Drive the ball better from the tee

Richard is a good golfer (about a 1 handicap) and is having problems with his driver. Interestingly he is “nailing” all of his other shots. It sorta doesn’t make sense that you would be hitting all other shots well but struggle with one club. The more I learn about learning the more I realise that when it comes to humans, nothing really surprises me. We’re a strange bunch that’s for sure.

When he called Friday I gave him some ideas to help sort out his issue. I’m sure they will help but also realised I probably left a few things off the list – I’ve had a dose of the Man Flu and my brain isn’t functioning that well. Here’s a more definitive list that can help everyone drive better from the tee.

[headline_tahoma_small_left color=”#000000″]Change Club[/headline_tahoma_small_left]

If you’re convinced that you’re doing everything correctly and hitting a vast majority of your other full shots well then I’d get rid of the current driver. If you don’t like a club, if it annoys you, has an ugly look or feel then change it. The prices of clubs these days are cheap as chips. Plus there are plenty of options for finding good quality second hand stuff (Ebay for example). If you’re serious about your golf and don’t mind forking over some cash, then change your driver. I bought a new driver a few weeks ago and was staggered by the low cost – not sure how the club manufacturers/retail outlets are making a profit. It’s definitely a buyer’s market.

Disclaimer: Changing your driver should not be your first option. Give the current one a fair go – changing for the sake of it is lazy and not in the spirit of Automatic Golf.

[headline_tahoma_small_left color=”#000000″]Don’t go too stiff[/headline_tahoma_small_left]

Richard made the same call. Don’t go for a really stiff shaft. Unless you have a tour swing speed (around 112 mph+), stick to something softer. Stiff shafts tend to be about ego and the decal that’s stuck on the side of the shaft. It really should be about being able to hit the ball in play most of the time. If this means a seniors flex (or even ladies) who cares? Go with what is right for you.

[headline_tahoma_small_left color=”#000000″]Understand the issue[/headline_tahoma_small_left]

Most golfers who slice the ball actually start the ball a long way to the left and then see the ball tail off to the right. If you ask them about the shot they will swear black and blue the ball starts right and slices further right. If you’re not processing the cause correctly you’ll struggle to improve. Get someone to stand behind you and swing away. They’ll tell you exactly what the ball is doing (without any bias) and it may surprise you. Once you know what is happening you can do something about it (see the exaggerate drill below).

[headline_tahoma_small_left color=”#000000″]Be honest about fear[/headline_tahoma_small_left]

Are you swinging with fear? Are you worried about missing fairways? Have you got the yips?

These are all things that could be holding you back. To really get to the heart of the problem will take some honesty – like, yes, I’m not really committing to the driver swing. I’m scared of hooking it so I’m making a half-hearted attempt.

If this is the case then simply recognising it is part of the problem. The next step is to man up and fight through the issue. What’s the worst thing that could happen?

[headline_tahoma_small_left color=”#000000″]Exaggerate your miss[/headline_tahoma_small_left]

If you are hitting a block fade/slice (this was Richard’s problem) can you hit the opposite shot? Sometimes you have to dig deep and ask,

“If my life depended on it, what would I do to hit the ball to the left?”

You are going to break your swing habits doing this. You are going to learn something new. When you go back to automatic, your swing will have shifted. You will see a change. So many of us are too scared to break habits and explore the unknown – what’s really holding you back? Again, some honesty is needed.

If you slice the ball >> hit a hook shot
If you hit it high >> hit it low
If you top the ball >> hit it high
If you hit the toe >> hit the heel

[headline_tahoma_small_left color=”#000000″]Tee the ball correctly[/headline_tahoma_small_left]

There’s nothing wrong with playing with a preferred shot shape. In fact I encourage it. Most golfers slice/fade the ball but have little idea on how to tee the ball correctly. And I’m not talking about the height, I’m referring to the position you place the ball inside the tee box.

