The Tee Shot: Driving to Excellence
The sayings are hilarious. "Let the big dog eat!". My favorite... "Hold on to something while I hit so the G-force doesn't blow you away!" or "Nice drive, but my ball will wave as it flies by." And the one immortalized by Johnny Miller that even we women use now... "I nutted that one!" Every golfer loves that macho feeling of a big drive. To really connect with one and send it sailing down the middle of the fairway gives off feelings of confidence and strength.
Hit your Drivers Solid and Straight
More importantly than the confidence building endorphins though, is the opportunity that good drives give you. A good drive will put you in position to score, whereas a poorly struck drive will land you in loads of trouble. If you are not good at "damage control" you're even worse off after your tee shot lands in an unplayable position. The drive sets up the hole for you. Of course hitting it far is one key to putting you in position to score by allowing you a shorter and more controllable club into the green, but a well-placed drive ranks well above that! Being able to shoot at the pin from a good angle and land the ball on the proper part of the green is what tour players and top amateurs think about every time they tee up a drive.
Some argue that hitting the driver is the most difficult shot in golf, while others argue it is easy. Let's explore both of these opinions.
Hitting the Driver is Easy!
Here's why you should be jumping up and down shouting "smack my ass and call me Sally"!
- You have a perfectly flat lie and stance on the tee box (or at least should!).
- The ball is teed up allowing room for error.
- Every time you hit it you are hitting from pretty much the same conditions so you don't have to practice different lies and stances.
- You only have to hit it 14 times maximum on the course, so if you are having an off day, you don't have to keep using a club that's driving you nuts!
- In most cases you are hitting to a fairly wide target (the fairway) versus hitting to a smaller target on the green. So you have a little room for misses.
Hitting the Driver is Hard!
Here's why you might need to hold back from snapping that "stupid thing" over your knee!
- There is less loft on the club face. In my opinion this is the most difficult thing about the driver. Because it has less loft, it takes a lot of speed and the right angle of attack to get the ball launched at a good trajectory. When I was first certified as a club fitter I was taught that if you are swinging at 100 mph and have a club with 9 degrees of loft and are only 2 degrees open with the face at impact it will send the ball 30 yards off line! There are some variables with this and equipment has come a long way since then, but you get the general idea.
- The driver is the longest club in the bag. As clubs get longer, they get harder to control and swing consistently on a good plane.
- The driver is very light, making it harder to feel where the club head and face are throughout the swing.
- It is moving faster through impact, again making hit harder to feel and control.
- In general, you are swinging harder which makes it easier to get out of balance and fire from the wrong points in the swing. The urge to go after it can throw you out of rhythm.
How important is the Tee Shot?
In listening to tour players describe the importance of the tee shot you hear several different answers. Ben Hogan believed the initial tee shot set the pace for the entire day. Champions Tour player Jay Delsing told me it was his belief that amateurs place way too much emphasis and time on their drives. His reasoning is that you only hit it fourteen times per round and quite often less if you are a good strategist. After all he said, "65% of your shots are from less than 100 yards anyway". However, I think they all agree that if you are struggling with your tee shots it is impossible to "go low".
"I played last weekend with this guy and he hit it over 300 yards!"
How many times have you had someone tell you that? I hear it all the time on the lesson tee. If that is the case, then they are right up there with the top 20 players on the PGA Tour!
For the average golfer if you don't hit drives long (over 200 yards) as well as straight, it's nearly impossible to break 80. Hitting it in the center of the face is the key here because missing 1/4" off of center can cause a loss of 8-10 yards. Can you hit them both long and straight? I believe you can increase both your distance and your accuracy with the right advice. However, to a certain point, even the tour players have to sacrifice something. As I'm writing this article the stat on the PGA Tour leader for accuracy is Joe Durant at 76% of fairways hit (this goes to show you that even the best players in the world probably misses 4 fairways every time they play), followed closely by my fellow University of South Alabama golfer Heath Slocum. What's interesting is that Joe Durant ranks 151 in distance and Heath ranks 163.
If you understand what needs to happen differently with a driver than with your irons it can become one of your favorite shots and you can become much more consistent. Sooner rather than later though, you need to make sure your driver is properly fit. If it is not, all your attempts at changing your set up and technique will be futile.
Maria Palozola is a member of the LPGA and has participated in multiple LPGA Tour events. She has provided instruction to thousands of students in the past 20+ years and has won multiple teaching awards from the LPGA, Golf Digest, and Golf Magazine including being ranked as one of the top 50 female instructors in the world.