How to keep it in the fairway

In golf they mow the fairways for a reason: You’re rewarded if you drive your ball onto the short grass; you get punished if you don’t.

Good iron play requires that you hit a high percentage of your approach shots from the fairway. That’s why I emphasize control off the tee. People say I’m a strong iron player. That’s nice, but it’s only because I play most iron shots from the fairway.

Golf is difficult from the rough. Unless you get a lucky lie, you can’t control your shots from the long grass, so you can’t hit greens consistently.

Think about it: When I ask amateurs how they managed to take that triple bogey at the fourth, the story invariably starts with, “I missed the fairway on the [left/right].” Bad scores rarely start with, “I ripped one down the middle.”

Hitting the fairway is the first step toward hitting the green in regulation. If you hit the green, you can putt. If you miss the green, you have to chip, pitch or splash out of a bunker. I don’t know about you, but I find putting easier.

Here’s how I go about finding those fairways.

THE FIRST TEE

The opening shot of any round is obviously important; what happens then can set the tone for your whole day. Like you, I get nervous on the first tee in a big event. But I don’t go all wobbly when my name is announced, as so many of my pro-am partners do. I focus on what I’m trying to do rather than what might go wrong.

 

THE GRIP

I fiddle with my grip quite a lot to get my drives in play. We all know where to go; it’s where not to go that’s more important. I’m always aware of what side of the fairway I don’t want to miss on, and I like to eliminate that part of the hole if I can. I want my ball curving away from any trouble.

One way to achieve that is by altering your hold on the club, albeit only slightly. For example, if the trouble is down the right side, I place my right hand more under the club, in a stronger position. That encourages more of a release in the clubhead through impact and produces a right-to-left shot, so my ball should never finish right of center on the fairway.

Weak grip avoids trouble left

If there is trouble down the left, I put my right hand more on top of the grip, in a “weaker” position. That restricts my release of the clubhead through impact and encourages a left-to-right ball flight. Most importantly, it eliminates the left side of the hole and any trouble that might be lurking there.

Take care adjusting your grip, though. True, that is what I do. But if you are like most golfers, you already move the ball one way or another without too much trouble. So if you are comfortable, say, fading every ball, adjust your grip only when you absolutely have to hit a draw. Conversely, if you hit a comfortable, consistent draw, weaken your grip only when you absolutely must hit a fade.

A lighter grip at address means a smoother swing

Grip pressure is a much underrated aspect of the grip. I like to feel my hands soft at address. Imagine you are holding a tube of toothpaste lightly enough so that nothing will squeeze out. Of course, when I get to impact, my grip is much tighter. That’s natu-ral and perfectly fine. But be sure to start light. If your grip is too tight at address, your hold on the club can only loosen during the swing- never a good idea.

A light grip pressure at address encourages a smooth-and consistent- start to the swing. I put a lot of emphasis on the first two feet of my backswing. Get that right and chances are you’ll make a good swing. I like to feel that my takeaway is smooth and easy, almost “lazy” in terms of its pace. That lack of tension or quickness helps me complete my backswing.

An easy takeaway leads to a full backswing

As with most things in golf, I like to keep my driving simple. Once I have my light grip pressure at address, I try to make a smooth, even- paced takeaway. Then all I focus on is completing my backswing. If my grip is too tight, I tend to snatch the club away from the ball and not turn my shoulders enough, so I make too short a backswing. For me, that normally means losing the ball to the right.

If I complete my backswing, I know my swing isn’t too quick for me to control. In practice, I like to see the clubhead out of the corner of my left eye at the top of the swing . But again, that’s just my way; your backswing may be shorter. Think of it like this: Try to swing your driver with the same rhythm and timing you would use when hitting a wedge. For all of us, that’s ideal.

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