If you’re right handed and play with the fade/slice then you should always tee the ball to the right hand side of the teeing ground. Why? Because you then have the best angle to start the ball to the left and let your natural shot shape bring the ball to right. Anything else can cause you some issues,

– you may hit the trees on the left hand side of the tee box
– you are fighting mother nature and “your” golf swing
– it probably won’t feel any good

I can’t begin to tell you how much more confidence you’ll have with your driving when you learn to tee-up correctly. Gives you an instant boost to your swing.

[headline_tahoma_small_left color=”#000000″]You don’t always have to hit the driver[/headline_tahoma_small_left]

Get the ball in play should be your first priority. For a long time I’ve been telling golfers to get the ball “between the trees”. Yep, most of the time the rough is OK (and even bunkers) – the fairway is a nice bonus. OOB, foliage and water are the biggest issues and cause your scores to soar. Oftentimes this means not hitting driver. You may need to leave the ego in the car and not worry about your manhood. Golf is not a long drive competition and if you can accept that your driving will improve. With better driving comes improved scores – this will give your ego a nice pat on the back.

Like many things I teach, learning to take a more conservative approach when necessary gives your golf game a hit of confidence. I’m convinced your subconscious knows when you should take the 3 wood (or the iron) but for some reason you keep taking driver. If you’re not driving the golf ball well then this part of your game would be one of the first I’d look at. If in doubt take a conservative club from the tee and swing fully and freely.

[headline_tahoma_small_left color=”#000000″]Go with your shot[/headline_tahoma_small_left]

This is probably my all time favourite way to help golfers drive the ball better. As mentioned, most of us play with a preferred shot shape and this should be your “go to” shot time after time. And I don’t care if the hole design doesn’t suit you, man up and find a way to play the hole that works for you. Almost always, learning to tee the ball correctly gives you an advantage. Sometimes you may need to change clubs, other times you might need to get inventive.

One of the best drives I’ve ever hit came in a golf final on the 15th hole. I was 1up against a very good player and wanted to put some heat on him. The hole was a tight left to right dogleg (90 degrees). The layup wasn’t that easy plus but I didn’t want to leave a long shot in. My favourite shot with the driver is a right to left fade (I’m left handed) – but this hole just didn’t suit the shot at all until I found a way.

I spotted a gap in the trees to the right of the tee. I teed my ball right, aimed further right and then hit a big fade/slice that missed the trees and then curved back into the fairway. The shot came off a treat and I ended up making birdie. Here’s a dodgy diagram showing the shot. (see earlier post about my artistic skills)

It was a memorable shot because of the situation but more because I played “my shot” under the heat of competition. If you have a natural shot shape you should go with it whenever you can. There has to be a very good reason for you to stray too far from the tree.

Driving is a very important part of the game. The old saying, “drive for show and putt for dough” is fine if you’re able to hit the ball in play. But if you’re constantly in trouble after your 1st hit then you’ll always be pushing it uphill to get the job done. A little more focus and a change of strategy just might be what you need. I hope this helps and gives you some ideas to improve your golf driving. Let me know your thoughts.

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13 Comments

  • Grayden Provis

    Reply Reply August 27, 2012

    “Sometimes you have to dig deep and ask, ‘ If my life depended on it, what would I do to hit the ball to the left? ‘

    This is a big one. Often we think we’re committed to a shot but if someone put a gun to our head (or worse, our kid’s head) and said “hit the left side of the fairway” we suddenly learn a whole level of “commitment”. I remember an interview with a US army commander overseeing the reconstruction of sea walls(?) in New Orleans after the devastating hurricane. He had a very tight timeline to get the job done and the area was obviously vulnerable until he did. He was asked what the consequences were of his unit failing to meet that deadline and replied “failure is not an option”. I think we often sell ourselves short on commitment. Dig deeper and there’s often more.

  • Cam280

    Reply Reply August 27, 2012

    The latest Batman movie illustrates how we can use fear to help us!….., try jumping without a rope some time?.

