Nick Price’s complete guide to tee shots – 22 ways to make your first shot the easiest shot
Golf Digest Playing Editor, with Mike Stachura
I love tee shots. Always have, always will. I love hitting my driver in a big situation on a long, demanding hole. I love trying to work the ball around the corner of a dogleg or deciding to gear down on a shorter, tighter par 4 and hit 3-wood or 1-iron. Mostly, I love that the tee shot sets the stage for every hole, and that I’m in complete control of the situation. That’s why you should love tee shots, too.
I know it’s easy to feel a little distressed on the tee. Everything’s quiet and it seems all the attention is on you, and all you can think of is how hard this shot is going to be. Why not think about how easy a tee shot is instead? That’s right, easy. Think of it this way: First of all, you’re aiming at the biggest target there is on every hole. More important, it’s the only shot you hit under virtually the same conditions every time. And you control those conditions completely. For every tee shot, you will have a perfect lie and a perfectly flat stance. It should feel almost as if you’re hitting balls on the range.
You can develop an abiding affection for the tee by studying the tips on the following pages. I’ve developed 22 simple but solid rules that touch on everything from setup and swing to club selection and strategy. Solid tee shots set the stage for a great round of golf, not only by putting you in position to score but also by boosting your confidence. So learn to love them, and watch your game improve.
1. Shoulder turn keys both power, accuracy
Useful, powerful swings with your driver, fairway woods and long irons start with a full shoulder turn. A full turn means your left shoulder is pointing behind the ball at the top of your backswing. If you can make that kind of turn while stabilizing your lower body and maintaining the flex in your knees, you will have coiled your upper body on the backswing, setting the stage for a powerful downswing. Moreover, you won’t have to attempt to generate more power on the downswing by forcing the clubhead back down to the ball. That excessive action actually saps power from your swing and can throw the clubface open or rotate it closed. To groove the right sensation, try this drill: Without a club, make a mock backswing with your left shoulder and arm, grasping your left elbow with your right hand, pulling your left arm until your shoulder turns to point behind the ball. Try to match that sensation with a golf club in your hands.
2. Find a fail-safe club-and shot-for the tee. When I play a hole with heavy rough, I’ll often hit a 1-iron to keep my tee shot in play. Average players should look at the 4- or 5-wood the same way.
You may hit a driver farther, but a fairway wood will keep you in the game more often. Stick with a familiar shot shape whenever you have doubts. Trying to hit a draw when your usual ball flight is a fade increases your tension level, making a hard shot that much harder.
3. Factor tee into distance. Because the lie is perfect, expect to hit your fairway woods slightly farther off the tee than you do off the ground. For instance, a 3-wood that flies 225 hit off the ground should fly at least 230 off a tee.
4. Adjust tee height as you move down through your bag
Tee height is often a matter of personal preference, but generally you want to tee the ball lower as you move from the driver to the short irons. With a driver and fairway wood (above, left), about half the ball should be above the top edge of your club. This will encourage making contact slightly on the upswing with a sweeping motion. With the long irons, you’ll want about a quarter of the ball above the top edge of the club. With the middle and short irons (above, right), keep the ball on a tee and even with the top edge of the clubhead (maybe about a quarter of an inch off the ground). Your swing gets steeper as you move down through the set, so tee your ball a little lower to avoid hitting pop-ups.
5. Use full width of tee box for the best angle
Take advantage of having the ball in your hands. When the target is on the right, tee up on the left side of the tee box, and vice versa. This gives your shot the whole width of the fairway to fly over. If it’s practical, I’ll even tee the ball a foot or so inside the marker to get the best possible angle. Remember, only the ball has to be within the teeing ground, you don’t.
6. Hips, hands and clubhead have to move at different speeds
The tape measures above show the relationship between how far the hips (four inches), hands (six feet) and clubhead (18 feet) travel in the downswing. So you can see that if you over-rotate the hips, then your hands and the clubhead (which have farther to travel) won’t catch up, and the clubhead won’t be accelerating at impact. Now, that doesn’t mean you make your hands and arms move faster. Just slow the hips down and let the hands and arms drop naturally.
7. Tee it high and let it fly? Not always. Teeing it high for distance is fine, unless you have a steep downswing like many average players. (If you tend to take a divot with your fairway woods, your swing is too steep.) Practice with a higher tee on the range, but until you can groove a shallower downswing, play your tee shots from a lower tee (less than half the ball above the top of your driver). You’ll make better contact and avoid those confidence-destroying pop-ups.
