LONG & STRAIGHT
Think of how great it would be to walk your ball out to the middle of the fairway some 300 yards off the tee and play your second shot from there. That blend of distance and accuracy is what I've been striving for since joining the PGA Tour a few years ago. With the help of my swing coach, Scott Hamilton—I call him Pro—I'm starting to see great results. This past year, I finished top 10 in total driving, the tour stat that combines distance and accuracy off the tee. I averaged 297 yards and hit 64 percent of the fairways. Pro and I were asked to share some of what we do to get me hitting it long and keeping it in play. Most of it comes from discipline at address and consistency in the backswing. Let me walk you through it. —with Ron Kaspriske
CHECK BALL POSITION
When I first started working with Pro, he was quick to point out that I addressed the ball about an inch too far back in my stance. Not a big deal, right? Wrong. That little mistake would start a chain reaction in my swing that ended with my ball going sideways.So your first tip is this: Pay attention to your ball position. Pro says it should be in a spot where—if you simulated impact—the shaft of the driver would be straight up and down from this face-on position. For most people, that means off the heel of the front foot or in line with the front shoulder (pictured).
LET THE ARMS HANG
The second thing to pay attention to is how you position the club. Don't be tempted to extend your arms toward the ball. That would put too much weight onto your toes, and you'd never be able to make an on-plane swing. You want your arms to hang.From this view, imagine a line drawn straight down from the back of my right armpit. The butt end of my club should be just outside that line (pictured). From this position, I feel my weight evenly distributed from front to back in my feet. I have a little more pressure in my front foot than my back foot, but to make a balanced, on-plane swing, the key is to support your body weight with the entire foot.
START WITH QUIET HANDS
Pro likes to call himself a "backswing instructor." He says if he can get you in the right positions in the first half of the swing, you don't have to think about the rest. You'll just do it. The first thing he did with my backswing was to get me to use my body, not my hands, to start the motion. Now my shoulders turn away from the target, and my hands and arms stay quiet. It feels like the club moves straight back off the ball until the shaft is nearly parallel to the ground (pictured). When I do this, I'm off to a great start.
HINGE THE CLUB JUST RIGHT
Once the club is parallel to the ground, I start to hinge it up. To stay on plane, my goal is to swing the shaft into a position that's parallel with my target line at the top, or pointing just left of my target. You can check this position with a practice swing. If you hinge the club up steeply, the shaft will be pointing right of your target. If you don't hinge much at all, the club will be pointing way left. Either way, your club is no longer on plane, and you'll have to re-route it on the way down to hit a good drive.The way to confirm that you're hinging your wrists correctly is to see if the butt end of the grip is pointing about at the ball when your left arm is parallel to the ground (pictured).
STAY BEHIND THE BALL
Everything we've talked about so far is aimed at getting you to swing down on the same plane you go back on. It's like re-tracing your steps. Do that, and you'll start hitting fairways. But we don't just want to hit it straight—we want to hit it long, too.To provide a little more pop on your drives, remember to stay behind the ball with your upper body until after impact. Your lower body should shift toward the target when you swing down, but don't let your head slide in that direction until after the ball is gone. I prevent this by pushing down into the turf with my legs while bumping my left hip toward the target (pictured). This tilts my upper body away from the ball and allows me to put some power into the shot by creating leverage and adding my body mass to the hit.
GET BACK TO ADDRESS
Remember, the downswing just happens. You can't "think it through" the way you do the backswing. So the final thing Pro wants me to be aware of isn't a swing thought, per se, it's a goal: As I strike the ball, the club should be in nearly the same position it was at address. That means two things. The first is the angle of the shaft, when viewed from behind me on the target line (pictured), should look about the same at address and impact.The second is the one Pro really emphasizes. Assuming I addressed the ball in line with my front shoulder, the club's shaft should be pointing 90 degrees to the ball when I strike it—again, just like at address (face-on view). This indicates that the clubface is pointing where I want the ball to go. Make some slow-motion practice swings to check this. You want your hands to be directly in line with the tee at impact. Put this feel into action, and you'll drive it better than ever.Russell Henley, who ranked seventh in total driving on the PGA Tour in 2015, has two tour wins.