I listen in amazement when my fellow Professionals tell their students that the distance you hit your tee shot isn’t important. They say it is more important to hit the ball in the fairway. I agree that driving isn’t the most important aspect of the game as far as creating a low score. The skill of putting has a much bigger influence on your scores than driving the ball. But, hitting the ball longer than your opponent rates a close second.
A great example that stands out to me was the 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. Colin Montgomerie led the field in the number of times he hit the fairway. Montgomerie hit 82% of the fairways with his tee shots. Montgomerie also shot 15 over par for the tournament. In fact the top 3 players in the fairways hit category came in 32nd, 37th and 46th place in the tournament as far as score was concerned. Tiger Woods led the field in driving distance with an average drive of 299 yards. He also won the tournament by a pretty good margin. The top 3 in the driving distance category finished 1st, 2nd and 8th in the tournament as far as score.
Now I’m not saying that you should gear up for each tee shot by telling yourself that you need to “knock the crude out of the ball.” But sometimes telling yourself to “swing easy and just get the ball in the fairway”, doesn’t help your score. A lot of the time it might actually contribute to your bad shots.
How many times have you stepped up to the tee and told yourself, “OK, swing easy”? Half the time you might hit a good shot. What happens the other half of the time? Now, how many times have you stepped up to the ball and just said “I don’t care where this ball is going, I’m just going to swing at it”? Those are the times we hit our best tee shots. Why is that? It is because we have no thoughts in our head to interrupt our natural rhythm. We just get up to the ball and give ourselves a chance to hit it.
When we tell ourselves to swing easy, we are holding ourselves back. We are causing parts of our body to hesitate and then move abruptly. Our natural urge is to send that ball soaring down the golf course. We want to see it hang in the air while it is blazing through the air, down the fairway. We want to feel that feeling in our hands that we hit the perfect drive. You know that feeling. The one were you don’t even feel the ball hit the club, but you still have a sense of power flowing through your body.
The key is knowing how to produce that power consistently. We want to, in the words of Julius Boros, “Swing easy, hit hard”. How can you swing easy and still hit the ball hard. The key is using your hands to swing the golf club. Your hands are the most important part of your body for swinging the club correctly. They are the only part of you that is attached to the golf club. They determine how fast you will be swinging the club.
Try this as a test. Turn your driver over so that you are holding the hosel (the part of the shaft that connects to the clubhead) with just your right hand (for right handers). Now swing the club back and forth as fast as you can using just your arm, hand and wrist. It should be making a swooshing sound. Keep swinging faster and faster until your swoosh becomes louder and louder. “Now catch your breath.” Keep holding the club in your hand, but try to swing using your shoulders, hips or legs. When you try this don’t use your hands, just the other parts of your body. How loud was the swoosh?
If you are like most people, the swoosh was much louder and easier to achieve when using your arm, hand and wrist. The swoosh represents power. Golf is a power game. If you don’t believe that, than answer this question. Why is there a Senior PGA? Why aren’t the guys over 50 still playing with Tiger Woods on a regular basis? The guys on Senior Tour are awesome players, but they can’t compete with someone out driving them by 50 yards.
Learn to make the swoosh with your hands. Practice it over and over until you get the sense of effortless power. Then every once in a while try using your body more than your hands to swing hard. You will probably feel unbalanced, uncoordinated and powerless.
One last point – there is some truth in the phrase “Drive for show, putt for dough”, but look at these numbers from the 2000 U.S. Open – The top 3 in the putting statistics earned a total of $278,216. The top 3 in driving distance earned $1,304,266. Maybe we should change the phrase to “Drive for show, drive for dough”.