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Keys to the long drive Fred talks to Kaori Saito - Japan Long Drive Champion

Japan long-driving champion Kaori Saito is the same age as Tiger Woods, but their golf journeys began 26 years apart. When Saito picked up a golf club for the first time, Woods had already won 14 majors. Like Ayako Okamoto, a former Japan softball star who took up golf at the age of 20 and became a giant of the game, Saito was set on succeeding in a different sport and an even more unlikely one: field hockey. Hailing from the wintry northern prefecture of Iwate, it was going to be a tough challenge to succeed in either sport.

But Saito is now a 10-time, long-driving champion in Japan and has finished as high as sixth at the World Championship (Las Vegas in 2016). Determination has taken her to the top of a sport – long driving – that has received plenty of attention thanks to big hitters such as Bryson DeChambeau and Kyle Berkshire.

Saito left a steady job with the Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry to become a caddie in Gifu Prefecture as she started on her golf journey. She was soon picked up by famous coach Tadashi Ezure, who has taught the likes of Shingo Katayama and Momoko Ueda, but the pro tour was not for her.

Core Flexibility

“My driving was actually all over the place,” she admits. “But my teacher thought I could do well in long driving and said I should try to enjoy that.” She picked up a C-grade teaching license in Japan, went to Korea to get her B license and then flew to Florida to get her A license despite speaking no Korean and no English. Back in Japan, her focus was set on long-driving competitions.

Her first outing was at the Golf Digest Tournament and she won. Then she just kept on winning and won the national title 10 times. While she was confident entering the World Championship for the first time, she was amazed to find her longest drives were 30 yards shorter than the winner. “I was shocked when I came in sixth,” she says. “The world level is amazing.”

So, what is the key to driving long? Saito takes a piece of paper and twists it both ways. “Flexibility from the core,” she says. “The first thing I always do to warm up is to hit a left-handed club.” She hands me the club. “Swing that,” she says and watches as I scatter balls around the driving range. She explains that power comes from the corkscrew action of the body and the tension it produces, not building up muscles for strength. Practicing left-handed helps to balance and strengthen that tension.

All About Speed

“Your arms have to be relaxed when you drive,” she points out. “Your power comes from the core and your legs, but your muscles have to be light and flexible. It’s about speed, not strength. If you concentrate on strength, it can mess up your connection with the ball.”

She takes the regular driver out of my hand and hands me her 48-inch driver. “It’s harder to hit,” she notes, somewhat unnecessarily. She also tells me to take the weight off my left leg and concentrate on keeping the arms straight and sternum fixed over the ball. It works, sometimes, but switching back to the shorter driver, it suddenly seems an easier club to hit.

“High handicappers should concentrate on feeling relaxed, not on power,” Saito emphasizes. “Hitting long is about club head speed, and there’s a lot more to clubhead speed than just power.” Golf’s gain is hockey’s loss. She would have made a pretty awesome hockey player….


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