As a player whose favorite club in the bag has been a driver for the past five years, I can fully appreciate the desire to improve your driving. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of nailing a drive right down the middle of the fairway and/or out driving your playing partners.
Many of you will have heard the saying “drive for show, putt for dough”, but from where I’m standing it’s more like “drive for show AND dough” in the modern game.
Most people are out there reading articles about how to hit the ball further, but that is not the sole focus of this article as I find that to be too narrow of a view to approach an improvement in your driving performance. I want to help you to develop your driving in a more rounded manner, improving your technique, strategy and distance, as well as offering some drills which have worked well for me within those areas.
From my own experience I have seen my worst rounds improve considerably since I have become a better driver of the ball. This is because I am in better scoring positions more frequently and my ‘poor’ tee shots are changing from a possible lost ball to maybe 5-10 yards more on-line, from where I can still approach the green. This is the sort of impact that I want to encourage on your game.
One of the first factors to be aware of is that using a driver requires a different technique to hitting an iron shot.
The set up is the biggest difference as we are trying to hit a driver with a negative attack angle (ie. We want to hit up on the ball) which is obviously only relevant to shots hit off a high tee. You need to set up to a driver with this in mind, so you need to have the ball further forward in your stance, in line with the inside of your front foot.
By placing the ball here you will find that your rear shoulder drops below the level of your lead shoulder, creating a better feeling to be able to strike up on the ball. Your head will probably drop down and in line with your shoulder angle, so this might feel a little weird but it is natural so don’t worry about it.
Another key area of your setup is your alignment. I see a lot of amateurs standing too open on their drives because they want to increase speed in this manner. What this creates is a pulling ‘over-the-top’ motion which will give you more speed…but also more cut spin.
Overall you’re not really going to gain much from doing this. If you are aligned more neutrally and reduce your attack angle then you can improve your efficiency greatly. What you will find is that you can hit the ball further without trying as hard. I have experienced this personally; I used to have at least 3 or 4 mph more club head speed, but it was a cut swing which was highly inefficient. Nowadays I am able to swing with more balance and composure while hitting the ball further because I have a more neutral ball flight and hit up on the ball.
It will probably feel quite uncomfortable to begin with, to stand neutral to the ball, but if you incorporate this with the ball being forward in your stance then you will be able to adapt to it. You do not have to have a totally neutral stance, you can still favour a slightly open stance, but keeping it closer to neutral will be more consistent and help you to improve longer term.
The point of working on your setup is that you will be able to maximise the capabilities of the modern technology that we find in drivers. The way that they perform nowadays means that we are actually able to hit the ball higher but with lower spin. Hitting up on the ball will benefit you in both of these areas, hence the setup to encourage this.
It may also be worth considering the height at which you are teeing the ball. A lot of amateurs tee the ball too low and what this does is create a physical reaction which makes it more difficult to hit up on the ball. Your body really will react to what your lie looks like.
For example, if you find your ball in a divot you will hit down on the ball more steeply, even if you don’t make a particularly conscious effort to do so. What I mean by this is that your hand-eye coordination does take over to a certain extent in your swing. If the ball is teed down very low, then you tend to try and reach down a little more and trap the ball, whereas when it is from a high tee, you are more likely to try and clip it off the top.
Have a little practice with a higher tee and see how you can create more shoulder tilt by setting up to a ball which is teed up higher, encouraging you to get your attack angle in a better place.
The second reaction that we can create with a tee height is the swing path. If you tee it low, it is more likely that you will cut across the ball as you create a steep attack angle on the ball. Teeing it high encourages you to release the club and the shallower attack angle helps you to move towards a draw flight. Don’t think about this too much, just give it a go and you will see the difference in your ball flight.
Understanding these reactions gives you many more options on the course, for example that lower tee which encourages a little cut could be exactly what you want on that hole that you always struggle with, but teeing it up high and letting rip is more suited for the wide open par 5.
Technical and set up feels
I like to feel as centered as possible when hitting a driver. You’re trying to create more speed than any other shots and your stance should therefore be wider when you are hitting a driver (generally speaking this can be slightly wider than shoulder width, but play around and find what is comfortable, without doing the splits!).
This will give you a strong foundation from which to create power. You can certainly create a lot of speed with your arms, but the most efficient way to build power is through the force you can develop with your lower body and the ground.
If you watch one of the best driver’s in the world, Rory McIlroy, you will see that he is almost squatting and then jumping as he releases the power into the ball at impact. It is a surprisingly athletic move to hit a driver, so you need to have a strong base from which you can maintain your balance while you deliver high speeds.
When you reach the top of your backswing, your weight should be strongly into your rear leg and hip. As you transition into your downswing you will push down into your rear heel and shift the weight into your lead side, trying to ‘explode’ upwards.
Creating this upwards force allows you to lengthen your body and spine, giving you greater space from which to create speed. If you think about the opposite, being cramped and tucked up, then obviously you can imagine you wouldn’t be able to make a very explosive move from there right?
If you want to increase your distance off the tee then you need to concentrate on strike and speed. A lot of amateurs go straight for the speed, but if you are less consistent with your strike, then you won’t actually reap the rewards of greater speed.
Working on your strike will come from those set up tips we spoke about earlier, as well as being more balanced. The speed training is where we have a few options, with the easiest of those being to simply practice swinging it faster! This might sound too basic, but I can absolutely vouch for this. It is obviously quite a lot of fun to practice this as well, particularly as you don’t have to care about where the ball goes.
