Editor's Note: This article appears in the May issue of Golf Magazine.
In the months leading up to the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, I worked very hard on my short game, and I think that's what helped me win my first major. Nowadays, I'm focusing more on my driving -- I've got to keep up with the new standards. Whereas in the past you could win on Tour by being either very long or very accurate off the tee, today you have to be both.
It's still early in the year, but I'm having an excellent driving season. My driving-distance average has remained consistent, and I'm slightly more accurate now (although I've always been a pretty straight driver). Of course, I'm lucky -- my job allows me to practice almost every day. Since you probably don't have that luxury, you have to be smart about what you're doing if you want to improve your performance off the tee. The trick, as I see it, is to focus on contact first. Forget about speed for the time being and work on finding a way to catch the ball in the center of the clubface. What you'll find is that when you make contact on the sweet spot as opposed to near the heel or toe (or too high or too low on the clubface), you'll not only drive it straighter, you'll also hit it farther, because that's where maximum energy transfer takes place. It's a double-whammy: working on control actually increases your yardage without you having to swing harder.
Now I'll show you what I do to ensure centered contact on every swing, and I'll also demonstrate a few easy ways to amp up your swing speed for the times you need to really lay into one. Copy my moves and you'll be in a better position to attack the green on every hole you play.
1. CHANGE YOUR TEE HEIGHT
The images below may look like carbon copies, but in the left photo I've teed the ball much lower than most guys do. Teeing the ball lower is my way of making sure I hit the fairway at all costs. I don't change anything in my setup -- just the tee height -- and I make the same swing I always do. The lower tee height encourages me to hit down on the ball more, which automatically creates extra backspin, even with a low-lofted club like the driver. When it comes to accuracy, backspin is your friend, because more backspin means less sidespin. This is why it's easier to hit your 3-wood straight than it is your driver. It's an easy trick that really works.
If the width of the fairway allows me to risk a bigger swing, I'll tee the ball at the more common height. I'll even move it forward in my stance a bit. This makes it easier to hit slightly up on the ball, which is the only way to max out your distance. Catching the ball after the clubhead reaches the low spot in its swing arc produces less backspin and more dynamic loft, the two components of optimal launch.
2. CONNECT YOUR BODY AND ARMS
On every tee box I decide if I'm going to play for position or for distance, depending on the obstacles I see. Once I make up my mind, I stick to my plan. Although my average swing speed is around 113 mph, I can swing faster than that, and certainly much slower. My goal on tight holes is to go after the ball at 85 percent of my maximum speed. That's the pace that typically allows me to strike the ball without producing a lot of curve. When I need to shift to a higher gear, I do everything the same, only faster. Regardless of how fast or slow I swing the club, I never deviate from my core swing keys. The most important of these is syncing the movement of my body and arms.
You can't drive it straight if the motor of your swing (your body) isn't on the same page as what's actually holding on to the club (your hands and arms). I like to feel that the upper part of my left arm is tight against the left side of my chest from address until I hinge the club up in my through-swing. (When you see players practicing with a towel tucked under their biceps, this is what they're working on.) This connection ensures that your hands and arms won't race ahead or lag behind the turning action of your body. When I'm driving it well, it's like my body is doing all the work and my arms are simply along for the ride.
3. ADD SPEED AT THE BOTTOM
I can tell when an amateur is trying to hit for distance by how fast his or her arms move at the start of the downswing. If they're moving fast, I know the ball is going either left or, more commonly, right, and probably not very far. Speed only counts at impact, so save it up during your downswing instead of using it all up at the top. I guarantee that if you swing hard from the top, you won't have much left when you strike the ball.
When I'm in my power mindset, I actually try to make a smoother transition than I do in my control swing, because even though I'm trying to swing faster, I still have to drop the club into the slot and get the shaft on plane for the correct inside delivery. Only when I feel that this has happened will I step on the gas, and when I do, I move my body faster, not my arms. Like they do in my control swing, my arms follow -- not lead -- the action in my speed swing. Once I'm in the slot, I simply rotate faster, getting my hips to face the target sooner and pushing off the ground with my feet a little harder. It really helps if you focus on your core muscles and feel as if they're pulling everything through impact. This will help you remain in your posture, too, which is critical for striking the ball in the center of the clubface.