My philosophy on the tee box is probably different than yours. I’m guessing you’re looking to get the ball out there as far as you can. I get it—it’s fun to rip driver. But over the past few seasons on the PGA Tour, I’ve moved on from that mentality and believe it’s better to find the fairway than to try to crush it. My driving accuracy has improved every year since 2012, and I’m now hitting fairways at better than a 70-percent clip. And I haven’t lost that much distance (296-yard average in 2018). How’s my strategy paying off? I had my most successful year on tour in 2018 in terms of earnings. If you’re tired of spraying drives and want to score better, read on for my advice for how to put it consistently in play. —with Keely Levins
START WITH THE RIGHT MIND-SET: DIAL IT BACK
▶ I used to swing 100 percent on every drive, but now I’m more focused on control. My swing speed is down 5 or 6 miles per hour compared to when I was hitting it my hardest, but I’m fine with that because I’m not hitting my next shot from the deep rough as much. So when you stand over the ball at address, get into a more relaxed mind-set. Remember, going at it hard tightens you up and restricts your swing. How hard is too hard? If you feel any tension as you get ready to swing, back off, loosen up and reset.
CREATE SOME SPACE IN THE BACKSWING
▶ Though accuracy is the goal, you don’t want to give up a lot of yardage by making a narrow-and-steep swing. It’s important that your driver’s path into the ball is on a wide and shallow arc. To make that happen, start the backswing with your arms moving away from your torso. Don’t let your lead arm fold too much as you reach the top. You should feel a stretch in that shoulder. Now all you have to do is maintain that feeling as you swing down. Remember, it’s not an iron. You’re not looking to trap the ball. The club should be moving a lot closer to level with the ground as it hits the ball.
“Practice tip: Change your target for every drive.”
FIRST MOVE DOWN: SHIFT YOUR WEIGHT
▶ Before I start swinging the club down, maintaining that width I created in the backswing, my first move is to get my weight off my back foot. If you’re slicing it, I’m guessing some—or most—of your weight is still on that foot when you hit the ball. One way to make sure you make a good weight shift is to pay less attention to what your hands and arms are doing and more to getting your body turning toward the target as it pivots around your front leg.
WANT CONSISTENCY? TRY THE LOW CUT
▶ Every amateur I play with— and a lot of pros, too—are trying to hit towering draws. They’re nice to look at, and the ball travels far, but if you struggle to draw it, it’s time to give that shot up. I did; I almost exclusively hit a low cut (a shot that curves a little left to right). By doing that, I’ve eliminated the left side of the course, which simplifies my thought process on the tee box. And I’m finding the fairway a lot more. I bet a lot of you could benefit from this shot. To hit the low cut, aim slightly left of where you want the ball to end up and favor your front foot just a little at address. This will help you swing on a slight out-to-in path with the club moving a touch downward at impact. These adjustments produce a more penetrating ball flight that works the ball back into the fairway.
GET MORE OUT OF YOUR DRIVER PRACTICE
▶ I’m not much of a range guy anymore. Instead of mindlessly hitting a lot of balls, I grab a cart and go around to open holes and hit a bunch of tee shots. Each shot I hit is different, and my practice is more purposeful. If you don’t have the freedom to zip around a course, maybe hit a few balls on each tee when you’re playing on an empty course. Or worst case, pretend you’re teeing it up on a course when you’re on the range. Change your target after every swing. This will help you gain confidence that you can put the ball in play no matter how intimidating a tee shot might seem.