8. Long par 4s: Try two woods, no driver. You don’t need to automatically reach for the driver on every tee. You might be better off hitting 3-wood and then 5-wood on a long par 4 than you would hitting driver, long iron.
9. Good tee shots enable you to play less golf course
Accuracy off the tee is at least as important as power. An accurate driver is playing only one golf course-the one in the fairway. Inconsistency from the tee means you’re playing three courses-the one from the fairway and the ones from the right and left roughs. Why would you want to play three courses at once? Choose a club and a strategy that you feel confident will put the ball in the fairway first, with distance second.
10. Use the teeing ground correctly and you’ll never be ‘between clubs’
You don’t have to tee your ball even with the tee markers every time. The teeing ground extends two club-lengths behind the markers. That translates to about three yards of extra length, which should make your club selection that much easier. For example, if you’re playing a 155- yard hole and you’re between a 7- and a 6-iron, tee your ball two club- lengths back. Now it’s a 158-yard hole, which should make you more comfortable playing the 6-iron.
11. Aim for the fat part of the fairway
Distance off the tee isn’t an advantage unless it puts you in the fairway. Here, I’ve hit two solid tee balls, one with a driver, one with a 3-wood. Both were on the correct line, but only the 3-wood kept me in the fairway. So give yourself plenty of room. There is nothing more frustrating than a well-struck shot that isn’t rewarded.
12. Always aim away from trouble. A good rule of thumb is to tee up on the same side as the trouble (trees, water, bunkers), and aim away from it.
13. In wind, aim safe. When playing the wind, never aim where a well- struck shot that stays straight ends up in a hazard. Keep your aiming point at least 10 yards from the edge of trouble. Avoid fighting the wind; let it blow your shot back to your final target.
14. Forget the driver on most par 5s. Unless you know you can reach the green in two, you probably don’t need to hit the driver. On a 500-yard hole, it’s easier-and certainly smarter-to play 3-wood, 6-iron, 9-iron than driver, 3-wood, half-wedge.
15. Use a parallel setup to key aim, backswing
Any mistakes in your setup are compounded in the swing, especially with the longer clubs. So establish a solid foundation with your lower body first. Then set your body so your hips and shoulders are parallel to the target line. (A slightly closed stance is OK, but an open stance promotes a slice.) This makes it easier to make an effective turn away from the target in your backswing.
16. To play for control, choke up on your driving club
To make a more controlled swing or to hit the ball shorter (if you’re between clubs), choke up on any club-even your driver or 3-wood-by half an inch. You’ll also hit it shorter by teeing it lower (the ball won’t carry as far) or by hitting a shot with a little sidespin.
17. To choose club on tee, think about second shot first
I’m very comfortable with my 8-iron, as you can see. Off the tee, I try to leave myself an 8-iron for my next shot when I can. Play to your favorites, too. Also aim to the side of the fairway giving you the best angle to the pin.
18. Get specific when it comes to the target. You’ll hit better shots the more focused you are. So don’t just shoot for the left side of the fairway or a distant bunker. Aim for your opponent’s ball if it’s on the correct line in the fairway, or make your target not just that bunker out there, but a rake in that bunker, or not just a distant tree, but a branch or even a leaf on that tree.
19. Hit a draw the easy way. If you need to hit a draw, try slightly closing your stance to the target line. That encourages a more complete backswing and shoulder turn, which will help you attack the ball from the inside on the downswing. You might even generate a little more power, too.
20. ‘Raise some dust’ at impact
The only way to beat the dust out of a dirty carpet is to get the total force of the body, hands and arms behind the hit. If the hands release too early (inset), you’ll hit the carpet but there won’t be a good “thwack!” at impact and it won’t raise any dust. Think of the golf swing the same way. The hands, shaft and clubhead should reach the ball in line to deliver power to the ball.
21. Beware the ‘drivable’ par 4. If you’re an experienced player, know your limitations. If you think about going for the green on a par 4, be realistic. You must get the ball up around the green, because if you end up 40 or so yards short, you’re left with one of the most difficult shots in golf, even for a professional: a partial swing where you can’t spin the ball. You’ll have better luck laying up and trying to make birdie with a full wedge shot.
22. Play the easy way. Aim for the fat part of the fairway with the easiest club to hit to that spot-even if it means a slightly longer second shot. I’ll bet you can score 25 percent better without having to play 25 percent better.
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