Never the most elegant swinger, and certainly not the longest hitter, Fred Funk has built a terrific career on the strength of his driving accuracy.
How straight does Funk drive it? He practically owned the PGA Tour's fairway percentage stat from 1995-2006 before heading to the Champions Tour, where he continues to find the short grass about 80 percent of the time.
To illustrate, Funk has said that when he's really zoned in, he aims at specific mower lines in the fairway – as in, the third mower line from the right. Funk's tactic left a young Tiger Woods dumbstruck during a tournament in Japan, where Funk figured he hit his mark on the majority of swings.
Competing against ever-more-athletic golfers in an era when driving distances increased by leaps and bounds, Funk survived – even thrived – despite his distinct power disadvantage. Case in point: In 2005, the year Funk won the Players Championship, his driving average of 270 yards ranked 197th on tour.
The Players was the biggest of his eight career PGA Tour victories; Funk has added seven wins on the Champions circuit, including the 2009 U.S. Senior Open, as of mid-2012.
Who says straight hitters can't win in this day and age?
What it looks like: While Funk can hit fades (left-to-right shots) and draws (right-to-left), he doesn't try to shape the ball very much. Hence, his drives fly nearly straight with only a small amount of curve.
How Funks does it: As mentioned, Funk is very precise when choosing his target. That way, a small to moderate miss still puts him in the fairway.
He's also meticulous about his setup, working constantly on the range to ensure solid alignment on the course. Funk has referred to an old Golf Digest article depicting railroad tracks as his key visual. The ball lies on one track, the feet on the other, with the knees, hips and shoulders in line with the feet.
Funk's other keys include an athletic posture, similar to a baseball infielder – knees flexed, bending at the hips, arms hanging naturally from the body (never reaching for the ball). His simple action was built on the idea of swinging the club on the same plane from start to finish, and keeping the clubhead low to the ground as long as possible after impact.
In short: Funk is the poster child for the importance of sound fundamentals.
How you can do it: Want to drive it as straight as Fred Funk? Start with alignment and posture by watching these videos:
Good posture is an essential part of a well-balanced swing, but balance shouldn't be taken for granted – it should be practiced often. Nothing beats the feet-together drill, arguably the best golf drill ever devised.
Fred Funk Fairway Splitting Drives
There is a lot of emphasis is the modern golf landscape on distance. It seems that everyone is fixated on how far they can hit the ball, and the ability to hit the ball great distances is often a measuring stick for the quality of one's game. Of course, using distance alone to determine the quality of a player is a major mistake – there are many other factors in play, most of which are more important than raw distance. To be sure, a long hitter with no control over their shots will never come out on top of a shorter hitter who knows exactly where the ball is going. The career of Fred Funk is a perfect illustration of this point.
Although he was never one of the longest hitters on Tour – in fact, he was routinely one of the shortest hitters – Fred Funk managed to carve out a highly successful career in professional golf. He has a total of 29 professional wins to his credit, including 8 on the PGA Tour. The highlight of his career has to be the 2005 Players Championship, where he took the title by one stroke over Luke Donald, Tom Lehman, and Scott Verplank. In addition to his success on the PGA Tour, Funk has also been highly successful on the Champions Tour, winning three major titles and six other events.
By any measure, Funk has had an incredibly successful professional golf career, all without the benefit of the overwhelming power that is featured by many of today's top players. For example, during the 2005 season in which Funk won The Players Championship, he averaged 270 yards from the tee – placing him T197 out of 202 total qualified players. In other words, he was one of the very shortest hitters on Tour that season. Of course, that doesn't mean much when you see that he was also 11th on the money list for the season, racking up more than $2.8 million in earnings along the way. Most golfers would agree that while distance is nice, making nearly $3 million in a single year is quite a bit nicer.
So, how did Funk manage to compete at the highest levels of the game while regularly giving up 40 yards or more off the tee? It all starts with accuracy. If you are going to be playing approach shots from farther back, you absolutely have to be hitting fairways. – and that is exactly what Fred Funk was able to to throughout his career. Using that 2005 season as a point of reference once again, we see that Funk hit an incredible 75.9% of his fairways., good for 2nd on Tour. Obviously, Funk knew perfectly how to play to his strengths. Since he wasn't going to win any contests due to sheer power, Funk played a control-based game by keeping his ball on the short grass nearly all day long.
There is a lot you can learn from this example. Most likely, you can relate to Fred Funk in terms of not having the same kind of firepower as some of the biggest hitters in the game. However, you probably don't score anywhere near as well as Fred Funk – mostly because you are playing too frequently from the long grass. If you can find a way to put more of your drives in the fairway., you will be surprised to see just how quickly your scores can come down, even without hitting the ball a single yard farther. Give up your obsession with distance and trade that focus in for a determination to hit more fairways – you will be rewarded for your efforts.
