With the driver in hand, it's tempting to wail away and try to hit the ball as far as possible.
Tempting, but not wise, since an extra-hard swing is likely to send the ball into unfavorable territory.
Not only that, but the harder you swing, the less likely you are to make solid contact. The result: shorter drives.
Try these tricks to hit more fairways, and maybe increase your driving distance, too:
Swing the driver like a wedge: How hard do you swing when hitting a wedge? Probably a lot easier than you do with a driver. Emulate your wedge tempo with the big stick and you'll swing with better balance, equaling straighter shots.
Choke up: When gripping the driver, leave at least an inch, if not two, between the top of the grip and your top hand. This effectively shortens the club, making it easier to control.
Tee the ball lower: While it's recommended to tee the ball high to maximize distance, teeing it down is a good tactic when control escapes you. Stick the tee in to where the top of the ball lines up with the top of the club, or slightly higher. The ball will fly lower and curve less.
To Hit More Fairways with Your Driver, Use These Tips
There are two basic goals you should have in mind when standing on the tee of a par four or par five hole – you want to hit the ball as far as possible, and you want to keep the ball in the fairway. Actually, the order of those two goals should be reversed. The top goal should be to place the ball in the short grass. Longer is better, of course, but you should prefer an accurate drive over one which is longer but strays off line. Good golfers hit a significant number of fairways during every round, and you should be striving to do the same if you wish to move your scores lower and lower as time goes by.
When you read golf instruction on the topic of hitting more fairways, one of the first tips you usually see is to put away your driver. Many instructors will tell you to simply hit three woods and hybrids from the tee in order to improve your fairway percentage. That will work, but the distance you sacrifice may be more than you can afford to give up – particularly on a long course, or a course which has been soaked by rain. To play at your optimal level, you are going to need to find a way to hit fairways while keeping the driver in your hands.
In this article, we are going to provide some tips on how you can hit more fairways without putting the driver away. Some of these tips will be related to the swing itself, but most will have to do with the strategy you use to find the short grass. Thinking clearly and intelligently on the tee is almost as important as making a good swing. Once you have brought together a nice combination of technique and strategy, you should find yourself playing from the fairway all day long.
It should be noted that while this article is going to discuss hitting fairways with your driver, there are still times when you will need to put the driver away and reach for a shorter club. When playing a short par four with a narrow fairway, for example, you should consider clubbing down to make sure you put the ball in play. Basically, if sacrificing distance is not going to hurt you in any significant way, you should consider leaving your driver in the bag. The best golfers are those who are willing and able to make the right club selection on each tee based on the challenge they see in front of them. By developing your ability to hit fairways with the driver, you will be able to make your club selections with confidence, knowing that all of your clubs are capable of producing an accurate tee ball.
All of the content below is based on a right-handed golfer. If you happen to play left-handed, please take a moment to reverse the directions as necessary.
The Physical Side
Before we dive into all of the various strategic points you need to keep in mind while hitting your driver, we need to first cover some basic swing tips which will help you to be more accurate. To drive the ball accurately, you need to deliver the club into the back of the ball in the same manner time after time. Your swing doesn't need to be perfect in order to produce drives which will routinely find the fairway – but it does need to be consistent and repeatable. The points listed below will help you produce a driver swing that you can count on from the first tee to the last.
- Maintain your balance. It will be nearly impossible to hit a high percentage of fairways if you have poor balance. The balance of your swing should always be a top priority, no matter what club is in your hands, but it takes on even more importance when swinging the driver. Do everything you can to keep your weight nicely balanced throughout the swing, and work on holding your finish at the end as you watch the ball fly. Good balance isn't going to guarantee accurate driving, but it certainly is a nice place to start.
- Swing at less than 100%. The temptation to swing as hard as possible when hitting a driver is understandable, but falling for that temptation is usually going to get you in trouble. You don't have to swing at a full 100% effort in order to hit long drives, so dial back your exertion just slightly in order to keep control over your body and the club. This point ties in directly with the first, as you are going to struggle to stay balanced when swinging flat-out. By dialing back your effort, you will find the sweet spot of the driver more often, meaning you might actually add yards to your tee shots by providing a bit less effort.
