Standing at the tee before your first swing, driver in hand, a whole course ahead of you — it can be a lot to handle. Any time I step to a tee, there’s the urge to overthink: Do I have the right stance? Keep your head down, smooth follow through, don’t lift the shoulders, don’t try to power through. When should I breathe? Wait am I aiming right. Start over. Man I don’t want to top it for a worm-burner. I lift my shoulders too much. I’m going to slice, I know it.
“Go brain dead.” That’s Tim Spring’s suggestion. He’s one of the pros at Copper Creek Golf Course. “The more we overthink the worse it’s going to get. Just relax and hit,” he said.
Easier said than done? Maybe. There’s no single way, no universal strategy, to do it.
“I take a big breath and exhale,” Spring said, “but some guys hold their breath all the way through.”
As with most things golf-related, it comes down to the individual and the circumstance. There are hundreds of little corrections for each golfer’s game, but there are also some sure-fire mistakes that pros say they see frequently. This week, we look at the times when you need the biggest club in the bag. We’ve covered the importance of practicing the short game. We’ve talked about hitting from the rough, putting and getting out of the sand. Now it’s time to look at the big-boy club.
Spring and Breckenridge Golf Club pro Erroll Miller shared some tips that are often neglected when stepping to the tee.
“The first common mistake is trying to overswing,” Spring said. In fact, that was the first thing mentioned by both pros.
“People try to swing out of their shoes,” said Miller.
Both said they often see people step to the tee and try to muscle it with a big swing.
Ask your high school physics teacher; it’s leverage. Or at least I think that’s the science behind it. The point is to let the club do the work, both Spring and Miller said.
Miller stressed smooth rhythm through the whole swing. Never increase the speed of the swing on the follow through; it should stay even.
Proper ball position is the next factor. Spring said he often sees people tee off with the ball lined up farther back from center.
“They think they make better contact” on the down swing. That’s a mistake, he said.
The ball should always be somewhat forward of center, but not too far forward, in a golfer’s stance.
“Your swing on a driver is slightly up after you make contact,” Spring said.
Miller calls it catching the ball on the upswing.
But it’s important to remember that doesn’t mean trying to lift the ball while swinging, as has been discussed in other columns. The club should make contact with the ball on its way back up in the swing naturally.
Spring also reminds golfers to place the ball on the correct tee height. Half the ball should be above the club when the club is on the ground, he suggests. That should improve the chance for good contact when swinging.
Finally Miller said to remember not to overhinge (bend) the elbows on the backswing.
“It definitely gets you in trouble with the driver, “ he said, calling it a “critical flaw.”
It’s not as much of a factor with shorter clubs like irons, but with a driver the mistake is magnified. Arms should stay fairly straight through the swing.
Maybe it’s the club’s fault?
Blaming the club isn’t completely out of the question. Spring said lower-end clubs may not swing as smoothly because of lower quality shaft materials or off-balance heads.
That doesn’t mean every golfer should run out and get custom top-of-the-line clubs, but there are a few options worth considering. There are also a few corrections a golfer can make to get a better swing with the driver he or she already has.
First, a standard length works for most people. “Unless you’re 6 foot, 2 inches or taller, standard length is fine,” Spring said.
If a golfer is having trouble with the driver, he often suggests practice with a three-wood since it’s shorter and has a smaller head.
Also, if the driver feels too long, Miller recommends choking up on the handle an inch or two.
If that’s not enough, he said it’s fairly easy to shorten a club, and many retailers or pro shops can do it. It’s as simple as removing the handle and sawing off an inch or two.
If it’s time for a new driver, Miller offers a few tips. Often, he said, people, men specifically, buy clubs that have “too stiff a shaft and not enough loft.”
He encourages golfers to consider an adjustable driver. It’s a technology he says is absolutely not a gimmick, and has become very efficient in recent years. With a simple adjustment, a golfer can change the loft on this style of driver from around 8.5 to 12.5 degrees. Adjustable clubs can also compensate for a golfer’s tendency to slice or hook a shot. Miller said all it takes is a little tinkering at the driving range to get dialed in.
The same can be said for a non-adjustable driver. Time at the driving range is always well spent. It will lead to less stress and more consistency out on the course.
But beyond all the overthinking, self-analysis and potential equipment upgrades, maybe it’s really just as simple as Miller said: “Trust the club and trust the swing.”