Confident Tee Shots
Norman, Toms, and others share secrets for making that first swing count
BY SHAUN TOLSON — Winter 2019
rive for show, putt for dough. That popular golf adage highlights the importance of the short game, but belittles the significance of a well-hit tee shot. “The tee shot is the most important shot in golf,” Ben Hogan once said. “You’ve got to hit the fairway before you have a good chance of putting the ball close to the pin.” With the Hawk’s pearl of wisdom in mind, we connected with top experts of the game, including Greg Norman, Annika Sörenstam, and David Toms, to get their best tips for building confidence on the tee box. Apply the tactics shown on the next pages to your own game for help improving your accuracy, smoothing out your tempo, and adding a few extra yards of distance with your driver.
Set Up Square
The Expert: Over the past seven seasons, Ryan Moore has ranked inside the top 30 every year in driving accuracy. During that stretch, the 36-year-old has won four PGA Tour events and finished in the top 10 an additional 34 times. Last season, Moore ranked fourth in driving accuracy, hitting the fairway more than 71 percent of the time across more than 70 competitive rounds.
The Lesson: “Setup dictates what the golf ball does more than anything,” Moore says. “So much of what you do during the swing is a reaction to how you set up. But many amateurs don’t pay attention to their alignment or setup, so some of their swing issues come from that. They end up positioning their feet first and the clubface closed to the target, but they can feel that they’re not lined up to their target so they open their shoulders. That’s why so many amateurs slice the ball.”
To hit straighter, more accurate shots, Moore focuses on a specific alignment routine. “I set the clubhead down first and focus on where the clubface is pointing,” he says. “Then I set up my feet, hips, and then my shoulders to be parallel with my feet. I also put the ball back in my stance just a touch, only a ball width, which brings the shot’s ball flight down.”
Take an Athletic Stance
The Expert: In the wake of her World Golf Hall of Fame career, during which she won 89 worldwide tournaments, including 72 on the LPGA Tour and 10 majors, Annika Sörenstam spent almost a decade running the golf academy at Reunion Resort just south of Orlando, Fla. There she worked with amateurs to improve all facets of their games, including their drives, which she says often are hampered by an incorrect stance and other poor fundamentals.
The Lesson: Because the driver is the longest club — and it requires you to stand the farthest away from the ball — Sörenstam explains that you need to take a wider, more athletic stance, where your feet are at least shoulder-width apart. This helps with balance and the transfer of weight in the backswing. “You need your weight in the center of your feet, not on your heels or on your toes,” she says. “Your weight should be balanced, with 50 percent on the left foot and 50 on the right.”
To understand what that feels like, Sörenstam suggests taking a wider stance and — when you’re practicing on the range — to hop off the ground. “When you land, you’ll land 50-50,” she says. “That puts you in an athletic stance, and it’s a good way to find a balanced setup with flexed knees, which is important because it’s easy to rotate with flexed knees. Straight legs put too much pressure on your back.”
Control the Takeaway
The Expert: PGA Tour television broadcasters and swing analysts have complimented the smooth, consistent tempo of David Toms’ swing for years. Powered by that repeatable tempo, Toms confidently wielded his driver throughout his first season on the Champions Tour in 2017, finishing third in total driving — a stat that combines driving distance and accuracy. The defending U.S. Senior Open champion points to a sound takeaway, one initiated only by the hands and arms, as the cornerstone of a good swing with the driver.
The Lesson: “Bring the club back with your hands and arms together until your club is in line with your back leg before anything else starts to move or turn,” he says. “This will start the tone for good rhythm in the swing.”
To train the rest of your body to remain still while your hands and arms initiate the swing, Toms recommends a drill that makes use of your putting stroke. “When you’re putting on the green, you move your arms back and forth without moving your body. So practice by putting a few times with the driver on the range,” he says. “That’s the best way to feel the right motion. If you feel like you’re putting it down the fairway, you’ll take your hands and arms away from the ball first and that will help you initiate the backswing.”
Drive With the Lower Body
The Expert: During his 40-plus-year professional career, Greg Norman won more than 90 tournaments, including two British Open championships. For 331 weeks during his career, the Shark ranked as the world’s top golfer; and at his peak, Norman was considered one of the best, perhaps the best driver on Tour. He acknowledges that he routinely swung only at about 80 percent of his max effort, but he generated significant power and hit long, straight drives by letting his larger muscles — specifically those in his lower body — do most of the work.
The Lesson: “Most amateurs throw from the top like a fisherman casting a fishing rod,” he says, explaining that they begin the downswing with their arms by releasing their wrists. This diminishes the swing’s power. “Swinging under control requires that you swing from the ground up,” Norman continues. “At the top of your backswing, your feet should feel tight and firmly rooted in the ground. From there, exert force through the feet on the downswing, and as you push up from the ground, your upper body just goes along for the ride.”
Norman utilizes another swing thought that makes it easier for him to let his lower body lead the way. “During the golf swing, your right hip and left hip are working like two pistons,” he says. “When your right hip goes back during the backswing, your left hip goes forward. It’s almost like you’re swinging in a box. On the downswing, think about driving your right hip forward. That moves the left hip back and eliminates any slide motion. When I drive that right hip through the ball, my arms are out in front of me and I get more power instantaneously.
“I can do that on a golf course during a round, too,” he adds. “That’s a secret for most amateurs. Find one component or one thought process that you can execute while you’re playing that serves as a self-correct mechanism.”
Create More Lag
The Expert: Two-time World Long Drive champion Tim Burke has generated some impressive numbers with a driver in his hand, including 227-mph ball speeds and 154-mph clubhead speeds. To create that type of velocity, a player needs to produce a significant amount of lag during the swing. To help him achieve that, Burke thinks about his body positions as they relate to time.
The Lesson: “You want to create separation between your upper body and lower body during the downswing,” he says. “To do that, I picture a clock face on the ground where my target is at 12 o’clock and I want to feel like my belt buckle is facing 6 o’clock at the top of my backswing and stays facing that direction as long as possible through the transition. At impact, I want to feel like my lower body has overtaken my upper body and my belt buckle is now facing 10 o’clock. It almost feels like you’re hitting the ball late.”
Burke also uses a watch face analogy to dial in how he’s hitting the ball and following through on his swings. “I’m not necessarily trying to hit the golf ball,” he says. “I’m trying to hit through the golf ball. To practice this, on the range I’ll put a second tee 8 or 10 inches in front of the ball and a little to the outside — around 1 o’clock if I’m a right-handed player or 11 o’clock if I’m a left-handed player — and I’ll try to always hit that other tee. It’s like the ball that I’m hitting is just getting in the way.”
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