It’s unusual when a PGA Tour player figures out how to quickly improve a certain aspect of their game. After all, they’re already so good. Good enough to get on the PGA Tour. How much better can they actually get?
In Stephan Jaeger’s case, the answer is: Quite a lot!
Back in 2016, Stephan Jaeger became the first player in the history of the Korn Ferry Tour to shoot 58 in competition. By 2020, he was king of the tour itself, winning the tour’s points list courtesy of two wins and another runner-up finish. He was going to the PGA Tour.
But when he arrived, his driver didn’t seem to come with him.
During the 2021-22 season, Jaeger finished 184th in SG: Off The Tee — losing more than half-a-stroke on his peers each round. His driving distance average was 293 yards, and he ranked 136th in driving accuracy, with a clubhead speed 114 yards.
“Looking at the stats, I was pretty much the worst driver on tour,” Jaeger said. “I was short, I didn’t hit a lot of fairways and I hit some foul balls. I just kind of decided: ‘What can I change to make it better?’”
How Jaeger got faster — and straighter
Jaeger said he found himself in a spiral, of sorts: He’d miss fairways, so he started swinging slower and more cautiously. When he’d miss yet more fairways, he’d swing more cautiously still. When Jaeger dug into the stats, and thought about what was going wrong, he realised it was swinging softly and cautiously that was causing him to miss fairways. The more he worried about hitting the ball straight, the more it went sideways.
So, Jaeger got to work. He hired PGA Tour fitness trainer Mike Carroll, who assigned him a series of mobility exercises and began speed training, which has all become part of his routine. His logic was pretty simple:
Stephan Jaeger drops it in close 🎯 pic.twitter.com/UI83FjCJuN
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) April 30, 2023
“I told him, ‘I want to get faster,’” he said. “I figured, ‘If I hit it long and in the crap, it’s better than short and in the crap.’”
The results were pretty instantaneous.
Jaeger says he has gained almost 10 mph on his topline speed. His average on-course clubhead speed this season is up to 117 mph from 114 mph last year, and his ball speed almost 176 mph from 172 mph.
Jaeger was expecting to get longer — and he did. But he wasn’t expecting to actually get straighter, too.
“If I’m not feeling comfortable with my driver I’ll swing harder. I remember the first time doing it, I said: ‘I’m going to kind of feel like John Daly here,’” Jaeger says. “It tightens my dispersion. It’s the craziest thing ever.”
Jaeger said swinging harder, and improving his body’s range of motion, started cleaning up his action without him even trying. His swing got longer, he says, but also less “laid off.” He was making more committed, confident swings, and the stats prove it once again.
This season, Jaeger’s Driving Distance is 306 yards — 13 yards longer than last year — and he’s jumped inside the top 50 in SG: Off The Tee. Pair that with his elite chipping (he’s inside the top 10 in SG: Around the Green for the second consecutive season), and he’s got four top 10s to show for it. Heading into the FedEx Cup playoffs, he’s also into the top 65 in FedEx Cup points.
“It’s kind of changed my game. Before I was always trying to keep my card. Now, I want to get to the point where I can be a top 30 player out here,” he says. “It’s really exciting.”
A good lesson for the rest of us too. Work on your mobility, flexibility and strength. Work in some speed training, too. And even when swinging cautiously may feel safe when you’re not feeling comfortable, it could be doing more harm than good. Making a faster, more committed swing may be the best thing you can do. For distance and accuracy.