It's the Holy Grail of driving the golf ball: high launch, low spin. The combo produces tee shots that fly high and stay airborne longer. Sometimes, though, your best play is to keep the ball low. Windy days are a prime example, or on firm fairways that provide lots of roll.
For starters, you can tee the ball a little lower than normal – with just a small portion of the ball appearing above the club's top line – and play it closer to the middle of your stance. Another trick is to stand slightly farther from the ball. This will put the club on a flatter (more horizontal) plane that shallows out the angle of attack, effectively de-lofting the clubface at impact.
This tip can also help you cut down on slicing; you may even find you can hit a draw with a flatter swing. Experiment on the practice range by varying your distance from the ball at address, as well as tee height and the ball's position in your stance.
Make careful note of these fundamentals on shots that fly low and straight, then transfer what you've learned to the golf course.
Stand Farther from the Ball to Keep Drives Low
Controlling your trajectory is a big part of getting the most out of your golf game. It is nice to be able to hit the ball straight on a consistent basis, but it is even better to be able to create the appropriate flight for the shot that you are facing. For example, if you are playing a dogleg right par four, the ability to curve the ball to the right on command can be very useful. Instead of having to fit your standard shots into the hole, you can customize your shots to match the layout of the golf course. Most golfers don't have this ability, but the ones that do will quickly make the game much easier.
Of course, curving the ball from right to left or left to right is not the only way to attack the course. You can also manipulate your shots higher or lower depending on conditions. This is especially important off the tee where you want to pick a ball flight that is going to maximize your distance. Even if you hit the ball perfectly from the tee with your drives, it might not be enough to get max distance if you hit the wrong kind of shot for the conditions that exist on that particular day. When the course is soft and there is no wind, you want to launch the ball high in the air. However, if the course is playing firm or you are playing into the wind, a low drive is your best bet.
Hitting the ball low with the driver might be a little difficult than you would imagine. Modern golf clubs and golf balls are designed to make it easy to generate backspin – something which is typically difficult for amateurs to accomplish. That additional backspin that is created by your equipment is great when you are playing iron shots into the greens, but it might not be as desirable when you are hitting a driver. To better be able to handle all of the various conditions that you may face on the course, it is important to know how to create low drives on command. You aren't going to want to hit this low ball flight all the time, but it could very well save you a stroke or two if you know how to use it when you really need it.
The best alterations to your swing are the subtle ones that can create different ball flights without requiring you to make dramatic changes. If you have to radically change the shape or tempo of your swing in order to hit a certain shot, you probably shouldn't be trying to hit that shot. Anytime you try to learn a new ball flight, work hard to make your adjustments as simple and repeatable as possible. Remember, a new ball flight is only useful if you can execute it time after time out on the course.
All of the instruction below is based on a right handed golfer. If you happen to play left handed, please reverse the directions as necessary.
A Simple Adjustment
Hitting your drives lower than normal is almost surprisingly easy. That is, the adjustment that you have to make is easy – it will still take some time and effort to get comfortable with this technique. When you want to hit your drives lower than your usual trajectory, simply back up a few inches further away from the ball. That's it. You shouldn't need to do anything else to change your swing in order to achieve the low ball flight that you desire. It probably seems too easy to be true, but give it a try for yourself the next time you are on the practice range, and you will likely be pleasantly surprised at just how effective this method can be.
Why does this work? Basically, by moving farther away from the ball, you will be flattening out your swing plane. A flatter swing plane should lead to a flatter angle of attack at impact, which will create less backspin on the golf ball. Since it is backspin that takes the ball high up into the air, a lower backspin rate means that your shots should stay low to the turf as they fly down the fairway. While it is not the purpose of this article, you could accomplish the opposite effect by standing closer to the ball – if you want to hit a high drive with plenty of spin, try moving in just a few inches at address.
It is important that you don't make any other changes to your swing when you use this technique to hit low drives. After you adjust your stance by backing away slightly, go ahead and make your usual swing. Your arms will be reaching out a bit further at address, obviously, but everything else should feel the same. The whole point of this technique is to keep things simple, so don't allow yourself to get caught up in feeling like you have to radically alter your technique to hit a low ball. Move back a few inches, make an aggressive swing, and watch the ball rocket off the face of your driver. Yes, it really can be that easy.