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.
Fairway Hitting Basics
In later sections, we will take a look at the technique of Fred Funk to see what it is about his swing that allows him to hit fairway. after fairway. First, however, we are going to address some of the mental game points that you need to understand in order to split fairways all day long. Putting the ball in the fairway. is as much about the mental game as it is about your physical technique, so you need to make sure to get your mind in a good place. None of the tips below are particularly complicated or confusing, but they are important.
- Aim for the wide side. This might be an obvious point, but you want to make sure you are giving yourself the biggest possible target when aiming down the fairway. Most golfers automatically aim down the middle in order to allow for room on both sides, but that might not be the best choice for your game. For instance, if you always curve the ball from left to right, you should be playing your shots down the left edge to allow the ball to turn back into the center. Also, you need to pay attention to how the hole is going to turn toward the green (if there is a dogleg in play). By aiming for the wide side of the fairway, you can give yourself as much room to work with as possible – even if that does mean setting up a slightly longer approach shot.
- Don't try to smash it. This is certainly a point that Fred Funk understands perfectly, but it is one that is sadly lost on the average golfer. When you stand on the tee, your primary focus should be on hitting the short grass – not hitting the ball as absolutely far as possible. If you are only thinking about distance while standing on the tee, you are never going to live up to your potential in terms of accuracy. Forget about how far you can hit the ball and focus only on making a balanced, smooth swing that is going to lead to you placing the ball right in the middle of the fairway.. It might be hard to get out of the habit of hitting the ball as hard as possible on each drive, but it is worth it in the end when you rarely have to deal with bad lies in the rough.
- Visualization. Many golfers suffer from a simple lack of confidence or belief on the tee. Instead of standing over your shot picturing all of the bad places that the ball could go, take a deep breath and imagine lacing your drive right down the middle. Picture the flight of the ball in detail, even 'seeing' in your mind how it is going to bounce and roll when it lands. Visualization is an incredibly powerful tool, and you may be amazed to find just how quickly your accuracy can improve when you start to visualize all of your drives.
- Club selection. There is no substitute for picking the right club when hitting your tee shots. Sure, you are going to hit your driver on plenty of occasions, but you are also going to want to reach for your three wood, hybrid clubs, and even long irons from time to time as well. You should always allow the design of the course to dictate exactly how you are going to attack each hole. Don't force yourself to hit driver on holes that don't really call for it – you are only going to put yourself in trouble more often than not. Hit the smart club at all times, even if that means laying back in the fairway short of your playing competitors.
The four points on the list above are some of the basics that you need to understand if you are going to hit plenty of fairways in each round. Things like smart club selection and visualizing your shots might not be particularly exciting, but they certainly have the power to change your game. Scoring becomes much easier when you hit more fairways, and each of the four points above can help you toward that goal.
Often, it is the swings of the long hitters in the game that are analyzed by amateurs wishing to copy their technique. However, only learning from the mechanics of the long hitters would be a serious mistake. In fact, the argument could be made that learning from shorter hitters like Funk is a more productive way to go. Fred Funk can't gloss over mistakes simply through sheer power, so he has to be fundamentally sound and accurate throughout his rounds. Most likely, you need to play a similar game. The points listed below are all mechanical keys that can be found in Fred Funk's golf swing from the tee. Learn from these points and use them to direct your practice during your next visit to the range.
- Picture perfect setup. It is hard to imagine even the pickiest golf teacher finding anything to complain about within Fred Funk's setup over the ball. His address position is beautiful from all angles, as he remains well-balanced and relaxed even as he is about to start his swing. You might not think much of this point when watching him swing, but it is certain that Funk has spent more than a little time mastering this excellent address position. If you are interested in adding as much consistency to your game as possible, improving your address position is a great way to start.
- Balanced at the finish. As is the case with nearly every top golfer in the world, Funk is nicely balanced when his swing is finished. How does this help him hit tons of fairways.? Simple – his swing is going to repeat in the same fashion time after time thanks to this impressive balance. A player who is leaning in one direction or another when their swing is finished will never have the same consistency as one who is on balance from start to finish. With good balance at both address and in the finish, you can be sure that Funk is well-balance in the middle of his swinging action as well.
- Compact backswing. If you get a chance to watch a video of Fred Funk swinging the club, pause the video at the top and note just how compact and organized his swing is when it transitions from backswing to downswing. His right arm is down against his side, the left arm matches up with the plane of his shoulders, and the club turns around just when it reaches parallel to the ground. This is a beautiful position, and it is one that is used by more than a few top players. Many amateur players try to make their swings as large as possible, thinking that a bigger swing will equate to more distance. That, of course, is not the case at all. Work on keeping your backswing tight while using your shoulder turn to great power and you will be able to strike accurate shots time after time.
