Driving a golf ball has sex appeal. Bombing a 275-yard drive or farther straight down the center of a fairway grabs almost all of us. Novice or old-timer, we all like to hit them long and straight, especially in front of an audience. Most players (read men) who attend my golf instruction sessions love to talk driving. They’re looking for that one tip that will help them drive the ball longer and straighter, and in turn, lower their golf handicaps.
Unfortunately, it takes more than one tip to learn to hit your driver well. That’s why golf lessons or not a smart golfer knows when to hit the driver and when not to. An errant drive creates trouble. And finding trouble right off the bat is no way to start a hole. Better to sacrifice some distance than blast a drive out of bounds or into a lake. Right? Well, maybe. Thanks to modern technology the thinking on when to use the driver is changing.
The traditional approach holds that good driving isn’t just about hitting it long and straight. It’s also about accuracy. It’s about setting yourself up for your next shot, which is what I tell players taking my golf lessons. In essence, its about risk and reward. You have to weigh the risk versus the reward when deciding whether to use the driver. If the reward isn’t worth it, don’t risk it. Be conservative. Leave the driver in the bag and go to a 3-wood or a long iron.
One way to determine if you should use the driver or the 3-wood is to decide how far a second shot you want to hit first, then choose your club accordingly. If you’re playing a short par-4, say 350 yards, the average shot with the driver might be around 250 yards, leaving about 100 yards to the hole. With a 3-wood the average shot might be about 230 yards, leaving about 120 yards to the hole. Is gaining that extra 20 yards worth the risk of hitting the driver?
You also might favor a 3-wood over a driver on long par-5s. If you know you won’t be able to reach the green in two, even with your best drive and best 3-wood, why risk it? Instead, try the 3-wood or a long iron off the tee. You have a better shot of making par if you keep your ball in play, than if you’re hitting out from the rough or under a big clump tree. Being conservative is the smart play here.
Many players leave the driver in the bag on holes with narrow and/or difficult fairways. Take Southern Hills Country Club, where this year’s PGA Championship was held. It has a lot of narrow holes with doglegs and slopes. What’s more, some slopes run counter to the direction of the doglegs. The course’s design makes hitting the fairways imperative. If you want to score well on this type up course, you probably wouldn’t use your driver much.
The conservative strategy of gearing down to a 3-wood may not make sense anymore, given today’s technology. At least, that’s the thinking of some professional players. As LPGA Tour player Christina Kim says: “I just don’t hit the 3-wood of the tee very often. My driver is far more accurate than my 3-wood.” The design advantages of drivers these days may be eliminating the benefits of using the 3-wood not just for the pros but for you as well.
Take the clubheads on today’s drivers. The average club head on a driver has more than twice the volume of the average clubhead on a 3-wood, while the average face is 50 percent wider. Those are serious numbers that can help weekend golfers. In addition, today’s drivers are designed to launch shots with less sidespin and to provide a higher moment of inertia (MOI), making them more stable on off-center hits. In other words, the larger clubfaces provide a larger sweet spot than the your old driver.
Thus, today’s drivers are much more forgiving than older drivers and, in some cases, older 3-woods. As result, you’re not only less likely to hit an errant drive, but you’re also less prone to hitting mis-hits and off-center shots that can get you in trouble. In short, most mis-hits you make with the driver will be playable. So why not use the driver whenever you can?
Advantages are Fading
Of course, if you have a huge problem with slicing, pulling, or topping, what club you hit won’t matter. Larger clubheads, more responsive materials, better designs�these things won’t help much if you have severe swing problems. You’ll still find yourself in trouble no matter what club you use off the tee. Take a few golf lessons and solve those problems first before changing strategies.
But for players who hit the ball relatively straight off the tee, it’s another matter. You may want to rethink your approach to hitting the driver. The advantages of hitting the 3-wood over hitting the driver are quickly fading. For players with golf handicaps some where in the middle of the pack, using a driver off every tee might make more sense. It’s something to consider.
Jack Moorehouse is the author of the best-selling book “How To Break 80 And Shoot Like The Pros.” He is NOT a golf pro, rather a working man that has helped thousands of golfers from all seven continents lower their handicap immediately. He has a free weekly newsletter with the latest golf tips, golf lessons and golf instruction.