Hitting More Fairways
Though I'm all about short range performance as the key to scoring, there is no question that you will shoot lower scores if most of your approach shots are played from the fairway. But most golfers begin each hole with a drive that is somewhere marginally in play. Hitting good iron shots from the taller grass in the rough is difficult enough, but when you add in the fact that you are probably are behind a tree, or in a bunker, or even out of bounds, wayward drives are costing you significantly.

Of course, my assumption is that shooting lower scores is what this game is all about. If you are reasonably content to just go out and slash away, counting them up and not caring what the end score total might be, then you can stop reading now.

I have often contended that a golfer of any skill level will shoot lower scores by trading a few yards of distance off the tee for improved accuracy. There are a number of ways to prove this to yourself, but the easiest is to go out for a "learning nine" some afternoon late and do this: On each hole where your drive misses the fairway, pick up the ball and move it over to that half of the fairway and 15 yards back. Then play out the hole. See what your score does for that nine. To compare the relative benefit of distance over accuracy, then play another nine and advance each drive you hit 15 yards further . . . but on the same line it was on when it stopped. NOT toward the green, mind you, but on the line the ball was traveling from the tee.

Once you have done these two experiments, I feel pretty confident that you will see that lower scores come from fairways, not yards.

So, to hit more fairways, here are my top four changes to make to your driving game:
  1. Grip down on your driver to "play it" at about 43" in length. That means gripping down 2-3" on modern drivers. Sergio Garcia plays his driver at 43" because he says it gives him more control. Hmmmmmm.

  2. Throttle back. I watch most golfers swing from their heels with their driver. Instead, try swinging your driver with the thought of the same power you'd apply to a smooth little 7–iron shot.

  3. Analyze the hole. Every architect will design in a fat part of the fairway, usually a little short of where he thought the big hitters would go. Gives the average player a bigger target. Look at each hole, even on your home course, and figure out where the architect was giving you the most room.

  4. Aim small, miss small. Instead of just looking down the fairway somewhere, pick out a very specific target for your drive — a tree, corner of a bunker, a house in the distance...something that will get you very focused on hitting your drive to a specific target, not just "out there".
Put these ideas into play your next round and see if your fairways hit statistic doesn't improve measurably.
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[ comments ]
accarson3 says:
Speaking as someone who doesn't hit it very long off the tee anyway, I rely on just keeping it in the fairway and my short game to try to score on the hole. If my driver is not working, I just put it in the bag and pick up a 3-wood or other club I can control better. My goal generally is to play bogey golf and like the fable, sometimes slow and steady wins the race. A playing partner once called this style, "boring golf"...OK...I'll take that as a compliment.
dottomm says:
After a very rough summer struggling with my swing, I've sort of "started over again". I've been working on my long irons (3-4-5), but am still struggling with my driver. The other day I went out for a "practice-nine" and after hooking my drive on the first hole, I said "Enough of this. I don't care what my score is today. Irons all day. No hybrids. No woods. No exceptions." And even though I duffed a couple 4-irons of the tee, I still shot an improved 9-hole score. It was a real learning experience for me. Still need to work out the driver though. Thanks for these tips Terry.
nswynnerton says:
I think I posted this before, but Bob Toski gave the same "15-yard penalty" advice to me at a PGA Assistants school at Baton Rouge in 1970. Same good advice that is disregarded by many. My 43" driver with a measured 14-degree loft is on its way to me. I'll let everyone know what ever results I experience with it.
windowsurfer says:
What a great article. Extremely convincing.
GBogey says:
Adding to Terry's #3, align yourself in the tee box to how you want to hit the ball. For example, if you are a slicer, tee up in the far right side of the tee box and aim left center fairway. When I first heard this I was like "yeah, right," but the improvement was huge. I'm always amazed at how many players just pluck down in the middle of the tee box and don't use the angles to their advantage.
Torleif Sorenson says:
I can relate to accarson3; I don't even own a driver right now. Other than my 15° Cleveland fairway metal, I usually take my 1-iron or 2-iron off the tee.

Terry, you are absolutely correct about (2). In repeated trips to a simulator in 1999, I found that swinging harder actually cost me distance and accuracy. When I swing smooth, I tend to hit it farther and much more toward where I aim... which itself caused me to stop addressing the ball with an open stance.
DougE says:
It's really a simple equation:
Keep the ball very playable off the tee + practice your short game a lot = shoot lower scores. You may have to throw in some good course management as well, but it ain't brain surgery.
Matt F says:
I have developed a 3/4 swing because I was taking all my clubs too far back in my swing, somewhere past parallel. Since using the 3/4 swing everything was getting better except for the driver. I got some advice about using a stiff flex shaft for my driver because it would give me more control. So last week I took out my old Ping G5 with a stiff shaft and hit more balls in the short grass off the tee than I ever have before, leading me to shoot my second lowest score ever on a fairly tough, tight local course. Keeping the ball in the short stuff helped my score more than anything I have tried.
onedollarwed says:
As a long and accurate hitter, I can tell you that it's not all there is to the game. I'm regularly over 280 and can work it left, right or center. I have put in a ton of hard work and research to achieve this (namely studying the 9 shot types and ball position w/regards to the true ball flight physics). Over the last three rounds I have only been in trouble off the tee twice, and only once with the driver.

Of course, I've given up the path of more distance and it comes naturally. Every couple of years I'll hit everything in the store on a launch monitor and only rate by straightness. I'll then choose the straightest club which responds to shaping adjustments, and that's the one. What are people buying? Are they really trying to add yds at the exclusion of all else? I also love the courses which demand creative tee shots!
onedollarwed says:
Despite all of this I have learned to play conservative tee shots over the years for the reasons Terry states. I'm shaping and aiming every driver shot (bracket left, bracket water/oob, etc.), and sometimes the alignment/conditions/shape of the fairway doesn't fit. Holes will often tell you to put away the driver. I probably play more 3i off the tee than anyone I know; not going off the course there! It's sure painful to think of extending many drives another 15 yds. ouch!!!

Think of driving the golf ball like driving your car: it feels great to go fast, but going off the road can be fatal. Keep that ball in play. BTW, in the old days of golf (before penalty strokes) If you were playing strokes, what happened if you r ball was lost? Was the round over?
joe jones says:
People may call this style of play boring but it's all I have. I take one side of the fairway out of play depending on where the trouble is, play to the long side of the pin and keep the bail out areas in mind. .Getting in and out of traps is painful so I try to avoid them at all cost. My scores are consistent and when I chip and putt well I score.
crazymg69 says:
I use my 3 wood off the tee. My playing partner says that I am "laying up", but he barely out drives me most of the time. My biggest problem is that I try really hard on my second shot and somehow mess that up more than most. Need to apply the same concept to my fairway game.
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Terry Koehler is "The Wedge Guy" and President of SCOR Golf- The Short Game Company.

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