You can’t do this for too long because it is tiring, but also you don’t want to develop too many bad habits while not caring about where the ball goes. I would recommend starting with a 10-ball spell during your practice session where you just try and swing it as fast as possible (while also having some consideration of strike, but not direction for now).
On top of this you can do some swings at home without a ball where you are trying to swing the club as fast as possible. If you can find a launch monitor, or some way to measure your clubhead speed, then you can keep an eye on how your speed is developing, and you can also do more testing to see which ‘feels’ lead to more speed.
There are training aids which you could use for this sort of training and they do seem to help to an extent, but personally I don’t like the idea of getting used to swinging fast with something that does not replicate the feel of your own clubs. It can also be a little risky from an injury perspective to be swinging weighted clubs too fast. By all means try it out, but I prefer to keep it a little more natural myself.
Another tip that I would give for distance is to treat it like an athletic motion, so keep moving and don’t be too static prior to taking the club away (perhaps some toe tapping or club waggles to keep you loose), then also speed up your backswing quite considerably. This makes it easier to keep building momentum and speed throughout your swing.
An interesting method to increase clubhead speed is to lift the heel of your lead foot as you make your backswing. You may have seen Francesco Molinari put this to brilliant use during 2018 as he won The British Open and had the greatest season of his career.
From a distance perspective this allows you to increase your range of motion and get a wider and longer turn into your backswing. This can absolutely be used to give you more speed, but it is also a great tip if you struggle with your swing being too short or quick sometimes. The other benefit of this is that the movement to put your heel back down in transition is a great start to how your lower body should move in the downswing.
Check your strike!
Staying in balance will be key to your ability to strike the ball consistently out of the middle of the club, which is an underrated element to hitting the ball further. Working on your set up and having that wider stance is a good start for this and if you want to check where you are striking the ball then a good trick is to spray your clubface with foot spray and then hit some shots.
This gives you a clear indicator of where you are striking the ball and can help you to diagnose some other issues with your driving. For example, if you are hitting the ball out of the toe (further away from the shaft) then you could experiment with standing slightly closer to the ball (this is just an example, there could be other reasons as well) and see how this impacts the strike position.
Using the foot spray is a great way to learn more about your game so I would highly recommend trying this and then playing around with factors such as set up and tee height.
These are impactful ways to increase your confidence because it gives you more evidence to back up your decisions on the course. Let’s take an example of a tough driving hole where the emphasis is on accuracy rather than distance. You were practicing last week with the foot spray and realised that when you stood a little closer to the ball and teed the ball up high, you were hitting the middle of the face and the ball flight was more consistently straight.
Now you can just replicate that set up and execute it on the course, rather than trying to guide one down there and hoping that you can just time it well.
One of the strategy tricks that you can learn from professionals is to be more aware of where you need to place your drives…and I don’t just mean in the fairway. In this scenario I am referring to the side of the hole that you would favour with your tee shot when taking into the account the challenge of the hole in question.
Many professionals have now adapted their strategies to consider more about which side of the golf hole they want to play from, rather than solely focusing on hitting the fairway. Of course there are situations where you will find a hazard on one side of the hole and this forces your hand somewhat, but you can take a genuine advantage on holes where it is just rough on either side.
I will give you an example of a hole where trees slightly block the right hand side of the approach to the green. A lot of us would feel pretty satisfied to hit the fairway on any hole, and you may feel that way on this hole, but in actual fact you have put yourself in a worse position than if you were safely in the rough up the left side.
This might seem quite obvious, but I expect that a lot of amateurs are just aiming for the middle of the fairway and going from there, but if you take this information into account and shift your alignment 10 yards left, knowing that it is safe to be in the rough as well, then you can commit to a better line with good confidence. If you begin to accept that sometimes being in the rough is not going to make your next shot harder, then this will free you up a lot more on the tee as you don’t put too much pressure on yourself or beat yourself up for missing a fairway.
Another example could be with a dog-leg hole where you are tempted to cut off some distance and get as close to the corner as possible. If the penalty for over-doing this is that you will have to chip out and effectively waste a shot, then is it really worth taking on this risk? This is a situation where you need to show some discipline and remember that being more conservative off the tee and leaving yourself twenty yards further into the green is a far better result than a “wasted shot”.
What I most like to take from this is that I can adjust my aim and feel more confident because I am not so focused on hitting the fairway, more playing towards my target which I have confidence in because I am thinking clearly to plan where I want to play the next shot from, based on my strengths. Hitting towards a target that you have deduced from efficient, clear questions is going to put you in a more focused mindset than simply aiming for the vague fairway area.
I would like for this article to encourage you that improving your driving is about more than just distance. Distance will help, for sure, but in my opinion there are some easy gains to be had before distance is even considered. The quickest gains are in the set up, alignment and strategy.
I also want to emphasize the importance of maintaining your fundamentals if you are chasing the extra distance.
Bryson DeChambeau is the primary example of somebody who has increased their distance drastically over recent years, but what is most impressive is how he has maintained his technical proficiency while doing this. He achieved this by always combining his strength and speed training with hitting balls and keeping on top of actually playing golf shots.
An improvement in your driving can be the most enjoyable and rewarding gains in golf so good luck and stick with it!