Back in my 20s, and even well into my 30s, I was one of the longest players on the PGA Tour. That’s no longer the case—I’ve had four back surgeries, and I’m only six years away from being eligible for the senior tour—so it’s more important than ever for me to put my drives in the fairway.
My go-to tee shot is a slappy cut. It doesn’t go very far; I can hit my 3-wood farther. But I can count on it whenever I really need to find the short grass. You should definitely develop a fairway finder with your driver, one you can trust on that nervous first tee shot or on scary holes with trouble everywhere. In fact, it should become your stock driver swing. I reach back for a little extra distance only when there’s more room in the fairway, or if I need to carry a bunker or get to a par 5 in two. You should do the same. Groove a consistent tee shot and swing hard only when there’s no big risk in airing one out.
Cuts, when the ball moves left to right for right-handed players, are easier to control than draws. If you want to go with my slappy cut, here’s how I hit it. First, I set up with my shoulders a bit open to the target. That means they’re aligned a little left of where I want the ball to end up. But I keep my feet relatively square to the target, because that helps me turn my hips on the backswing without putting too much stress on my lower back. Don’t worry so much about the feet. It’s the shoulders that matter.
The next thing is the clubface. The big mistake is having the face square or even open to the target at address when trying to hit a cut. This leads to that weak slice that starts at the target and fades well to the right. At address, your clubface needs to point left of the target—like your shoulder alignment. Aim it where you want the ball to start, not where you want it to finish.
• Open your shoulders
• Close the clubface
• Swing down along your shoulder line
• Release the clubhead (don’t hold on)
As for the swing, take the club all the way back—don’t get short —and swing down on a path that matches your open shoulder alignment. After that, it’s all about rotating through on the downswing. By the time the club reaches the ball, you should feel like your hips and chest have turned quite a bit toward the target. Don’t be afraid to release the clubhead on the through-swing, either—this is how you get the ball starting left and cutting toward the target, rather than starting at the target and cutting away. I hit down on the ball a few degrees for this shot. I’m not suggesting you do the same, but you should feel like you’re driving the ball forward more than hitting up on it.
It might take a little time for you to get the feel down for this shot, but when you do, you’ll thank me when you start splitting fairways. —WITH DANIEL RAPAPORT