The saying that golfers “drive for show and putt for dough” discounts the importance of driving accuracy. Amateurs sacrifice far too many strokes on balls hit into the rough, bunkers, trees, water or out of bounds.
If you struggle to find the fairway, try these simple fixes:
Use a shorter driver: As clubmakers seek to satisfy a distance-obsessed public, they’ve upped the standard driver length to 45 inches. This is simply too long for many golfers, who are either too short or lack the mechanics to square the clubface with a shaft that long. If you’re using a 45” (or longer) driver and can’t hit it straight, consider cutting off an inch or two – or swapping it for a shorter one.
Five Tips for Better Golf Driving Accuracy
One of the most important skills that a golfer can possess is the ability to get the ball into the fairway off the tee a high percentage of the time. Golf is a hard enough game as it is – you dont want to be making it harder by playing from the rough or the trees all day. When you are able to find the short grass a majority of the time on the par fours and par fives, your chances of shooting a good score will climb significantly. It is fun to be able to drive the ball a long distance off the tee, but driving accuracy is really what counts at the end of the day.
Most golfers think of hitting the fairway as being a physical challenge – as in, they have to make a good swing. While a good swing always helps, hitting the fairway is just as much mental as it is physical. You need to be able to analyze the hole in front of you, pick the right club, pick a smart target line, and then execute the shot confidently. Making good swings is only one part of becoming an accurate driver of the golf ball.
On average, most amateur golfers are far too aggressive off the tee. In an effort to get as close to the green as possible with every tee shot, they neglect to think strategically and often wind up putting their ball in bad positions around the course. Instead, you should take your cues from the pros. If you watch a tournament on TV, you will see that professional golfers frequently use clubs other than their driver to get the ball in play safely. Sure they are sacrificing some distance when they make this decision, but they know that trade is worth making. As long as the ball is positioned well in the fairway, they can still attack the green with confidence – even if they are doing so from a little farther away.
It is highly recommended that you keep track of your driving accuracy on a regular basis so you can track your progress over time and spot any patterns that might come up. For each hole you play, simply mark down whether or not you hit the fairway, and which club you used off the tee. At the end of each round, add up the totals and store that information somewhere. After just a few rounds you will get a good picture of how many fairways you hit during an average round, and which clubs are leading you astray. To start with, aim for hitting at least 50% of your fairways on average. Over time, you can work on slowly increasing that number up into the 60% range, and maybe even beyond.
Following are five tips designed with one goal in mind – to help you hit more fairways. Some of the tips have more to do with the physical mechanics of your swing, while others are aim at improving your thought process off the tee. Remember that all of the instruction has been written from the perspective of a right handed golfer, so be sure to reverse the directions if you happen to play left handed.Tip #1 – Keep the Left Heel Down. From a technical standpoint, driving accuracy is all about being able to repeat the same swing over and over again. While the specific mechanics that make up your swing are unique to you alone, there are still some basic fundamentals that you can pay attention to which stand to improve your consistency. One of those fundamentals is the position of your left heel throughout the swing – specifically, in the downswing.
First, lets cover what your left heel should be doing in the earlier stages of the swing. Obviously, both feet should be flat on the ground at address. As the backswing starts to develop, some golfers allow the left heel to work up off the ground in order to facilitate a bigger turn. This is okay – especially for players with limited flexibility who want to get the most out of their shoulder turn away from the target. However, if you do let your left heel come up off the ground during the backswing, it is imperative that you get it right back down onto the ground as your downswing begins.
Regardless of how your left heel behaves during the backswing, it is the downswing in which it should be attached to the turf. Many amateur golfers get into a habit of pushing up onto their toes through impact and allowing that left heel to get off the ground. The problem with this is rotation – while you are moving up onto your toes, your rotation toward the target is slowed down. That means that the club wont square up to the target line in time, and you will be forced to close the face of the club with your hands at the last instant in order to hit a straight shot.
