As late as 1994, my first full season on Tour, hitting greens meant owning a mean mid- and long-iron game. For the big bombers out there today it means driving the ball as far as you can — even if it finds the rough — and gouging it onto the green with a short iron or wedge. That works for guys like Tiger Woods and Vijay Singh, but not for me. I’m only 20 yards longer off the tee than I was in ’94, so most of my approach shots are still with mid- and sometimes long irons.
|Driving Distance||Driving Accuracy||Greens in Regulation|
|* Through AT&T National ** Injury year (no ranking available)|
I know very few amateurs who can drive the ball 320 yards like Tiger and Vijay, and if they do it usually lands where they can’t find it. If you want to hit more greens — and make more birdies — pattern your game after mine, which favors accuracy over distance. As you can see from my stats below, you’ll always have the best chance of hitting a green in regulation when you’re in the short grass, even if it requires a longer approach. Here’s how you can make sure your drives stay out of the rough just like mine and then make the best swing possible to knock down the pin anywhere from 75 to 200+ yards.
ACCURACY PAYS OFF
I’m usually way down on the driving-distance list, but high in the driving-accuracy ranking. That’s what helps me hit tons of greens in regulation.
1. HOW TO HIT MORE FAIRWAYS
Swing your driver like it’s your 7-iron to avoid trouble off the tee.
My three keys to splitting the fairway:
1) Know how far you hit your driver
2) Pick specific targets in the fairway
3) Slow down your swing!
Drive to a specific distance
I know I hit my driver 280 yards, but I bet you don’t know exactly how far you hit yours. On the other hand, you’d answer in a heartbeat if I asked how far you hit your 7-iron. The reason why is that you usually hit your 7-iron to a specific distance (for me, that’s 165 yards) while you hit your driver as far as you can and hope it stays in the fairway. Compared to your 7-iron swing your driving motion is too quick, too long and completely out of whack.
Here’s how to fix that and swing your driver as smoothly as you swing your 7-iron: Hit 20 drives at the range and note how far each one flies. Calculate the average — this gives you a solid driver-distance gauge. On the course, locate a spot in the fairway at that yardage and try to hit that distance, just like you would if you were hitting your 7-iron into the green. Driving to a specific distance — instead of driving for distance — keeps your swing in check and helps you stay in better balance. It’s one of the reasons you hit your 7-iron better than your driver.
FIVE MUSTS FOR FINDING THE FAIRWAY
Today’s equipment is so advanced that you don’t need a picture-perfect swing to hit the fairway. But even I struggle off the tee if I don’t follow the rules below.
1. Eye trouble At times it’s useful to find the trouble and then throttle back. The trees beyond the middle of the fairway here sit 268 yards from the tee. I’ll risk reaching them if I hit driver, but I can hit a 3-wood or hybrid all day long and always be safe.
2. Get wide If you’re able, make a “safe driving” book for your course, marking the widest section of each fairway. It could be at 200 yards or 270 yards. I do this all of the time on Tour. My book shows me the safest area when I absolutely have to hit a fairway.
3. Buy some accuracy You hit your 3-wood better than driver for one simple reason: a 3-wood has more loft. Make a switch to an 11- or 12-degree driver. The extra loft will give you more backspin, and more backspin means less sidespin. You’ll drive it straighter as a result.
4. Don’t play it too safe I always opt for the safest play unless it puts me at too large of a disadvantage. Hitting a 4-iron off the tee isn’t a good idea if it leaves you with a 4-iron into the green. I’d rather hit a driver and risk a 7-iron from the rough than face a 200-yard approach.
5. Use the marker If you’re not sure where the safest landing area is, look for the 150-yard post — it’s usually placed in a decent spot. Subtract 150 from the hole yardage to know exactly how far you should hit your drive.
