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Graeme McDowell: How to take control of the tee box

Graeme McDowell
Angus Murray
The more body turn you use through impact, the longer and straighter you'll hit it.

Every hole presents its own set of unique challenges. Some invite you to swing for the fences, while others make you think twice about even pulling driver out of the bag. Whereas Tour players take their pre-shot routines very seriously, especially on the tee box, most amateurs wait until it's their turn to hit before assessing the situation in front of them. That doesn't allow you enough time to consider both safe and aggressive routes to the fairway. My advice is to start planning your attack while the other members of your foursome are teeing off. If you have the honors, make sure you're the first to arrive at the box so you can properly map out your strategy. As you look down the fairway, process what you see as follows:

1. Where is the trouble?

Look for obvious danger spots, like the O.B. on your right or the water left. If you're a skilled player, it's best to curve the ball away from the trouble. If you can't shape shots at will, simply play away from the greatest danger. If, for example, there's water on the left, tee the ball on the left side of the tee box and aim toward the right center of the fairway.

2. How much carry do you need?

The last place an amateur should miss off the tee is a fairway bunker. Even pros don't have an easy time making par from fairway sand. If there's a bunker looming in the distance, make sure you can clear the back edge of it with even just an okay driver swing. Use your yardage book. If the distance needed to carry the hazard is more than you can handle, then find out how far it is to the front edge and use one less club than that yardage, even if it results in a much longer approach into the green. Avoid fairway bunkers at all costs.

3. Where's the target?

Once you spot the trouble and decide on the club and shot that will help you best avoid it, visualize the shot in your mind's eye. Draw the path from start to finish. If you're not very good at this, then focus only on where you want the ball to land. Be very specific. Picking out the “tree on the left” as your line won't get the job done. Picking out the “third limb from the bottom of the tree on the left” will. Burn the target into your brain, and keep it there until you completely finish your swing.

It's the rare pro who swings at full throttle on every tee box. Most guys out here prefer to use a control swing. Not only does it help us make centered contact more consistently, it's nice to know that we can always swing faster if we need to. As I said at the beginning of this article, learning to strike the ball with a square clubface makes you longer and more accurate at the same time. It's the true secret to taking control of your tee shots. So here's your assignment: The next time you visit the range, empty a bucket of balls while swinging at only 80 percent of your max capacity.

Since it's unlikely you know what 80 percent of your max capacity is, just go at the ball a bit slower. Even a slight decrease in swing speed will produce a noticeable difference. Use less arm turn and more body turn, and remember to keep the upper part of your left arm connected to your chest. If, after a while, you still don't feel like you're catching the ball on the center of the clubface, swing even slower. You'll know you've found your ideal pace when the ball squishes against the clubface. You'll also know you've dialed-in your ideal pace when the ball travels farther than you'd expect it to with the speed you're using. Keep practicing this swing, then add speed until you have the best of both worlds: centered contact at your max speed capacity.


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