How Important Is The Fairway?
I read the other day that the correlation between fairways hit and scoring average has reversed and is heading back upward. If you'll remember, the USGA changed the rules governing the grooves on clubs because they saw a declining trend in the importance of hitting drives in the fairway on the PGA Tour. Their conclusion was that with the sharp-edged grooves, the importance of hitting the ball in the fairway was diminished as an important part of high-quality golf. So they changed the rules, required manufacturers to "dull" the edges of our grooves and watched the stats.

Now, in the third year of this new groove geometry, the PGA Tour stats in this relationship are apparently migrating backward, which is putting an increased premium on hitting drives in the fairway, in order to improve scoring.

I've written about this before, but I believe that fairways hit is one of the more important stats for recreational golfers as well. No matter where the course, a drive in the fairway lets you start the hole with an advantage. That goes for your second shot on par-5s as well. If you could hit more of your approach shots from the fairway, your scores will go down for sure. There are a number of ways to prove this to yourself, and my favorite is to play a practice round of golf and hit every approach shot from the fairway. If you hit a drive in the rough, walk it straight out to the fairway and hit from there. My own informal research is that it makes a huge impact for golfers of all skill levels.

So, now that you've learned that, how do you hit more fairways? That take some time on the range and/or with your professional, but mostly it takes a huge mental adjustment. We all are coached and coerced into thinking that the purpose of the tee shot is to move the ball as far as humanly possible. We are pounded with millions of dollars of advertising and TV talk about the "long ball." But a ball in the short grass makes any hole play easier.

To me, there are three keys to hitting straighter drives, and most of them will actually improve your distance as well:
  1. Grip the club lightly. If you have a light grip on the club, it prevents you from trying to muscle it too much.

  2. Swing at 85%. Just back off a bit on your entire swing pace, from start to finish. Feel like you are hitting the driver like you would a controlled 7-iron shot into a green.

  3. Aim small, miss small. That's a favorite line of mine from Mel Gibson's "The Patriot", and it applies to golf. Pick out a specific tree, corner of a house, edge of a bunker, etc. and aim your tee shot precisely. Take time to get set up with a dead aim on where you want the ball to go. Too often, we just aim "at the fairway", and that's not good enough.
I hope this helps you hit more fairways, though I realize that some of you are counting your last remaining golf days of 2012. Make them count the most and head into the off season with a new-found appreciation for that fairways stat.
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[ comments ]
Matt McGee says:
A light grip, for me at least, is as important to my golf game as anything. It's the last thing that goes through my mind (usually) before I start my back swing: Keep the lightest grip possible that will still allow you to take the club back deliberately.
Terry, I'm going to start my own informal research on the fairway subject. Next year, I'm going to track both "fairways hit," and "playable drives" separately. I may track "playable drives" as those which didn't land in the fairway, but are in the general area that I had in mind when I teed off. It will be interesting to chart the difference in scoring between the two.
rehmwa says:
Definitely, hitting the fairway, choosing to layup with a more precise club, etc lately and my scores are getting better FAST.

Light grip - I must be an outlier, but I'm finding that a much firmer grip with the left hand, and just a light, but ensuring proper position with my right hand, is working for me on all my clubs. As a rock climber, I have a very strong grip too so it's not an issue of relative strength. YMMV (I think much of my directional issues was a result of letting my right hand and arm being too dominant - fixing that was huge)
GBogey says:
The tip I've shared with my buddy is once you take your grip, squeeze really hard, then release and you should have a nice relaxed grip to swing with.
I wish Terry had written this a few weeks back as I have had major struggles with my driver since Labor Day and it's putting a sour ending on what was a great season for me up until then. Maybe he should re-post in March.
bkuehn1952 says:
All other things being the same, a fairway shot will be less difficult. That being said, a shot from 165 yards in light rough is less difficult for me than one from 185 in the fairway. Similarly, hitting from dense rough at 120 yards is so much more difficult than the fairway at 140. One of the things I like about golf is the fact that one always has to adjust one's game for differences in conditions.
larrynjr says:
I believe hitting fairways is very important for scoring though my most recent round, doesn't completely reflect that it wasn't due to my new driver. I just was custom fit and it is proving to be a game changer for me. In the past if I wanted to be positive I hit the fairway I'd go down at least to my 3w and sometimes my 6i. I hit 6 out of 10 fairways this past time out with the new driver, 2 misses were alignment on my part and one was a topped shot. One of the alignment misses still left me with a playable just off fairway shot leading to a birdie on a hole that I normally make double or triple on! For my driver to be my go to club when I must hit or barely miss the fairway is an incredible feeling of vanishing stress. I played my lowest scoring round in over 4 months and have great hope that my handicap will continue it's downward trend. I dropped 5 strokes this season!
golfingbumunderpar64 says:
Fairway, rough, matters to a point but I myself only hit 53% of fairways and my scoring ave is 72.5 which is on the first page of the leader board with 50 plus scores. It's nice to hit the fairway but not required to score well
onedollarwed says:
@golfing bum, I agree. However, there is a huge difference between a good player missing the fairway, and a less than average player. When I miss a fairway, and it's probably the same with you, we're probably missing on the correct side, because we've played to one side, yes? I often use the lay of the land to favor a side and don't mind rolling into light rough on the correct side, etc. Now if it were rephrased "behind a tree, into some gorse, or in jail," then It would be different. I think that's how most people miss fairways. It doesn't predict my score, nor does GIR, but larger correlations may indeed be slightly significant. If you improve alignment in general, your score will improve, and probably hit more fairways to boot!
Watsonfab says:
I agree that it's worth noting that a missed fairway for a pro and a missed fairway for a 20hcp are typically 2 different things. I'm a 20 and my GIR goes down when I miss fairways because missed fairways often mean having to pitch out.

Honestly (and again, as a high handicapper) I have less trouble out of the rough than from a tight lie most of the time actually. I feel more inclined to really commit to the shot I think.

I guess I'm stating the obvious, but I'll take anything in play with a line of sight to the green. If I go that, I don't think my GIR varies much between fairway and rough. Maybe fractionally since the odd shot into the rough will result in a poor lie.

For pros though it absolutely makes sense. Reduce the range of lies by which a wedge will function predictably, and a premium will be places on keeping the ball on those lies.
onedollarwed says:
A consistent ball position keeps me in play. It also helps when you're a little anxious on the tee. Also, playing with a weakened grip (like in Hogan's 5 Easy Lessons) has prevented me from hooking the ball. I can consistently play down the right side and draw in, or stay straight.

I can't tell you how often I see people slice the ball completely off the hole to the right. Then they try to align further left and still go off the rails right. Looks like reverse pivot and/or outside in path. Still amazes me how many people start off each hole nowhere near the hole. Time to start studying and reading and following this article. Work at it. At least learn basic alignment. Loads of free materials (books, dvds, vhs) at your local library. No excuses!
DougE says:
Though I track Fairways Hit, I also track Playable Drives, a much more important stat for most of us. To me, a playable drive is one in which I have a very realistic chance of getting the same result I might if I had hit the fairway in the first place. If I land in rough adjacent to the fairway, and that rough is not so bad that I can get a good swing with solid contact on it, that is a playable drive. If I hit a shallow fairway bunker with no real reason (not up against lip) that I can't club up, hit it out and to a spot just as far as I could with a shorter club from the fairway, it's considered a playable drive to me. If that bunker is a bit more penal (deep with high lip), it's not considered a playable drive. When my playable drives are at 85-100%, my scores are usually on the better side, regardless of what my FH stat is, though typically, it too is up, usually over 70%.
C-4 says:
Drive for show...putt for dough
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