When my PGA Tour season begins, I come out swinging my driver aggressively. Then I gradually add even more speed until, by the time I get to Augusta, I'm driving it as far and accurately as I can. At the Masters, I want to rip it off the tee so I'll have a short club on those demanding approaches. The driver can be a real weapon there, more than at the other majors. At the U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship, you find a lot of drive zones that either get narrow or bend left or right at 280 to 300 yards. I often hit my driver farther than that, so I'm at risk of running through the fairway. That's when I'll choose my 3-wood. But at Augusta and in the weeks leading up to it, there aren't many cut-off points where I need to back off. Driver is the play. With advances in technology, I can swing my driver similar to the way I swing the other clubs, even my irons. The driver is the longest club in the bag, and that makes my swing longer and my arc wider, but the swing mechanics are basically the same. That's good news for you. As I'm getting my game ready, I'm focusing on a short list of swing keys that help me blend maximum distance with accuracy. I've found that the simpler I keep that list, the better I play. You might not be chasing a green jacket like I am, but these tips will get your season off to a fast start.
GET THAT 'READY' FEELINGI've worked hard on my swing over the years, but I'm a feel player at heart. At address, the only factors I'm thinking about are the basics: aim, alignment and ball position. After making sure the ball is off the heel of my front foot, it's all about feeling ready and athletic so the backswing happens naturally. I want to be in position to let my shoulders turn fairly level to the top instead of tilting. I also want to swing on a wide arc, with my hands moving as far from my head on the backswing as I can get them. Another part of my "ready" feeling is that the heel of my front foot is connected to the ground and will stay that way throughout the backswing.
LET YOUR SPEED BUILDIn my 23 years as a pro, I've been fortunate never to have had a serious golf-related injury. One reason for that is, my swing isn't very violent. I generate clubhead speed by making a full turn on the backswing and then accelerating my arms and hands on the way down. I don't try to restrict my hip turn on the backswing, or make a sudden burst of speed swinging down. That's how you get hurt. You can generate plenty of clubhead speed with the driver by increasing your range of motion and building up speed gradually.
IMPACT: MAKE A LEVEL STRIKE
Coming down, I feel my front leg straightening, and I start rotating around it. This stops me from sliding toward the target, which throws off my timing and accuracy. It's the opposite of sagging legs, which you sometimes see. One caution: When you post up on that front leg, the tendency is to let your upper body rise. That can lead to poor contact. Keep your body at the angle you set at address. Then you can swing the clubhead level through impact and let the club's loft determine the launch angle. Try to keep the clubhead low until the ball is long gone.
HOW INNOVATION IS MAKING ME A BETTER DRIVERThe technology that has helped make the driver more forgiving for average golfers hasn't been the best thing for me. Modern drivers have gotten bigger, and as a result the center of gravity has moved farther away from the face. That helps improve a driver's moment of inertia, or stability, but it has made drivers feel different from my traditional blade irons and produce too much spin.For players with high swing speeds, too much spin can hurt your distance. Lowering the loft might lower your spin rate, but it brings down your launch angle, too. Fortunately, new technology gave me another option last year—but not with the driver. I switched to Callaway's X Hot 3-wood, and right away I was hitting it nearly as far as my driver. This club revolutionized my driving because it eliminated excessive spin but still gave me high launch. The head is smaller and the center of gravity is closer to the face. Its smaller size also means a lower moment of inertia, so the face is easier for me to square up at impact.Can you benefit from my 3-wood strategy? For many players a 3-wood could go just as far as a driver. But what's intriguing is how the technology in my 3-wood is making its way to the driver. Just as I'm able to optimize the center of gravity for my swing, you'll be able to find a driver optimized for your swing. That's a big step toward maximizing distance.—with Mike Stachura