Tiger's first full year on tour, 1997, was mine, too. He was second to John Daly in driving distance that year, and I finished atop a little-known category called Total Driving, which combines distance and accuracy off the tee. I tell you this because Total Driving is half of a more revealing stat called Ball Striking (the other half is Greens in Regulation), which I've been lucky enough to lead for the 10-year period since Tiger and I were rookies. You might not know me or my game, but Ball Striking is why you're reading this article. It's also your best hope for becoming a better golfer. I'll show you how with the four rules that follow.
Focus on two areas in the setup: alignment and posture. I like my alignment to be square to slightly open, because that makes it easier to swing the club on a straighter path away from the ball and through impact. If you set up closed, you'll tend to take the club too far inside and have to re-route it on the way down.Good posture will make you feel balanced and ready to create motion, like a shortstop in the field. I stand to the ball with enough knee flex so I can just see my kneecaps through my pant legs (right). My chest feels out, not underneath me, and my arms are extended.
Your posture plays a big part in your tempo. If you're too bent over, you'll tend to pick the club up quickly. But with good balance and arm extension, you can drag the clubhead away from the ball low and slow. Feel like the club's going straight back. It's tough to create extension if you don't start with it. To develop a good takeaway, try a drill I use all the time. Address a ball with a 5-iron and put another ball against the back of the clubhead. Practice rolling the ball back.If your tempo is smooth, you'll push the ball for a good foot and a half before it leaves the club. From there, you can build speed gradually to the top of your backswing. Hit balls this way, feeling how a good start sets up a rhythmic swing.
Swing With Your Feet Together
Using a short iron, practice hitting balls with your insteps touching. This drill is great for grooving tempo, because you won't be able to swing fast without losing your balance. Let your body turn back and through as your arms swing. You'll be amazed how straight— how far— hit the ball.
My swing is more vertical, or up and down, than a lot of swings on tour. This shape helps me hit the ball on line, because the clubhead stays along the target line longer.It traces a fairly straight path through impact, as opposed to the more circular arc of swings that wrap around the body.With an upright swing, you have to make sure you don't just lift the club with your arms, making the swing arc narrow. I remind myself to keep the club as far away from my body as possible. I try to feel as if I swing wide back and wide through, extending my arms on both sides of the ball (pictured).
Finish Over Your Other Shoulder
Use this drill to make sure you're extending the club out toward the target through impact. Hit some irons with your normal swing, except finish with the club over the shoulder closest to the target line. If you swing quickly to the inside after impact, you'll never get over that shoulder. It'll feel strange, so be careful and start slow. In no time, you'll be extending down the line.
Two factors affect the clubface at impact: the angle of the face at address and its rotation during the swing. I start with the face slightly open, because I want to be able to release fully without fear of hooking. Plus, I play left to right.It's tougher to keep tabs on clubface rotation during the swing. When I practice, the two spots I focus on are hip high on the backswing and hip high on the follow-through. Going back, I want the toe of the club to point straight up (inset). Past impact, I want the toe to start turning up again. If I can get the face in those two positions— I hit plenty of hip-to-hip shots to check them— know it will be slightly open at impact, perfect for my little cut.
Try On a Different Face
If you want to know how much the clubface matters, hit practice shots starting with the face open or closed. Don't turn your hands at address to adjust the face; set the face open or closed, then take your grip and swing normally. You'll see a big difference in ball flight, and you might even identify the face angle that works best for you. Hint: It might not be square.