    I am working on a range for my results to fall into, especially Tee shots. Sure specific targets but how narrow your line is to get there, can often result in to much pressure. Can’t imagine some of those chutes at Augusta. Your range could be just to miss left or right, long or short, but the thing is to take the pressure off by giving your self a range!.

  • Lukey

    Reply Reply August 28, 2012

    Just a question and that is a certain pro advised me when picking a target (ie. a tree)that I should broaden my focus and say pick out a limb on said tree.But I would normally find then if I were to miss my target by some considerable amount questions would arise as to was alignment right or was this right and then a deteriation in the game.Now my question is should we then have a softer focus on the target and be more accepting provided you got in the general area?
    Cheers Lukey

    • Cameron

      Reply Reply August 28, 2012

      Lukey: There is no hard and fast rule here. It really is going to be up to you to choose what works for you. In saying that,

      I think many coaches/teachers/sports psychologists get us to focus too much on the target. You’ve got to know where you’re going to hit the ball, but you don’t need to become obsessed by it.

      I have always found when I have picked really small and specific targets the game becomes a bore – even tiring.

  • Grayden Provis

    Reply Reply August 28, 2012

    I liked what Scott Barrow said the other day about using imagery / swing thoughts to get yourself swinging in a different way but also knowing when to let the image go……ie the swing change that you were after becomes automatic and you don’t need to keep conjuring up the image / swing thought any more. And that trying to do so can actually become detrimental. I’m starting to think that this whole process is actually much shorter than I might have imagined…..ie the imagery accomplishes the change and can be discarded in days, hours or even minutes – not the weeks or months that I might think. It starting to think that once we’ve felt something even once our “muscle memory bank” captures it. OK, we might have to then hone the technique but the fundamental change is often made after just that one “aha!” moment and trying to keep imprinting it into the memory just ties you up in knots. Its the same old thing I guess: we’re smarter than we think and a lot of our “helping” is in fact hindering. This blurry bit between consciously correcting something and then trusting that its locked away is probably a fair bit narrower than I thought.

    • Cameron

      Reply Reply August 29, 2012

      GP: I think it comes down to trusting our learning system to make the change. As adults we’re obsessed with “knowing” every step and part of the swing – we don’t let go. Part of the magic of automatic is giving the student enough info to “be dangerous” and then letting him/her work it out for themselves.

      When I first met Scotty he particularly liked one lesson I gave. A new student was learning to strike the ball – I gave them a stick (club) and a foam block (ball) and told them “hit the foam with the stick”. That was the lesson, I walked away and told them to come back next week. In this instance there was nothing else that needed to be said – it was putting the ball in the student’s court, either they had the motivation to learn and perform or they didn’t. There was also no need to talk about grip, stance or swing mechanics – way too soon for any of that – their learning system knows better anyway.

  • Scott Barrow

    Reply Reply August 28, 2012

    Nice one Grayden. Keep letting go. 🙂

  • Jim Pasinis

    Reply Reply August 29, 2012

    I have trouble controling my driving I sometimes hit it in the middle to the right and to the left. I have no idea why this is happening and as a consequence the next shot (usually out of the rough or behind a tree) ruins that hole. I have attempted to play to my slice by teeing up on the right side to no avail. Its very difficult to let it all go. Too many swing thoughts

    • Cameron

      Reply Reply August 30, 2012

      Jim: It can be difficult to let go and swing freely but you will reach a point where not doing it gives you more pain. At this stage you have nothing to lose and will experience a breakthrough.

      Another point: Trying to work out what you’re doing (both right and wrong) can be a futile task. Forget about figuring things out and swing that club. The golf world is full of so many theories, ideas, tips and tricks and still people are completely lost and frustrated.

      Feel free to contact me Jim to discuss further.

  • Lukey

    Reply Reply August 30, 2012

    Thanks Cam for the reply and the word obsessed comes straight to mind when a situation is over analysed .So I will continue along my path of keeping things simple.
    Cheers Lukey

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