Just round the corner from my house in northeastern Oklahoma lies Miami CC, a course on which I grew up and learned the game. It’s a track steeped in history, having at one time Ky Laffoon as its head professional. I taught each one of my five children to play golf on Miami CC–a course where each hole seems to demand a different golfing skill.
Of course, being in the fairway helps throughout, but on no hole is accuracy off the tee more important than on the par-4 11th. With water right and OB left, you absolutely need to be in the fairway with your tee shot to score well on ‘ol Number 11.
I’m sure you know of a hole like No. 11 on your home course–a hole where if you’re off the fairway, you’re in serious trouble. Indeed, there are times when accuracy off the tee is priority number one. When you approach these situations, use the following advice to ensure you’re safe and long.
Make An Impact
At the point of contact, everything should come together evenly, with your hands leading your body into the ball. From here, allow your right shoulder to turn through along with your head.
Set yourself up to swing on the desired inside-out path by dropping your right shoulder and resting your arms against your chest. If you don’t swing in-to-out, you’re in trouble.
Legs And Hands
Play the ball off your shirt logo and with a solid, shoulder-width stance. Lead with your hands, but don’t forget about your body turn–focus on rotating around your right leg.
Setup and Swing
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. Balance starts at address, where your stance should be shoulder-width and with your feet flared to facilitate your turn. Your right shoulder should hang slightly lower than the left. When the right shoulder sits lower, it makes it much easier to swing from in to out.
Also, fight the urge to play the ball too far forward or too far back in your stance. Typically, if you play the ball too far forward, you’ll encourage a pull; playing it too far back will encourage a push. Favor a neutral ball position.
As far as the swing is concerned, there are only a few musts on which to focus. As you move your hands to the top and back through the ball, your upper and lower body should turn, but lag behind the hands. A critical point is your approach to the ball. At this point, I like to think of my right arm brushing against my right pocket. This lets me know I’m approaching the ball from the inside. As I make contact, I should feel my right shoulder hit my chin. Here, many golfers raise their heads. This destroys the inside path you worked so hard to create. Instead, let your head rotate toward the target with that right shoulder.
Now that you know what to do, it’s a good idea to discuss what not to do. If you can keep from making the following mistakes, you’ll have a better chance of hitting your target.
For starters, don’t try to over-control your swing by making it too compact. With your short irons, this works well. But the driver is too long for such an approach. In other words, don’t pin your right arm to your right side like you would for a delicate approach. Let the right arm float out a bit to create the wider swing arc the longer-length driver demands. All that I ask is that you keep the right elbow pointing toward the ground. Again, this makes it easier to maintain the desired inside path.
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.