Golf Strategy: Tee Off With a Fairway Wood Instead of a Driver

Symptom: Your fairway wood distance is almost as good as your driver distance.  Plus your fairway wood goes a whole lot straighter.

Erratic drives are costing you strokes and causing you to venture far from the short grass.  What’s worse, in order to “keep it in play”, you find yourself being tentative with your driver, leading to drives that are both short and erratic.  And so the round gets less and less fun by the hole…

Overview: Put away your driver. Hit a fairway wood off the tee instead.  You fairway wood distance won’t hurt you too much.  Ignore any taunts hurled in your direction.

Why it works: Most people’s fairway wood distance is not too different than their driver distance.  And, they swing their fairway woods with much more confidence, and hence the shots go much straighter.  So if your driver isn’t working, why not just use your fairway wood?

The Fairway Wood is Easier to Hit

Justin Rose tee shot with a fairway wood fairway wood distance
Justin Rose tees off with a fairway wood to put the ball in play.

The driver is a very difficult club to hit, because it has the longest shaft and least loft of all the clubs in your bag. The newer drivers are much more forgiving, of course.  Still, many Occasional Golfers will tend to slice their driver, because they have insufficient lag on the downswing, possibly caused by gripping the club too tightly, a poor setup, or any number of swing faults.

We all know that it’s more fun and much easier to play from the fairway.  Personally, I would trade 30 yards of distance to be in the fairway.  Of course I’d rather be long and straight, but if a choice must be made, straight is better.

Even if your driver works pretty well for you, you might consider hitting three wood off the tee, like Justin Rose does here:

I love Justin Rose’s wide arc and aggressive move through the ball.  Maybe you should give this a try too the next time you play!

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Golf Putting Drill: Gain Confidence With the Balls in a Line Putting Drill

Symptom: You lack confidence in your putting stroke. There’s almost no distance of putt where you can confidently say, “I can easily make this one”.

For you, every putt, no matter how short, is another knee-knocking adventure.  So you push some, pull some, leave some short, and so on.  Maybe you compulsively purchase putter after putter, thinking that the problem is your equipment…  

Overview: On the putting green, find a level, straight, slightly uphill putt.  Put several balls in a straight line, starting one foot from the cup, with each successive ball two feet further away. Putt the nearest ball in the hole, then the next nearest, and so on. This will give you confidence.  Repeat until you are making the longest putt most of the time.  

Why it works: This drill is all about confidence, about walking before you run.  It’s a great drill to do before every round of golf you play.  Indeed, if you have limited warm up time, and only two minutes on the putting green before your foursome has to tee off, I suggest you do this drill.  It’s your best use of time.

Andy North demonstrates the balls in a line putting drill, which helps your putting confidence.
Andy North demonstrates the balls in a line putting drill, which helps your putting confidence.

Putting Confidence From the Balls in a Line Drill

By sinking the close putts, you gain confidence in your putting. Each successive putt is only a few feet further away than the previous putt, and on the same line, and straight, so you maximize your chances of sinking the putt.  You will find that you need to make ever-more purer putting strokes to sink the longer putts.  And in so doing your confidence in your short putting will grow, which will help reduce the number of dreaded three putts during your round.

Andy North demonstrates the drill for us.  Have a look:

You must not let the line on your golf ball wobble to have a consistent roll, especially at longer range.  And, of course, even straight putts need an aiming point.  Once your stroke is pure, you should combine this drill with the surround the cup putting drill, to get a feel for the break in the greens, in all your putting practice sessions (if there is time, of course!). Over time you will build confidence in your short and intermediate range putting through this drill.  And with confidence comes better scores, more fun, and a lower handicap!

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Golf Swing Tip: Gain Consistency With “Aim-Align-Execute”

Symptom: Try as you might, consistency on the golf course is elusive.

You hit great shots from time to time, but you also hit terrible shots, making you wonder if you have an evil twin that takes over your body and swings your golf club like a caveman attacking a bear…

Overview:  For every golf shot, follow the three phase “Aim-Align-Execute” method to improve your consistency.

Why it works:  All golf shots have (at least) three phases once you have chosen your club:  The Aiming, the Alignment, and the Execution, in that order.  Most Occasional Golfers inter-mix, or ignore, or sometimes forget to do all three of the phases.  This leads to inconsistency, which of course leads to high numbers on your scorecard.

Aim -> Align -> Execute for Consistency

For example, on a full shot, “Aim-Align-Execute” goes something like this:

  1. Pick a distant target, like a tree, or the middle of the green, or whatever makes sense for your particular shot and circumstances (the Aiming).
  2. Pick a spot on your target line a few feet in front of your ball to align your club, and to build your stance around (the Alignment).
  3. Execute the shot, with a starter move and a full release to a balanced finish (the Execution).
Dustin Johnson Aim Align Execute tee shot
Dustin Johnson picking an aiming point before he addresses the ball.

A key element of the “Aim – Align – Execute” approach is that the steps are done sequentially.  That is, you do not think about Aiming as you Align your clubface, and you do not think about Aiming or Alignment as you Execute your swing.  You think only about what you are trying to accomplish in each phase.  This focus is very powerful, because it allows you to do one thing at a time, and do it very well.  This gives you confidence on the course.  With confidence you can block out the distractions (sand trap, carry over water, strong crosswind, etc.) that you encounter.