Try my tempo drill
During your practice sessions, alternate hitting 7-iron and driver. Go back and forth for at least a half-bucket, trying to swing each club with the same feel and tempo. Do this for a week straight and it’ll start to sink in: a slower driver swing helps you hit the ball more solidly. In fact, you’ll start driving the ball farther with a slower swing because you’ll make contact on the sweet spot more consistently.
2. HOW TO HIT THE GREEN FROM 75 to 150 YARDS
Here’s how to follow a big drive with an accurate short approach.
My three keys to hitting it stiff from short range:
1) Learn how to adjust for spin and roll
2) Adjust your club selection accordingly
3) Fill in your distance gaps
Choose the right club
Just because a sprinkler head gives you a yardage doesn’t mean that’s the distance you should carry the ball. If I have 150 yards to a pin, for example, and I’m playing in the U.S. Open where the greens are typically hard and fast, I’ll drop from an 8-iron to a 9-iron because I know the ball is going to release like crazy. But if I’m playing at Pebble Beach in February I’ll fly my 8-iron all the way knowing that the greens are soft and the ball will hold. If you’re fighting between two short irons, you’ll find the clear-cut answer once you adjust for how the ball will react once it hits the green.
3 MUSTS FOR SHORT APPROACH SHOTS
Use my short-approach checkpoints to cozy the ball close to the pin
1. Avoid bunkers If you aren’t a very good bunker player, stay away from them. You’ll get home in two putts from 30 feet more often than you’ll get up-and-down from a greenside bunker near the pin. Play your percentages and favor getting on over getting close.
2. Go long The fronts of most greens are guarded by hazards — a hole’s last line of defense. Determine which club will clear any trouble fronting the green, then take one more club. Hitting beyond the pin is much better than hitting short into trouble.
3. Fill in the gaps Most PWs are built with 44 to 48 degrees of loft, leaving a 30-yard gap between your PW and your SW. You’ll need to make partial swings from 85 to 120 yards as a result. Weaken your iron lofts or add a 52Â° gap wedge so you can make easy full swings from these common distances.
3. HOW TO HIT THE GREEN FROM MID-RANGE
Most of your approach shots are from 150 to 200 yards. Getting on from this distance will send your greens-hit percentage through the roof.
My three keys to hitting the green from mid-range:
1) Adjust for all variables that affect distance
2) Club up and make a smoother swing
3) Favor the center of the green
Don’t rely on a perfect shot
The most important thing about hitting a green from mid-range is hitting the shot that gives you the best mathematical chance of getting on. Let’s say you have 165 yards to the pin — your perfect 7-iron distance. But how often do you hit a perfect 7-iron? Even pros don’t catch it pure every time. Making a three-quarter swing with your 6-iron is much easier.
If you don’t believe me, try this drill: Hit your 7-iron out onto the range and note where the ball lands. Hit four more 7-irons and try to hit to that same spot. Now, grab your 6-iron and do the same thing. If I’ve seen it once I’ve seen it a hundred times — you’ll hit to the marked distance more consistently with the longer club. There’s no shame in hitting a longer club than what your buddies use from the same distance if you get on the green and they end up plugged in a greenside bunker.
5 STEPS TO GETTING ON WITH A MID-IRON
Let’s say you have 175 yards to the pin. You immediately think “6-iron” but then end up 15 yards shot of the pin. Rarely is the correct club so immediately evident. Use the following checklist to adjust for all factors that affect distance and select the best club for the shot at hand.
1. Where’s the pin? Have the day’s pin sheet handy at all times. A back pin could mean hitting a full club more.
2. Where do you want to land the ball? Remember: If the greens are firm, play short.
3. How’s your lie? If you’re in an ultra-tight spot in the fairway, you’ll catch the ball a little lower on the clubface. It’ll fly hotter, so think about taking less club.
4. Is the shot uphill or downhill? Club up or down for every 20 feet of elevation change.
5. In which direction is the wind blowing? You know what to do if the wind is with you or against you, but what about a crosswind? If it’s blowing from left to right, you’ll need less club if you play a fade and more club if you play a draw.
