Saturday, June 1, 2002
Hit More Fairways
What to do when you absolutely have to be in play
Also, don’t toe dance. Remember your balance. If you’re not balanced, it means that one body part is dominating the others, a malady that doesn’t apply to accurate driving. Toe dancing occurs when you lift your right foot on the downswing. Some golfers can get away with this, but most amateurs can’t, especially when there’s trouble off the fairway. Usually, when you lift up on the right toe, you destroy your swing path. Same goes for the left foot. When I’m driving the ball well, both my feet are firmly planted as I approach impact.
Lastly, don’t forget about your finish. I’m a big believer that most poor drives result from hindering the finish or failing to get to it all together. Never stop rotating toward your target. As you swing to the followthrough, keep in mind that your hands should be traveling toward your target and releasing. Don’t quit on it—let that right arm extend and pull your right shoulder through. I know you want to peek and see if your tee ball is safe or not, but fight that tendency. Finish your swing first. Believe me, the ball won’t suddenly change its course if you give it an early look.
Most golfers fail the accuracy test because of two major flaws. The first is unnaturally pinning the right elbow to the body. While this is okay for a wedge, overly tucking the right elbow while swinging a driver (above left) will limit your swing arc and set the stage for an inside takeaway or a reverse pivot at the top. A second common flaw is lifting the right heel on the downswing (above middle). Doing the “toe dance” is a huge balance killer that moves your body and head too far in front of the golf ball.
I’m sure you’ve heard tips on how to generate extra power with the driver, advice such as “drive hard with your lower body” or “whip your shoulders through impact.” While these suggestions may give you extra yardage, they simply don’t apply if you need to be laser-accurate. The accurate driver swing is all about balance, control and togetherness. In no part of the swing should any part of your body dominate, whether it be the hips, legs, shoulders or arms.
The main mental challenge is not to assume you’re going to pull off a perfect shot. If you’ve been fading the ball all day, don’t expect to suddenly stripe a frozen rope down the center or hit a soft draw. Play the shot the day gave you.
Second, don’t allow tension to creep into your setup. If it does, back off. Take a few continuous practice swings. I like to find some long grass and let my clubhead brush over it, back and through, back and through. Try the same, and you’ll be surprised by the results.
Also, guard against your worst shot by teeing up on the side of trouble. If there’s OB on the left, tee up on the left side of the box and aim right. Do the opposite if there’s trouble on the right. Doing so effectively widens the fairway and creates a greater margin for error.
Furthermore, get a clear, definite target. When driving to a fairway with no clear landmarks, you have to use your imagination to find a specific spot to aim toward. Often, this spot is beyond where your ball will land. Look for a distant cloud, a tree branch or a bunker that’s out of reach. Whatever, make it specific.
Lastly, don’t worry about distance. Remember, you’re favoring accuracy here. Keep that your priority and favor balance over speed and let your equipment do the work. At about 46 inches, the driver is designed to give you plenty of yards without your consciously giving it that extra juice.
With all this in mind, remember that the driver swing is the most rotational of all. If you get too steep in the forwardswing or downswing by limiting the turn of your shoulders and hips, you’ll find it difficult to land the ball where you desire. Of course, don’t confuse turn with slide. Moving laterally left or right instead of rotationally clockwise or counterclockwise will spell disaster.
As a final tip, key in on your right leg. See it as the center around which your entire body turns. Combine this with active hands and an emphasis on maintaining balance, and you’ll be guaranteed the type of shot you need on tight driving holes.
Instruction legend Marshall Smith teaches out of Miami CC, Peoria Ridge GC and Shangri-La Resort in northeastern Oklahoma. Past students include Craig Stadler and Chi Chi Rodriguez, as well as his son, Marshall Jr., who joined Smith this year as a member of the Joplin (Mo.) Golf Hall of Fame.
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