Finding Control Off The Tee
Photo by Dom Furore
When you're hitting an approach shot, the yardage to the green immediately points you to a particular club. From 150 yards, you might think, That's my 6-iron. From 180, Gimme the 5-wood. You base those selections on the thousands of shots you've hit with those clubs. Better yet, think in terms of averages. Maybe you've crushed a few 7-irons 150—or even did it routinely 20 years ago—but the way you hit it now on average is the info you should use.
If you're like most golfers, that logic disappears when you get on the tee of a par 4 or 5. Your main concern becomes hitting the ball as far as you can, and that means taking a rip with the driver. Maybe you'll opt for a fairway wood or hybrid, but when you do, I bet you try to hit those clubs all-out, too. The only thing worse than spraying one with a driver is taking a safer club and doing the same.
The good news is, if you're savvy enough to leave the driver in the bag sometimes, you're halfway there. Now you just have to get yourself to play the club you pick to the distance you normally hit it. If your 3-hybrid goes 190 yards, try to hit it 190 yards—not 250.
To stay smooth, it's good to have a reminder. Hold your finish until the ball lands, like I'm doing in this photo (above). If it's tough for you to stay in balance, you're swinging too hard. Remember why you picked that club: You don't need driver distance; you need control.
PICK YOUR TARGET, COMMIT TO IT, AND PLAY YOUR NORMAL SHOT WITH THAT CLUB.
Here's a good image to use when you're playing for position off the tee: Pretend you're on a par 3. Picture the driving zone as a green. Most fairways are wider than most greens, so if you "hit the green," you're on the short grass. At the very least, you'll avoid big misses.
So pick your target, commit to it, and play your normal shot with that club. Trust me, you'll have a lot more fun playing this game from the fairway.
BEWARE THE MYTH OF THE HYBRID
With a hybrid, most amateurs try to sweep the ball. The club might look like a fairway wood, but you should play it like a middle iron. That means striking down on the ball and even taking a little divot. Here's a drill I use with my students. Hit some hybrid shots where you start with the clubhead a couple inches off the ground (below). You'll instinctively hit down and through the ball to catch it solid—and you'll groove the right impact.
Photo by Dom Furore
Butch Harmon is based at Rio Secco Golf Club, Henderson, Nev.