4. HOW TO HIT THE GREEN FROM LONG RANGE
You’re left with 200+ yards to the pin. Don’t panic — my long-range-approach keys will help you get home.
My three keys to hitting the green from long range:
1) Carry the right mix of clubs. That means fewer long irons and more hybrids.
2) Make a steeper swing. Most amateurs try too hard to sweep the ball off the turf instead of hitting down on it.
3) Be realistic about your abilities; opt for the sane over the miracle shot.
The first thing to do after you’ve left yourself a long approach is to change your notion of success. As a general rule, the farther you are from the flagstick the more you should play toward the fat portion of the green. Even if this leaves you with a lengthy putt, you’re still on and have a shot at birdie and a good chance of making par. Plus, scaling down your expectations takes the pressure off, helping you make a smoother swing.
Almost every Tour pro uses this strategy, although some will try to work the ball closer by hitting a purposeful fade or draw. If you have this kind of shotmaking ability, aim for the fat portion of the green and try to bend the ball left or right toward the pin. If the ball curves like you planned, you’re in business. If not, you’re still safe in the middle of the green.
DITCH YOUR LONG IRONS
I’m a big proponent of hybrids. Most Tour pros carry at least one of them. My longest iron is a 4-iron.
A hybrid is a must-have club because it hits the ball far like a fairway wood but it has a shorter shaft, and a shorter club is much easier to control. Most of a hybrid’s weight is in the bottom of the clubhead, so it gets the ball higher into the air than a comparable long iron. An extra benefit is that a ball hit with a hybrid will land softer.
Hitting a solid hybrid is a lot like hitting your 5-iron. I adapted to them very quickly using the following keys.
1. Replace yards, not loft Buy a hybrid that produces the same distance as the iron you’re replacing, not one with the same loft. There aren’t any across-the-board standards — you’ll need to experiment.
2. Don’t lift up Keep your chest down through impact and take the same-sized divot as you would with a long iron.
3. Feel it and repeat it Before you hit the shot, make a full practice swing, finishing with your belt buckle facing the target. If your clubhead doesn’t brush the grass, make another practice swing. Brushing the grass tells you that your downswing is sufficiently steep. Never try to pick the ball cleanly off the turf.
4. Stay on top of the ball Shift your weight fully onto your front leg on your forward swing. The last thing you want to do is hang back and try to lift the ball into the air. That’s when you end up topping the shot or missing the ball altogether.
5. Swing steep to shallow Play the ball between the middle of your stance and the inside of your left heel. This allows you to swing down steeply from the top but flatten out a bit through impact.
PLAY A THREE-HOLE PRACTICE ROUND
The best advice I can give you to help you hit more greens is to get a feel for how the ball will react once it hits the green. If on the first few holes you see that the ball is running once it lands on the putting surface, play one less club than you’d usually hit and try to land the ball short of the flag. If the greens are holding or they’re giving you lots of spin, go ahead and play to the full yardage. This kind of analysis makes up a big part of a Tour pro’s practice round. Since you likely don’t have the benefit of a practice round, use the first two or three holes as your guide.
Jim Furyk just eclipsed the 15,000 greens-hit-in-regulation mark. It’s the reason why he’s currently the No. 2 ranked golfer in the world, despite winning only one major.
1993 First professional tournament win (Nike Mississippi Gulf Coast Classic)
1995 First PGA Tour win (Las Vegas Invitational)
2003 First major victory (U.S. Open) Previously had finished in the top 10 12 times in majors without ever finishing higher than fourth. At Olympia Fields, a three-putt bogey on 18 after a bogey on 17 cost him sole possession of the U.S. Open scoring record.
2005 Comeback year after wrist surgery in early 2004 (won the Western Open)
2006 Earns No. 2 World Ranking and jumps Ernie Els for the fifth spot on the career-earnings list (now $34 million)
“The best advice to help you hit more greens is to get a feel for how the ball will react once it hits the green.”