There’s more to it than simply smashing the ball

When I stopped worrying so much about swing mechanics and focused on seeing shots and then creating what I saw, I was able to play the way I knew I was capable of playing – including much more confidently with my driving. In my victory at the US Open last year at Los Angeles Country Club, I was second in strokes gained off the tee.

Fast forward to defending my US Open title at Pinehurst No.2 (June 13-16), I’m concentrating on controlling my tee shots even more, really reducing the dispersion of drives and adjusting my strategy from hole to hole. I’ll get into the details of that in a bit, especially knowing you can’t just swing away on a spacious but racy US Open course like Pinehurst. First, I want to share an observation or two about what I see when amateurs step on the tee.

Perhaps you do your due diligence, but with most ams, I don’t see a lot of thought given to what the hole calls for. They pretty much make the same driver swing from hole to hole and try to put the ball somewhere in the fairway – or at least advance it far enough that it’s not a totally wasted shot. The second thing I notice is that there’s little thought given to the ball’s start line or where it should finish. It’s like robogolf: grab the driver, walk up to the tee, peg one and swing away.

Hopefully after you read what goes through my mind as I stand on any par 4 or par 5, you’ll be a little more attentive to what you should do. If you can put yourself in decent position in the fairway, or even make your misses smaller, you’re going to make more pars and avoid big mistakes.

OK, with the pep talk out of the way, here are my three go-to drives – and what I do when none of them are truly the best option.

‘If you see me draw a ball with a driver, it was probably an accident.’ – Wyndham Clark


A lot of the time I turn to a drive my caddie, John Ellis, and I call a squeeze cut. It puts more emphasis on accuracy than distance, but I’m still getting it out there a good way- – like 300 yards or more. It’s the best of both worlds. The ball takes off on a medium trajectory, which keeps it from ballooning, and it moves a little left to right, which is my usual flight. In fact, if you see me draw the ball with a driver, it was probably an accident.

To produce the squeeze cut, I tee the ball at medium height. That might seem a little low for you, but if you make a level swing through the ball – your main goal – the tee is plenty high. I set up a touch open, meaning I’m aligned a little left of the target, and this produces a swing path that helps the ball start just a hair left and then peel back to the right. I’m not trying to put a big curve on the ball, nor should you. Don’t try to hold off your swing or steer it in play. Just set up with the ball a little lower, your body a touch open and make a full swing, accelerating through to a full finish.

‘I’m not trying to put a big curve on the ball, nor should you.’


If there’s no trouble to speak of, or it’s worth it for me to really go after one to drive a par 4 or be in good position to get home in two on a par 5, John will give me the green light to stick it a mile up in the air and “send it”. This shot is all about maxing carry distance, which is even more important for slower swingers. If you can’t swing 100 miles per hour or faster, you probably have no business playing a driver with less than  11 or 12 degrees of loft.

To increase your carry, you’ll also want to make sure the ball is aligned with at least the heel of your front foot and that you tee it high enough that half of it is above the top of your driver at address. You might think you have to swing harder to launch it, but that’s not necessarily true. In fact, if a harder swing makes it more likely you hit the ball off the toe of the club, you’re probably going to lose distance in the process. A better strategy for you is to focus on hitting it out of the centre of the face and feel like your club is accelerating through the ball – but at your normal swing speed. Oh, and if you can draw it to pick up a little extra yardage, go for it. But I’m still fading this one a touch.


Whether it’s first-tee anxiety or you’re trying to close out a tournament, there are going to be times when you have to come through under pressure. In those moments, I use my 90-percenter. It’s a shot that cuts a little, but its real appeal is that it pierces through the air on a low trajectory. It’s not like the squeeze cut, which flies longer and higher. It’s more like a stinger. If you’re trying to avoid a double-bogey or there’s trouble everywhere, think about scaling back your effort and really focusing on making a smooth swing. Don’t forget to finish it. No steering.

The adjustments to hit this drive are to tee it lower, play it a little further back than normal and stay more on top of the ball with your chest.

I know I can rely on this drive to avoid the deep rough, but even if you don’t feel comfortable hitting it, just remember that if you want to keep a driver in play, this is not the time to swing out of your shoes. Make a swing that feels like you’re going at it with a lot less effort.

‘Don’t automatically grab your driver every time you step onto a par-4 or par-5 tee.’­


I do draw the ball from time to time. Sometimes the hole just screams to move it right to left. In those instances, I’ll grab my 3-wood and turn something over. I’m not suggesting you do the same if you’re not at a level where you can draw it on command. Rather, my advice here is don’t automatically grab your driver every time you step onto a par-4 or par-5 tee.

If it’s a super-tight hole with out-of-bounds on one side and a big pond on the other, your best option might be to put a 5-iron in play. Then maybe hit another 5-iron down the fairway and then wedge one onto the green. At worst, you’re taking double-bogey out of play and at best, you’ll have a par putt on one of the toughest holes on the course. Point is, give every play from the tee a little more thought, and I bet your scorecard will benefit from it. 

Photographs by Stephen Denton;  Andrew redington/getty images (previous page); Jared c. tilton/getty images