- Keep your head behind the ball. When you make contact with the ball using your driver, you should feel as though your head is slightly behind the ball. Why is this important? When your head stays back, the rest of your body stays back as well – which means you can rotate freely through the shot without sliding to the left. A slide to the left is one of the worst mistakes you can make when swinging your driver, so don't fall into that trap. Stay back throughout the downswing, let your body rotate aggressively toward the target, and keep your head in place until after the ball is gone.
- Swing through to the finish. This point was mentioned briefly along with balance, but it deserves to be highlighted on its own due to its importance. Many amateur golfers get into the bad habit of stopping their swings right at the moment of impact, which is something that is going to cost you both distance and accuracy. The swing is not over at impact, so don't give up on your effort at that point. You want to swing all the way through to a full finish, so you should see the ball as simply a point along the path rather than the destination. By swinging on through each time, you will accelerate the club head nicely, which will add distance and make it easier to keep the club traveling down the right path.
- Tee the ball high. This isn't actually anything to do with the swing itself, but it is a key piece of your setup. Some golfers decide that they need to tee the ball lower when accuracy is at a premium, but that is usually a mistake. Instead, tee the ball high for all of your driver shots to allow yourself to hit up through the ball properly. As a good rule of thumb, tee the ball at a height which will line up the middle of the ball with the top line of the driver. Be sure to practice this tee height on the range to make any adjustments necessary before you use it on the course.
As you can see, none of these physical points are particularly technical or complicated. These are all basics that you can work on by yourself out at the range. It is not an accident that all of these points are simple to understand – keeping your swing simple is a great way to be consistent. Build a solid golf swing which you can repeat time after time and then use strategy to take you the rest of the way to a high fairway hit percentage with your driver.
Now that we have covered some basic tips you can work on to improve the consistency of your driving, it is time to get into the mental side of this equation. Despite what you may believe, making good decisions and having a clear strategy in mind is possibly the biggest single part of hitting fairways with your driver. Sadly, most golfers don't believe this to be true, so they just walk up to the tee and swing away in most cases. You can do better than that. By committing yourself to thinking through each tee shot strategically before you make a swing, it will be possible to perform at a higher level than ever before.
The list below contains some of the basic strategies that you should have in mind while holding your driver on the tee of any given par four or par five hole.
- Use the whole fairway. All players have a pattern that they follow with their driver, whether it be to hit a draw or a fade (or even a hook or a slice). It is nearly impossible to hit the ball completely straight, so you should have a ball flight in mind every time you step onto the tee. To give yourself the best possible chance to hit the fairway, you want to use the whole fairway by aiming down the opposite side from the direction you expect your ball to curve. For example, if you usually hit a draw, you need to aim down the right side of the fairway in order to open up more room on the left for your ball to find. If you aim down the middle, you will essentially be 'wasting' half of the fairway, as a shot that curves even a bit too much is sure to end up in the rough. Give yourself as much room to work with as possible by manipulating your aim in a way that opens up the golf course nicely.
- Watch for slopes. You already know that you need to read the green while putting, but did you know that you also need to read the fairways when hitting your tee shots? It's true – you should be reading the slope of the fairway from back on the tee in order to aim your shot properly. A fairway that slopes from left to right, for instance, is going to require a drive that lands in the left side of the short grass. By hitting the proper side, you will give your ball room to take the slope while still coming to rest in a good spot. If you ignore this important point, you might find that you hit a drive which lands in the fairway only to bounce and roll into the rough. Even subtle slopes can be important when you are playing on a firm course, so make this point something you check on out of habit each time you prepare to hit a driver.
- Turn the ball into the dogleg. If you have the ability to curve the golf ball in both directions with your driver, use that skill to your advantage by curving the ball into the dogleg whenever possible. What does that mean? Basically, you are going to attempt to turn the ball the opposite way that the hole is turning from tee to green. So, on a hole which features a right to left dogleg, you are going to try to cut the ball into the fairway from left to right. Using the opposite ball flight is going to dramatically widen your target, allowing you to miss your line by a fair margin and still hit the fairway. Many players elect to turn the ball with the dogleg, but that approach is going to actually shrink your effective landing area. Of course, you can't work the ball against the dogleg when there are trees in your way, so be sure you have the air space to execute this strategy.