The word that comes to mind more than any other when watching Fred Funk swing the club is 'simple'. His is a simple golf swing, which is a big part of the reason why he is able to hit so many fairways. with his driver.. Sure, Funk might not be the longest player in the world, but he is the owner of an incredibly repeatable swing which can send the ball in a predictable direction time after time.
Simplify Your Own Swing
If you learn only one thing from the example that Fred Funk has set, let it be this – a simple golf swing is a good golf swing. There is a tendency among modern golfers to overcomplicate the game using a variety of advanced techniques and swing theories to deliver the club to the ball. However, if you would like to play good golf, you would be wise to leave that stuff to the side. Instead, work hard on making the simplest swing you can manage. By taking moving parts out of your swing one at a time, you will be left with a simple action that is easy to repeat. And, of course, a repeating swing is one that is going to allow you to hit fairway. after fairway..
The first thing to do when you wish to simplify your swing is to record yourself hitting a few shots on video. It is hard to know exactly what your swing is looking like while you are making it, so a video recording is the best way to confront yourself with the truth. By watching your swing on video, you will be able to honestly evaluate your technique and locate spots for improvement. Specifically, you want to look for moving parts that don't actually need to be moving. Anything that is moving without actually helping you hit the ball harder or straighter needs to be taken out of the swing once and for all.
When you watch Fred Funk make a swing, you will certainly notice right away that there are almost no moving parts to speak of, other than those that are required to move the club around his body. In fact, if you were to try and pick out one movement that should be removed, you would have a hard time doing so. His simplicity is incredible to watch, and it is something to aspire to for the average player.
As you watch a video of your own swing, keep an eye out for some of the following movements. These are some of the most-common 'extra' movements made by amateur golfers in their swings.
- Coming up onto the toes at impact. This is an incredibly common mistake, and it is one that can make it difficult to strike the ball cleanly through impact. When you swing down into the shot, your feet should remain nicely grounded – with the possible exception of your right heel starting to come off the ground slightly. Focus on keeping your feet down on the turf through the hit and you will find that it becomes much easier to achieve clean contact time after time.
- Lifting in the takeaway. This is also a common mistake, and it is an extremely costly one as well. When taking the club back away from the ball, you need to make sure you aren't lifting the overall level of your body by straightening from your knees or your waist. Do your best to hold your stance as stable as possible throughout the takeaway, and be sure not to change anything about the level of your body. You can quickly waste a good address position by standing up out of your stance early in the swing, so take care to avoid this major error.
- Active hands going back. Another extra move that you don't need to make is using your hands actively early in the backswing. The backswing should mostly be controlled by the rotation of your shoulders away from the target. If your hands get involved before they are needed, the club will be moved to the inside and you will have trouble getting back on the right plane before impact arrives. Keep the hands quiet early in the swing, use your shoulder turn to power the move away from the ball, and set yourself up for a solid strike when impact rolls around.
Extra movements in the golf swing are only going to cause trouble. You want your swing to be as 'boring' as possible, because boring golf is good golf in almost every case. A swing like the one Fred Funk uses is the perfect kind of swing to imitate because it doesn't ask you to do anything outside of the normal. There are no crazy moves or extra elements to his swing which add to the complexity of the action – it is basic, repeatable, and highly effective. Taking your own swing in this direction will help you become a vastly improved player.
The Right Attitude
Why was Fred Funk able to hit so many fairways. during his time on the PGA Tour? Well, his technique certainly had something to do with it, but it also had a lot to do with his attitude and belief. When he stood on the tee, he expected to hit the fairway – and that is a bigger deal than you might believe. If you think you are going to put the ball in the fairway, you are probably right. If you think you are going to miss the fairway., you are probably right again. Finding belief in yourself is essential if you are going to reach your goals in golf, whatever those may happen to be.
The best place to uncover some additional confidence for your game is the driving range. When on the range, you are free to make swings without the pressure that is often in place on the course. Unfortunately, many golfers discount the importance of the range in the process of getting better at this challenging game. If you skip the range – instead spending all of your available time out on the course – you are unlikely to make any real progress as the years go by. There is no doubt that Fred Funk has had to put in countless hours over the years in order to reach the levels that he was able to achieve in the game, and that is the model to follow with your own game. Sure, you probably won't ever win on the PGA Tour, but you still need to invest practice time in your game if you wish to see results.
There is a great feeling of power that comes from hitting fairway after fairway during a round of golf. When you feel like you are in total control of what is happening with your game, it feels like the sky is the limit from a scoring perspective. There are plenty of birdies to be made from the middle of the fairway, and there aren't many bogeys to be found. Good luck and hit 'em straight!