How you start a hole affects how you finish. Nothing derails a shot at par or better more than a wayward strike, no matter if you’re facing a wily short par 3 or any kind of par 4 or 5 — especially when the landing area is narrow. Let’s take a look at how to manage tee shots in a variety of holes to help you not only hit better shots, but avoid trouble and set yourself up to have more birdie opportunities.
TEE SHOTS PART 1: SHORT PAR 3
Think of impact as a by-product of the rest of your swing. In other words, try not to think of impact at all! Hone in on your body and club position at the top of your swing, and again through the finish.
TEMPO IS ESSENTIAL
Short par-3s generally don’t intimidate most golfers unless there's some sort of forced carry and/or a small green to contend with. To better manage short par-3s, focus on making solid contact and controlling your spin rate for better distance control. To keep things consistent, consider making your swing a mirror image of itself on the way back and the way through, i.e., swing “L to L” with the shaft and the left arm forming an “L” on the way back, and again with the shaft and the right arm forming a backward “L” on through to the finish.
Try not to get preoccupied with hitting it low, high, with a fade or draw. It’s a short hole anyway, so a nice, high, controlled ballflight is what you want. Swinging “L to L” will help improve your tempo and take your mind off impact, which will, in turn, help you hit more consistent shots with predictable amounts of spin.
TEE SHOTS PART 2: MID-LENGTH PAR 3
HANDS OUT FOR MORE FLOW
When was the last time you used too much club on a long par 3? If you’re like most of us, you probably tend to err more on the short side off the tee. When faced with a tricky yardage between clubs (especially on longer holes), use more club and choke down on the grip an inch or so. Less loft will launch the ball lower for more distance and choking up will prevent you from hitting it too far. Think of it as adding half a club's worth of distance without having to swing any harder or softer. Just swing as hard as you normally do.
LONG PAR 3
SWEEP IT CLEAN!
Hybrid clubs are wonderful! If you know how to use them correctly, hitting a hybrid in the place of a hard-to-hit long iron can be a real lifesaver, especially on a long and demanding par 3.
Now, when it comes to angle of attack with your hybrids, I've heard some instructors advocate a sweeping motion, while others encourage a steeper angle of attack, much like you would have with a middle iron. The key, I think, is a matter of skill and swing speed. If you're a higher-skilled player, and/or you have the necessary swing speed, hitting down (and actually making a divot) with a hybrid can yield some awesome results. But if you already struggle with a swing that's steep to begin with, or you don't have an aggressive swing speed, a flatter, sweeping angle of attack is likely the better choice for you. Granted, that doesn't mean hitting up on the ball. You still should hit down on it, just not as steeply or aggressively as you would with an iron.
To start, use a tee whenever you can, and don't be afraid to tee it up off the ground. I like to place the tee into the ground and leave the tapered part of the tee in the air. Next, play the ball slightly forward in your stance in roughly the same position you'd play a long iron. From here, swing with a "sweep some dew" motion and focus on a smooth, shallow, easy swing. To get a feel for this, take a few practice swings near the ball and imagine sweeping off the dew on the grass. Do this a few times until you feel confident, comfortable and ready to swing.
Remember, hybrids tend to look and feel more like woods than they do irons, and they're usually longer clubs than your long irons and have lighter graphite shafts. That means there's no need to swing aggressively with a hybrid, especially off the tee when you have a perfect, unencumbered lie.
Make a smooth swing and keep that "sweep the dew" mentality through to the finish. I also like to imagine swinging the hybrid more with my body and having soft hands. Soft hands prevent me from trying to lift the ball up, helping me to hit slightly down on it instead. Hybrids are designed with low and deep CGs, meaning there's no need to try and lift the ball. They will do all the work you need to get the ball airborne. All you have to do is find the center of the clubface!