- Keep the ball down in the wind. This is a tip which should really be classified as 'common sense' in the golf world. When you are playing in the wind, you want to do what you can to keep the ball down off the tee. Even if you are going to hit a driver – which is fine – you need to make some adjustments to make sure the ball doesn't climb too high up into the sky. If you can keep the ball down near the ground, you will be far better able to control its flight, and you will hit more fairways as a result.
Just as was the case with the list of physical tips, nothing listed above should be considered particularly complicated or surprising. Basically, these are logical steps that you can take to place your ball in the fairway more frequently. If you are having trouble remembering all of these points at first, feel free to write them down and take them with you out onto the course. Pretty soon, this line of thinking will be second nature to you, and those notes will become unnecessary.
Manipulate Your Distance
When you take your driver from the bag, you probably only have one distance in mind for the shot – as far as you can hit it. Most people reach back and attempt to hit the driver as far as possible, but that doesn't always need to be your plan. Just as is true of every other club in your bag, you can manipulate the distance with your driver in order to fit your shot in to just the right spot in the fairway.
The best way to take distance off of your drives is simply to choke down slightly on the grip at address. Coming down just an inch or two on the grip will take some of the speed out of your swing, and your shots will fly a shorter distance as a result. This adjustment may also bring your ball flight down, which could potentially give you added control. Of course, you do need to practice this shot on the driving range before you put it to the test during a round. Trying to choke down for a tee shot without having first practiced this method could be a recipe for disaster.
So, why would you choose to voluntarily take distance off of your drives? Most likely, you would use this strategy on a hole where the fairway turns dramatically in one direction or the other. For instance, if you find a par four which has a sharp dogleg at 250 yards, and you can usually hit your driver 260, you may choose to choke up slightly to lose that extra ten yards. Rather than having to go down to your three wood, you could still hit your driver in order to force the ball as far down the fairway as possible.
You could also use this strategy when there is a bunker lurking in the distance which threatens to gobble up your ball if you drift just a bit off line. Hitting your drive into a fairway bunker is very likely to lead to a bogey (or worse), so you should take precaution to avoid such a mistake whenever you can. Should you happen to see a deep fairway bunker waiting to catch your tee shot, think about backing off of the distance on your driver in order to keep the ball safely short. This type of strategy takes risk out of the shot while giving you a great chance to find the fairway and eventually hit the green in regulation.
Use the Right Golf Ball
You can't always blame your failures on the golf course on using the wrong equipment, but playing with the wrong ball really can cause trouble in your game. If you have a ball which spins too much for your swing, for instance, your drives will climb high in the air and they will likely drift well off target. Or, on the other hand, if your ball doesn't spin enough for your needs, it will stay low to the ground and your carry distance will suffer. Only when you use the perfect ball for your capabilities will you be able to produce shots which fly beautifully down the fairway at just the right trajectory.
One option for finding the right golf ball is to go through a professional ball fitting session. Most golf facilities today offer this service along with their club fitting, so feel free to ask about it in the pro shop if you are interested. A ball fitting will put your swing through a series of evaluations in order to determine which golf ball models are most likely to fit your needs. Remember, you need to pick a ball which is going to work with all of your clubs, not just the driver. If you choose to go in this direction, trust the experience and expertise of the professional who is performing the fitting – he or she will be sure to find you a ball that is a good match.
If you would rather not go through this process, or if you don't have access to a facility with such technology, the other option is good old fashioned trial and error. By picking out a few various golf ball models you would like to try, you can experiment with them one by one on the course until you settle on a winner. Rather than buying whole boxes of golf balls for this testing, try to buy sleeves of three in order to save money. Also, you might be able to trade single golf balls with some of your playing partners in order to test out even more options. In the end, your goal is to find a ball which will behave properly off of your driver in addition to performing well throughout the rest of the bag.
Hitting fairways is obviously a good thing, but you don't necessarily have to club down in order to raise your percentage. Using the advice contained in this article, you should be able to find the short grass more frequently while still hitting the driver most of the day. Practice the fundamentals of your driver swing on the range, think through the strategic points offered above, and hit your shots with confidence while on the course. Good luck!