I will be the first to admit that on the PGA Tour, I’m pretty average, distance-wise. That said, driving still is a strength of my game. I rarely leave my tee ball in a position where my next shot has to be a recovery shot. I’ve played in enough pro-ams to see that the chance of my amateur partners making net par or better doubles when they drive it in the fairway, even if they don’t hit it very far down the fairway. The ability to routinely put the tee ball in play starts by setting up in a way that allows you to make a healthy swing while remaining in balance. Flaring your feet at address helps. If you can’t control your body, you’re going to struggle to find the center of the clubface. I’ve got a few other tricks to help you if you scroll down. Get used to fairway living.
BACKSWING: LONG ISN’T WRONG
There’s this notion that a long backswing makes accuracy tougher, because there’s more time and space for something to go wrong when you swing down. I understand the mind-set, but I don’t agree. I think the No. 1 and No. 2 reasons you put the ball in the fairway are timing and tempo, and a longer backswing can help with both. If you take the club back abruptly, you tend to rush the downswing trying to generate as much power as you can in a short amount of space. It takes a lot of practice and talent to sync up a swing like that. J.B. Holmes can do it because he’s a worldclass golfer, but you might struggle with timing and tempo if you’re short going back. I take the club back to the point where my upper body feels fully wound and the shaft is roughly parallel to the ground. It looks like I’m tense, but believe me, I arrive at this position feeling fairly relaxed. There’s no real effort to get to get to the top of the swing, and that’s important if you want better tempo. I’ll talk to you more about “effort” when I discuss the downswing.
FOCUS ON THE HIPS STARTING DOWN
A mistake I see amateurs make all the time happens when they get to a tough driving hole. In an effort to put the ball in the fairway, they try to steer the shot with their hands and arms. The body barely moves, especially the lower body, and the result almost always is a weak, crooked tee shot. Even I’m guilty from time to time of swinging all arms. The results are never good. If you want to get the ball in play on a tough driving hole, you need to get your lower body moving to start the downswing. I know a lot of players talk about pushing into the ground with their lead leg as the key move to start down. They do that to shift their weight toward the target. That’s great, but it’s never been a natural feeling for me. Instead, I tend to focus on my hips controlling the weight shift forward. I want them to rotate open with the hip that starts closest to the target feeling like it’s moving away from the target. And sequence matters. I want my hips rotating before I start down with the club. The arms don’t lead. They follow.
FIND YOUR OPTIMUM SWING SPEED
The downswing happens so fast, it’s impossible to try to consciously square the clubface at impact on a consistent basis. That’s why tempo is so important. And not just any tempo. It needs to be your tempo. Find a swing speed with your driver that consistently allows you to square the face to your target at impact. For me, it’s about 90 percent of my fastest swings. I rarely go at it 100 percent, because the extra yardage I might gain isn’t worth losing control of the face and possibly driving it out of play. So when you practice, make driver swings with what feels like different amounts of effort until you find a speed that has you consistently hitting it solid and in play. I’m at 90 percent, but don’t be surprised if you’re having your best success with far less effort than that. Here’s a tip that can help: Remember when I said earlier to let the hips start the downswing? Do that, and feel like your arms are lazy until you reach the point in the swing you see here. This is going to set you up for the key move to straighter drives—the release.
KEEP TURNING AND SLING THE CLUB
Look at this photo of me and compare it to the one above. Notice that my hips are still opening and I’ve released the club into the ball. When I talk about having good timing, this is what I mean. The combination of continuous lower-body rotation and arm release help my club arrive at the ball facing my target. I know that as long as I keep my lower body moving throughout the downswing, I can release the club into the ball hard and the face will be square. Some golfers try to swing without releasing the club, thinking it’s easier to control the face solely with body rotation. But I’ve seen that lead to weak fades or slices too many times to call it effective. Other golfers release the club just fine, but their bodies stop turning in the downswing and that shuts the face, causing hooks or pulls. A good swing thought to have in the downswing is, keep turning and let it go. If you spend too much time hitting your second shots from the rough, see if this approach doesn’t make you a much more accurate driver. —WITH RON KASPRISKE