard, not far. If you’re smooth, you’ll generate more than enough distance.
Top 100 Tip: Stand Tall, Crush the Ball
George is right: the golf and baseball swings have many parallels, even at address. Whether at the plate or on the tee, George sets up with his scapulae (shoulder blades) pulled back and his arms loose. Making these simple adjustments adds yards. See for yourself. Hunch over and make a backswing (far left). Now stand nice and tall, with your shoulders back and your arms “dangling,” and take it back again. You’ll likely double your rotation—and hit towering drives.
3. Front foot contact
Most baseball players I know are darn good at golf. It’s a weight-shift thing. We know how to move weight and energy toward the target (photo, above), whether that’s the center-field fence or the middle of the fairway. If I had swung a bat off my back foot, I wouldn’t have made it out of the minors.
From the top, all I think about is getting my weight over my front foot. Some caveats: Keep your head in place and your eyes focused on the ball, and make sure your weight stays over the arch in your front foot. (Staying on your toes is good for baseball, basketball and football—but not golf.) I know I’ve done it right if my front knee is directly on top of my front foot at contact. If I do that, I’m happy.
Top 100 Tip: Sequence Starter
4. Extend your arms
My batting strategy was simple: If the pitch came inside, I’d try to pull it. If it was on the outside of the plate, I’d swing toward the opposite field. By always going with the pitch, I created room to fully extend my arms through the swing, a feat I wouldn’t have been able to do if I had tried to hit an inside pitch to left field.
In baseball and golf, extension equals power. You never want your elbows bent at impact; you want both arms fully extended. See my baseball swing above? Your arms should look a lot like that through the ball. And as the photo at left shows, they’ll stay extended as your body turn brings the club around in your release. At impact, it’s all about extension. Hey, I’ll bet you remember that time in Little League when you rocked that fastball over the fence. Well, it’s pretty much the same in golf— a different plane, but the same full extension.
Top 100 Tip: Shift and Straighten
I help George with his swing, and by his own admission, he isn’t a naturally gifted athlete. He says he’s had to “maximize” everything, meaning he’s squeezed every ounce of power from his motion. You can, too. How? Go to the top of your backswing and stop. Without moving your arms, shift weight to your front foot. Now you have a stable base, which helps you accelerate coming down. Next, swing slowly to impact, gradually straightening both arms while “bracing” your left leg. Go back to address, and repeat these motions at full speed. You’ve got it right when it feels like the club still points at the ground well after impact.