You should note that there might be another minor change to your ball flight when you make this adjustment. At the same time that the ball is flying lower, it may also have a tendency to curve slightly to the right or the left. That isn't a big deal – as long as you know what to expect. Since you have changed your distance from the ball, the pattern for your low drives might not be the same as your regular drives. Most likely, you will be more-inclined to hit a slight draw from the tee when playing the ball low. If that is the case, remember to account for the draw when you decide to hit a low tee shot. Of course, working on this technique on the practice range will be the best way to learn how your ball flight is going to react when you get out to the course.
Picking Your Spots
It would not be a good idea to hit your drives on a low trajectory all of the time. To maximize distance under 'normal' conditions, you will typically want to hit a high drive with a low spin rate. That combination allows the ball to travel on a flat, boring trajectory that offers both carry distance and roll out. When you are picking out a driver that fits best with your swing, you should do so with this high and flat trajectory in mind.
However, there are certain times on the course when a low drive is exactly what you need to position your ball perfectly for the next shot. Tee shots are all about position - rarely will you be hitting a driver with the goal of putting your ball on the green. More likely, you are hitting your drives in order to set up the next shot that you will face. You can make golf much easier by positioning your ball well with the driver, but that is a job that is easier said than done.
Once you are comfortable with the technique required to hit low drives off the tee, the next step is knowing when to pull this shot from the bag. Following are three situations that just may call for a low drive.
- Into the wind. This one should be obvious. When you step up to the tee on a par four or par five that is playing into the wind, the last thing you want to do is blast the ball high up into the air. Not only will hitting a high drive into the wind cost you distance, but it will also make it more difficult to find the fairway. Accuracy is crucial when playing into the wind because any amount of side spin that you put on the ball is going to be magnified. A shot that would normally be just a slight fade could turn into a big slice if you are playing into a stiff breeze. With all of that in mind, hitting your low drive will almost always be a good idea into the wind. When playing this shot, remember that you don't need to swing harder just because the wind is in your face - in fact, swinging harder will actually hurt your chances of hitting a good shot. A hard swing is one that will produce spin, and spin is what you are trying to avoid. Stand farther away from the ball in order to lower your flight, and then make your usual swing with a nice, smooth tempo.
- Dry, fast fairways. If you find yourself playing a golf course that is featuring hard and fast fairways, you might as well take advantage of that fact in order to add more distance to your drives. You don't have to always hit the ball farther in the air when you wish to get closer to the hole - you could do it by simply getting the ball down on the ground and letting it run up the fairway. This is a great strategy for a couple of reasons. First, you will take on less risk when you hit the ball low, as a ball with a lower trajectory won't have as much time to curve off line and get in trouble. Also, by letting the ball run up the fairway, you have a better chance of finding a flat spot from which to play your next shot. As the ball rolls, it is naturally doing to go downhill, meaning you will consistently find your ball at the low point of the fairway - which usually means a flat stance. If you hit a high drive that lands relatively softly, you are more likely to be stuck on a side hill lie, which will make your iron short more difficult.
- Narrow fairway. Hitting a low drive can be used as a tactical decision as well. Even if you are playing under perfect conditions, you can still choose to hit the ball low off the tee in order to keep it in play more consistently. As mentioned above, hitting the ball will reduce the chances of a big miss because the ball simply isn't in the air long enough to find serious trouble. When you find yourself on the tee of a par four that has a narrow fairway, consider using your lower ball flight to increase your odds of finding the short grass. Sure, this method will cost you a few yards in distance most of the time, but that is a trade you should be willing to make if it means you can keep the ball in play. You need to have patience to play great golf, and sometimes patience means sacrificing distance in the name of control. Most amateur golfers don't have the discipline to make that trade, so you can put yourself ahead of the competition if you take this intelligent approach.