The reason that this mistake causes inconsistency off the tee should be obvious. Any time your hands have to get involved to correct the position face of the club, inconsistent results are sure to follow. Ideally, you would be able to simply continue rotating through the shot without your hands needing to play an active role to ‘save the swing. In order to do this successfully, it is imperative that the left heel stays down so you can continue to rotate. As long as the left heel is on the ground, you should be able to keep turning your hips and torso toward the target – which is the key to a powerful and repeatable downswing action.
Obviously, keeping your left heel down is only one piece of the overall golf swing puzzle. However, it is an important piece, and just making this one adjustment could lead to more consistent ball striking all over the course. When it comes to hitting as many fairways as possible, you want to eliminate unnecessary movements from your swing to make it more reliable. By keeping your left heel down, you take away one more element that could have caused trouble in your swing.
Make the Target Bigger
It only stands to reason that hitting to the largest target possible from the tee will give you the best chance of landing in the short grass. While the course is unlikely to let you mow the fairways wider before you play, you can make good decisions which will maximize your landing area. On most holes, the fairway width varies as you get closer to the green depending on the topography of the hole, any hazards that have been placed along the way, and just the mowing pattern that the course uses. Your job is to pick out the widest part of the fairway and then use the right club to help you reach that distance.
The first step in using this strategy is to know exactly how far you hit each of your clubs –realistically. Many average golfers make the mistake of considering their best possible shot as their ‘normal distance. For example, just because you have hit a driver 290 yards one time does not mean that you should plan on that outcome every shot. Be realistic about your distances and establish a framework that you can use to pick the right club off the tee. It doesnt matter how far you want to hit the ball, or how far your playing partners hit the ball – the only thing that matters is what you are actually capable of at this point in time. Brutal honesty is the only way to make the right decisions.
For the sake of this example, lets say that you establish your driver distance at 240 yards, your three wood at 220 yards, and your hybrid club at 200 yards. These are the three clubs that you are going to use for the vast majority of your tee shots throughout a given round. Now that you know your distances, you can look out into the fairway and see what options are available. On a hole that has no hazards and a wide fairway, reach for the driver and let it fly. However, if another hole has a large bunker at 240 yards off the tee but a nice wide landing area around 220, the three wood is the right choice.
It takes some patience and discipline to put the driver down and make the smart choice. You might have to force yourself to do it at first. However, after you see what this kind of decision making can do for your score, you will fall in love with making the smart play and keeping your ball in the fairway. Your fairway accuracy percentage should quickly go up, and your scores should quickly go down.
Avoid 100% Effort
Since most golfers sole purpose on the tee is to blast the ball as far as possible, it shouldnt be a surprise that most amateurs swing at 100% maximum effort on every tee shot. This is a mistake. Yes you want to hit the ball as far as you can, but you also need to maintain control over its flight. Therefore, making a swing at something less than 100% effort is always the best idea.
You might think its crazy to swing at your driver with anything less than full effort, but the results will say otherwise. For one thing, you arent going to lose as much distance as you might think by swinging at a little less than full speed. As long as you are hitting the sweet spot consistently and driving the ball straight down the fairway, you should only lose a few yards – if any at all. Even if you do lose five yards or so off your driving average, the extra fairways you hit will be more than worth it. Gaining a few yards on your drives by swinging as hard as possible will never be enough to counteract that strokes you lose by hitting poor drives into the woods or the water hazards. Golf is all about keeping your ball under control and in play, and swinging hard just wont help you reach those goals.
To learn how to hit your tee shots with less than maximum effort, head to the driving range for a practice session. To start, tee up some driver shots but only try to hit the ball around 100 yards. Dont alter you swing technique at all, just change the speed at which you swing. Focus on balance and good rhythm, and be sure to hold your follow through position just as you would on a regular shot. After hitting a few of these intentionally short drives, gradually build up your speed and hit the ball farther and farther. Continue doing so until you reach a comfortable point where you are hitting the ball a good distance but still remaining completely in control. When you get to a point where you start to fall off balance slightly, you have gone too far.
It will take some time and practice to get comfortable with the idea of not swinging as hard as you can off every tee. Once out on the course, it is easy to fall back into your old habits and start to crank up the speed once again. Resist this temptation and manage your swing wisely. Once you play a few rounds this way, it will begin to feel natural and you will have to think about it less and less. Assuming you are keeping track of your fairway accuracy stats along the way, there should be a positive trend starting to develop that correlates with your softer, more-controlled golf swing.
