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Sunday, December 5, 2010

Driving High and Low

Somewhere in a past post I wrote that too many weekend players struggle trying to shape their shots -- hitting fades and draws -- when they would be better off learning to control their trajectory -- hitting the ball high and low.

Here's the reason: Players think that draws fly farther than fades, and fades stop quicker than draws. That's only partially right. The way most people hit them, draws travel farther because they fly lower, and fades stop quicker because they fly higher. But if you hit a high draw, it will stop faster; if you hit a low fade (sometimes called a power fade), it will fly farther.

And while it takes a while to learn to control fades and draws, trajectory control is pretty simple.

Today we'll look specifically at controlling trajectory with a driver. That will teach you how to control any club off a tee. We'll start with hitting low tee shots into the wind:

Simple enough, eh? Here are the four steps again:
  1. Tee the ball lower.
  2. Move the ball back about an inch from your normal tee position.
  3. Hit the ball low on the clubface.
  4. Shorten your followthrough a little, which means you don't release your wrists as much.
The cumulative effect of these four steps is to lower the effective launch angle of your tee shot. You get a boring shot into the wind.

Now let's look at the flipside -- hitting a high tee shot:

Again, four steps (I know he says three, but he left out one because you do it on any normal tee shot):
  1. Tee the ball higher.
  2. Move the ball forward about an inch from your normal tee position.
  3. Hit the ball high on the clubface. (This is normal. Haven't you always been told to tee the ball so half of it is above the top of the driver?)
  4. Hit the ball on the upswing of the club and release naturally. (Yeah, he says "Hang back on your right side." That's one of those standard instructions that screws up most players. If you "stay back," you hit the ball when the club is on the way up... so just do that!)
The cumulative effect of these four steps is to raise the effective launch angle of your tee shot. You get a high shot that rides the wind.

Now, that's not so difficult, is it? Essentially these are setup changes. If you make them, you should be able to make your normal swing and hit the ball high or low at will. What you will need to practice is mental: When you make the setup changes, the temptation is to change your swing as well.

Think about it:
  • To hit the ball low, you move the ball back slightly in your stance and lower it. Your normal swing will contact the ball at the bottom of your swing, when your clubhead is normally traveling parallel to the ground.
  • To hit the ball high, you move the ball up slightly in your stance and raise it. Your normal swing will contact the ball after the bottom of your swing, when your clubhead is normally traveling upward to your finish.
That is, the ball will do these things if you just make your normal swing.

So you can get both length and stopping power using only your existing shot shape; simply use this info to learn how to control a tee shot hit with any club. For now, you can just use a knockdown shot if you need to hit a low shot into a green. We'll look at high approach shots (high shots without a tee) later on, because those are the trickiest of the shots to hit.

Even if you want to hit fades and draws, you'll need to learn trajectory control to make any real use of them. So why not learn the easier part first?


  1. haven't read this yet - but please shoot me now - Palacios-Jansen (or as Tilghman says - Janzen) - is HOOOOOORRRRRRRIBLLLE !!! All the years as an "instructor" and she still talks like she's giving her first lesson.

    They showed video of her typing up her "entry" into this "competition" (pretty amazing, eh ? How come xxx Golf Channel cameras were there looking over her shoulders before this started ?), and her hair was completely different. Now, for this show, she's had her hair done to match Tilghman's.

  2. I'll have to catch the replay later tonight.

  3. They're adjusting the schedule because of the end of the Chevron. Everything got pushed back half an hour. Not sure when it will be on again. Interesting, eh ? I don't think they want people having too many extra chances to see this show. :-D

  4. Mike,

    With a driver, how close (generally) should you stand to the ball? I understand that your body shape, size, etc. have to be taken into account. Is there a rule of thumb?

    In the Clearing the Hips topic, you mentioned that Jim Furyk stands closer to the ball than most people, but he's fairly accurate.

    If I stand too far from the ball my arms feel disconnected and it is easier to slice because my brain might decide that I have to reach for it. If I stand too close, it's like swinging in a phone booth, but I liked the ball flight.

    What are your thoughts?

  5. Everybody's a little different when it comes to setup, Lefty. Furyk's the classic example of a guy who feels most comfortable really close to the ball; and while I wouldn't swear to it, I'd bet Lee Trevino stood as far away as anybody... but both are incredibly accurate.

    Neither, however, was particularly long. I don't know if that's related, but I feel like I should mention that too. ;-)

    How close you stand to the ball depends on what feels comfortable and what's consistent for you. I'd start by just standing up straight, holding my driver out in front of me (so it doesn't touch the ground) in a comfortable position using my normal grip, then bend my knees and hips into my setup position. Wherever the clubhead touches the ground, that's where I'd start. I'd use that distance every time for a while, watch the ball flight, and adjust my distance based on that.

    And here's how I'd adjust my distance:

    1) If I kept pulling the ball (out to in), I'd figure I'm too close to it -- and I'd try moving the ball a little farther away.

    2) And if I kept pushing the ball (in to out), I'd figure I'm too far from it -- and I'd try moving the ball a little closer.

    The rule of thumb? Just make sure you feel comfortable. You don't want to feel cramped, and you don't want to feel like you're reaching for the ball. Trust your instincts; they'll probably be correct.

    And if you're still stuck, just put another comment on this post -- I've set the blog up so it lets me know when any post gets a new comment -- and let me know what you tried, how it felt, and how the ball behaved. I'll try to help you figure it out. But if you can do SQL, dude, golf should be simple! ;-)

  6. Hi Mike,

    Great website! I've bookmarked it!

    My driving sucks big time & I am never consistent in setting up. But when I hit a long one it's pretty long (for Malaysian standards).

    So what would you recommend for myself who is:

    1. 175cm tall or nearly 5ft 9 inches
    2. Wide shouldered - I wear a 44inch jacket for my suit.
    3. Weight approx. 220 pounds or 98kg
    4. Due to a 'one-piece' gut, i don't have great flexibility, but I've tried my best to point my left shoulder at the ball during the backswing.

    Hence, would appreciate any guidance/advice on driver setup for someone slightly chunky like me. Also how do less flexible people start the swing from the ground with their legs?

    Thanks in advance.



  7. Hi, Ramzi! When I read your comment I realized a lot of players probably have the same questions you do. If you don't mind, I'll do a post in the next couple of days to try and answer your questions. Maybe it'll help those other players too.

    But I won't try to answer the question about driver setup. That's something you should ask a clubfitter, since he'll take things like clubhead speed into account and those things need to be measured. But once you're swinging more consistently, it'll be easier for you to get fit for a good driver.