TEE SHOTS PART 3: SHORT PAR 4
ABOVE: Short par-4s are scoring holes. If you hit a good drive, odds are, you'll be posed with a short second shot and a good chance at making birdie. Just don't blow it by missing the fairway and trying to hit it too far. Rein it in, even if it means hitting a fairway wood. Sometimes, even if you're farther back, it's better to be at a comfortable distance than an awkward distance closer to the hole. Who wants a 40-yard pitch shot over a bunker?I like to choke down an inch, sometimes two, even on a 3-wood. This helps shorten my club and slows me down, resulting in more control without having to swing slower.
RIGHT: Solid contact is more important than hitting the ball a long way. Notice how my hips have turned open, my right shoulder is lower than my left, and the club and my left arm are on the same plane. This is an impact position poised for solidness!
The hole is shorter, but that doesn't mean you can get lazy at the top! Collapse here, and you'll hit some bad shots for sure.
That's more like it! Using less club and choking down on the grip mean I can still swing at 100%.
TEE SHOTS PART 4: SHORT PAR 4/5
TORQUE IT UP
Okay, so now you want to crush one! The best way to find some extra power is to better torque the upper body against the lower body, meaning the more resistance you have in the lower body, the faster you'll uncoil on the downswing.
I like to use a plastic ball between my knees while practicing. The ball restricts my lower body turn considerably, helping me create what Jim McLean calls a bigger X-factor (the difference in rotation between the hips and shoulders at the top). In the photo to the right, it may look like I've made a big powerful backswing, but in reality, I've done little more than twist my whole body. Twisting doesn't equate to power at all, and it's also deadly for accuracy, too.
Limiting the lower body (not completely!) just enough and continually rotating the upper body on the backswing allow my body to build tremendous energy at the top of my swing. From the top, I first uncoil with my lower body as my hands drop. More on that on the next page....
TEE SHOTS PART 5: NARROW PAR 4/5
STAY UNDER IT
Long and narrow tee shots are as tough as it gets. The key to hitting your best drive that combines your fullest power and accuracy is to avoid trying to steer the golf ball from the top of your swing. When you try and steer, what usually happens is, the hands will move out and away from the body, causing the club to get off-plane and get very steep. To avoid this, you want to initiate the downswing by letting gravity pull the hands down before you start uncoiling the body. Notice the difference in how my hands and arms have stayed behind my body instead of outside my chest (like you see in the black-and-white photo). If you start the downswing with gravity pulling the hands down before you rotate, you'll avoid steering the clubhead.
Also, notice that my hands have dropped to near shoulder-level, the clubhead is still well behind my body, and my hands are much lower than they are in the black-and-white photo. This all indicates that I'm swinging freely without any manipulations! By allowing the hands to drop, the clubhead moves on-plane and the body rotation will be what delivers the club to the ball, not by steering the club with your hands.
BE A HEAVYWEIGHT
A great way to work on swinging less from over the top is to use a heavy club. If you don't have one, you actually can make one using an old iron and filling it with sand. Or, if your hands are big enough, hold two clubs and swing both at the same time. The key, again, is to swing down and through with the rotation of the body, not the flinging of the hands/wrists.
As for your actual driver or wood, sometimes a heavier headweight can help you avoid coming over the top. The quickest way to get a heavier headweight is to, well, add more weight via weight inserts or lead tape, if your driver doesn't have adjustable weights. Also, sometimes opting for a lighter shaft will help you feel more weight in the clubhead and stop coming over the top.
POST IT UP
When it comes to impact, no matter what type of tee shot you’re faced with, hitting the ball with a solid left side is crucial. Notice the differences in these two photos. The upper-right photo shows a position I see with my students who struggle with both consistency and distance. My weight is well behind the ball and over my right leg. Often, this leads to topped shots that generally fly short and erratically.
The color photo indicates a better position at the moment of truth. At impact, most of my weight is stacked over my left leg. Because of this, I'm able to better post up my lower body and allow my upper body to whip through impact. If I lean away from the target, I lose my whip, robbing me of distance and also control. So stay posted over your left side
for better tee shots.
Alison Curdt, PGA/LPGA, is a Master PGA Professional and former LPGA Professional of the Year. Visit alisoncurdtgolf.com.
Editor's Note: This story was updated March 7, 2018