Do What You Do
A big part of playing good golf is simply identifying what your strengths are and then playing to them as frequently as possible. This is especially true off the tee. You want to use your favorite shots as often as you can, and limit the number of times you have to hit shots that make you uncomfortable. This goes for both the clubs that you pick for your tee shots, and the ball flights that you try to hit.
In terms of club selection, we already covered how you should think about the target in the fairway while making your pick of the right club. This is important, but you also want to consider which club you hit the best. After all, many fairways will offer you the option to hit a number of different clubs while not changing the size of the landing area significantly. Some players are more comfortable hitting straight shots with the driver, while others find safety with the three wood. There is no right or wrong answer in this case, but it is important that you know what works for you and then take advantage of it. When in doubt, always reach for the club that inspired the most confidence in your swing.
The other key element to this tip is hitting the ball flight that is the more consistent and most reliable for you. It can be tempting to try going against what you do naturally when the hole sets up for something else – but this is often a recipe for disaster. For example, if you play a draw normally but are standing on the tee of a hole that favors a fade, you will be better off finding a way to make your draw work than trying to hit a fade you arent comfortable with. Unless you are a highly skilled and experienced player, working the ball both ways is something that you probably shouldnt attempt very often.
With that said, it is ideal to minimize the curve of your tee ball as much as possible during your practice sessions. Playing a slight draw or slight fade is great because they will work on the majority of holes that you encounter. However, if your go-to shot is a hard draw to the left, you could really struggle when it comes to holes that turn from left to right. The straighter you can hit the ball off the tee, the more adaptable your game will be to different courses.
Dont fall into the trap of trying to copy shots that other players hit, or trying to do more than you are capable of at this point in time. The driving range is the place to learn new shots and develop your skills – the course is where you use what you have learned to shoot the best score possible. Once you step onto the first tee, you should forget about trying new shots and think only about the best way to use the shots that you already know how to hit.
Earn Your Confidence
The last tip on how to improve your golf driving accuracy is about confidence. Everyone knows that confidence is an important part of golf, just like it is an important part of every sport. If you dont believe in yourself and your ability to hit good shots, that doubt is sure to show up in the results. You need to believe in what you are doing and trust yourself to do it successfully, even under pressure.
Of course, becoming confident in your game is a tricky proposition. You need confidence to hit good shots, but you also need to hit good shots in order to gain confidence. It is something of a ‘chicken and the egg situation. Faking confidence isnt an option, either – it needs to be genuinely earned before it will do you any good.
So where do you earn your confidence? On the practice tee. That is where not only your swing is developed, but your belief is developed as well. There, you can see the good shots that you are capable of, and engrain the skills that will carry you through on the course. Without spending some time on the practice range working on your technique, you will be hard-pressed to find the necessary confidence on the course to get the job done consistently.
The best way to gain confidence on the driving range is to replicate the on-course situations that you will face as much as possible. One of the best drills for this purpose is to imagine that you are playing your favorite course. This should be a course that you have played plenty of times so you remember all of the holes and the clubs you would be hitting. Start with the first tee shot and use the club that you would actually use during a round. From there, hit your approach shot into the first green and continue on. Make your way through ‘playing all 18 holes, changing clubs for each shot just as you would on the course.
The important part of this drill is to take your time between shots and treat each one like an actual shot that you play during a normal round of golf. Pick out a specific target, go through your pre-shot routine, and hit the shot. This way, when you do get out on the course, you will have engrained that process in your mind and it will be comfortable and natural for you. Putting your mind in a comfortable place is the first step toward earning that confidence that you need to play your best.
Hitting more fairways should be one of the top priorities for every golfer because it has such a major impact on the rest of the game. If you hit more fairways you are almost certain to hit more greens in regulation, and your scores will almost certainly fall as well. Not only that, but playing from the fairway is just a more-relaxing way to play a round of golf. Hopefully the five tips included above will help you make big improvements in your percentage of fairways hit and your overall enjoyment of the game.