As you get more and more experience with hitting low drives, you will probably find a number of different opportunities to use this ball flight. In the end, it is all up to you and your feel for the shot. You should be confident standing over each shot that you hit during a given round, so pick the trajectory that you truly believe will lead to a quality shot. While the tips above are good ground rules to use, nothing is set in stone. You should develop your own playing style, even if that means going against the 'book' from time to time.
Even though you are only making a minor adjustment to your swing to create a lower ball flight, you still may run into some problems along the way. In the process of moving slightly farther away from the ball, it is possible that you will develop small issues in your swing which do damage to your ball flight or the consistency of your contact. You want to be able to rely on this low ball flight whenever you attempt to use it, so it is important to get these issues worked out on the range prior to using your new shot on the course.
One of the most common issues when standing farther away from the ball is coming up out of the swing prior to impact. You will know that you are making this mistake because you will be making contact with the ball low on the club face. Your drives will still fly low, but they will lack power and they may trail off to the right at the end. It is always important to hit the sweet spot of the club face, no matter what kind of shot you are trying to play from the tee.
The correction for this common mistake is quite simple – keep your head down on the ball through impact. It might be tempting to look up early to see where the ball is going, but that is a temptation that you will have to resist. It might help to pick out a specific spot on your golf ball that you can watch carefully until the ball is gone. By giving yourself a specific point to look at during the swing, you should have an easier time staying focused on keeping your eyes down. As long as your eyes are down, your left side should stay with the shot until the club have moved through the hitting area. This might seem like a minor detail, but it has major consequences on the quality of your shots. Keeping your eyes down will not only help you when hitting low tee shots, but it will also help you throughout the rest of the course.
Another issue that is frequently seen when trying to hit the ball low from the tee is a quick hook. When you first try to use this technique, you might find that your ball is quickly ducking left into the rough or the trees shortly after it leaves the tee. Obviously, this is a problem. The cause of this problem, most likely, is a short backswing. Since you are standing farther from the ball, you actually need to make a slightly longer swing than normal to keep the club in the right position. Allow your backswing plenty of time to develop, and only start forward when you are sure that you have turned all the way to the right. As long as your backswing reaches the necessary length, you should be able to find the perfect slot for the club, and the downswing should be in excellent shape to produce a low, and straight, shot.
If you find yourself dealing with either one of those two problems – contact low on the face or quick hooks to the left – spend some time on the range ironing out your mechanics so you can reliably produce a straight and low ball when needed. You don't want to doubt your ability to hit this shot when you call on it, so use your time on the range to build all the confidence you can find.
Tee height is another important part of this equation that should be mentioned. While you are trying to hit the ball low, you don't want to tee the ball any lower than normal. Your tee height for this shot should be the same as any other drive that you hit throughout the round. When you tee the ball lower, you will be forced to hit down slightly at the ball, meaning the ball will get more backspin and likely climb higher into the air. By keeping the ball at its usual height, you can sweep it off the tee, which is exactly what you want to do in order to hit a hard and low drive down the middle of the fairway.
Also, your ball position shouldn't change much from its usual spot, although it would be okay to move it back just slightly in your stance if you prefer. Moving the ball back an inch or two in your stance may help you to make solid contact, so feel free to make that minor adjustment if you wish. However, moving it back too far is going to have the same effect as teeing the ball lower – you are going to hit down on the ball and impart too much backspin at impact. The ball needs to remain well forward of center, and ideally it would be positioned in line with the inside of your left heel. No matter where you decide to position the ball for your low drives, make sure it finds the same position prior to each and every shot.
Remember to continue to swing hard at this shot, even though it isn't your standard drive. Making a drives swing with something less than your full effort is usually a recipe for trouble, as the club can slow down into impact, leading to poor contact and off-line shots. Once you decide to hit a low drive on a particular hole, choose your target line and then make the swing with total confidence and commitment. Let the club release fully through impact and expect to look up to see the ball speeding down the middle of the fairway.
Every shot that you can add to your repertoire will make you a better player. In this case, the ability to hit low drives can help you to deal with adverse conditions as well as make it easier to hit narrow fairways. The beauty of this shot is in its simplicity – just stand slightly farther away from the ball and make a great swing. By changing very little about your technique, you should be able to hit low and straight drives with impressive consistency.