Demo by Dustin

Let’s have Dustin Johnson demonstrate this for us.  Note how Dustin picks his distant target (the Aiming, 0:05), then he Aligns the clubface to a point on his target line (the Alignment, 0:10), and then finally Executes his swing (the Execution, 0:14).  Have a look:

Indeed, every pro or low handicapper will go through some form of Aim-Align-Execute every time, for every shot.  You should too, if you want to improve your consistency.

Seldom Shown on TV

Finally, a word of caution:  When you watch golf on TV, often the only thing that (understandably) makes it on air is the swing itself.  But every pro, I guarantee you, went through an Aim-Align-Execute routine before you saw them swing on your TV set.  The networks just spare us the tedium of watching their Aim-Align-Execute routines.

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Golf Chipping Drill: Chip to a Spot for Golf Chipping Success

Symptom:  Inability to hit your chosen landing spot when chipping.  So you have too few up-and-downs, too many big numbers, and lose too much money on the golf course.

Description:  Use about five balls for the Backyard Chipping Drill, and find a grassy, open area for your practice.  Pick a spot to land your first chip, only a few feet away (a short chip is actually one of the toughest to execute) and hit the chip.  Next, try and land ball two on top of your first ball, which, of course, has rolled a few feet further away than your initial aiming point.  Then try to land ball three on top of ball two. And so on.  If all goes well, you will end up with five balls in a nice straight line.

Why it works:  Chipping is a two step process — picking a landing spot and executing the chip so that you land where you are aiming.  This drill teaches you how to hit the ball different, unpredictable distances and directions, much like you will need to do on the golf course.  This drill will help improve your feel for chipping.

Backyard Chipping Drill

Give yourself a good lie for each chip at first.  Once you are good at this drill, however, you should play every ball where it lies, even if (or especially if) it nestles down in the grass.  You will find that your lie has a huge influence over the type and strength of chip you need to hit in order to land on your chosen target.

With each successive chip, you will need to land the ball further and further away.  Fairly rapidly, you will begin to develop a “feel” for what sort of strike is necessary to carry the ball different distances.

Tiger Woods picks a spot to land his chip shot
Tiger Woods picks a spot to land his chip shot at the 16th hole on Augusta National.

Your scoring and confidence will improve dramatically with The Backyard Chipping Drill.  The ability to land the ball on your aiming point is a skill that will serve you well on every golf course, no matter how hard or easy, fast or slow. (Where to land the ball, by contrast, could vary greatly from course to course.  For example, a high-end course might have very fast greens, and so you would pick a different landing spot than you might at the local public course, for the same length of chip.)

Tiger Picks His Spot

Certainly, Tiger’s chip in at the 2005 Masters is an example of this.  He probably did not practice this particular shot, with the collar in back of his ball and the lightning-fast Augusta National greens to navigate.  But he picked out a landing point (noted by Vern Lundquist at 0:57 in the video) that made sense, and executed his chip by trying to land on his chosen spot.  Of course the rest is history — have a look:

The Backyard Chipping Drill is the most realistic golf practice most Occasional Golfers can get without heading off to the driving range!  A few minutes a day will bring rapid reduction in your handicap!

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Golf Swing Tip: Give Yourself a Good Lie at the Driving Range Like Justin Thomas

Symptom:  At the driving range, you tip over your bucket of balls and hit them where they wind up.  The golf lie you practice from is a very tight lie.  Then, despite sweat and diligence, you are not able to make much progress towards a better swing.

You find that your range sessions leave your clubs dirtier, the turf a bit more chewed up, your pocketbook a bit lighter, but your game is still about where it was when those striped range balls came crashing down into your range bucket…

Description:  Make sure you give yourself a good golf lie for every shot you hit at the driving range.  If you don’t, you are most likely hitting off of a tight lie, which is very much more difficult.  If there is no decent grass anywhere in sight, tee the ball to an appropriate height for each club.

Why it works:  Small variations in the golf lie make a big difference in the sort of shot you can hit.  Most golf courses have excellent grass in comparison to most driving ranges, so your driving range practice should account for this.  Even the pros can’t hit good shots out of divots in the fairway, so why would you expect to?

Justin Thomas moving golf ball to get a good lie at the driving range golf lie tight lie golf good lie bad lie
Justin Thomas moves his ball to get a good lie at the driving range.

A Good Golf Lie

Productive golf practice is all about consistency.  You give yourself a big boost in consistency by taking the condition of the turf out of play.  You can easily do this by giving yourself a perfect lie for each and every shot.  With a good pre-shot routine and a perfect lie you can work on your swing with much more confidence.

Here is some footage of Justin Thomas giving a clinic at golf course that’s more like what you and I play.  This is not a stop on the PGA Tour.  Watch the video as Justin warms up.  He places each golf ball quite deliberately, to give himself a good golf lie.  The ball is always placed behind the divot he just made, to keep the turf damage localized.  Of course he hits the ball, then the ground, on all his shots, to create the divots.  He also does a couple of no-backswing golf swings as part of his warmup routine – very effective.

Have a look:

Did you like this tip?  Promise to push that ball around like Justin?  Will you make it sit pretty on top of a tuft of grass before unleashing your mighty swing?  Then tell your friends — Like, Tweet, Email, +1, below!

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