Take control off the tee

     

I’ve tried to strike a balance between power and control–both on the golf course and off it. Outside the ropes, I’ve become more involved in every aspect of my career. Inside them, I’m more determined than ever to reach every goal I’ve set for myself. When it comes to my swing, I know I can hit the ball as well as ever. It’s just a matter of trusting it and taking control of my ball flight. For me, it all starts with the tee ball. On the next few pages, I’ll show you my strategies and techniques for hitting the shots I rely on most off the tee–the high-flyer and stinger with the driver and, when I need more precision, the fade and draw with the 3-wood. Of course, if you saw me play last year, you know that I struggled at times with some of these shots. Rehabbing from off-season knee surgery, I couldn’t go after the ball like I wanted. But lately I’m seeing some more positive results–like winning six straight matches on my way to victory at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. I’ll show you how to hit these shots–and how to take control of your own game.

Tee it lower for more accuracy

Though many golfers are better off teeing the ball higher to hit it farther, I discovered early in my career that teeing the ball low increased my accuracy off the tee. Keeping the club short of parallel on the backswing also helps with control. I make sure I have a nice, wide arc on my backswing and feel that I’m taking the club back a little more upright with my arms. I want a similar feeling on my through swing. That combination helps me hit tee shots that find the fairway–something very important on the long, tight driving holes at U.S. Opens.

HIGH DRIVE

Square the face with good sequencing

One of the keys to my swing is proper sequencing, especially on the downswing. My lower body leads the way, followed by my shoulders, arms and hands. The proper sequencing allows me to square the clubface, with the right loft at impact. My hips turn through the .shot to a full finish–belt buckle pointing toward my target–whether I’m hitting a draw or the high fade I’m playing here on the 18th at Augusta in 2001.

Release the club with hand speed

To produce a soaring shot, I keep my head behind the ball. That helps me release the club more fully with my hands. I also accelerate through the shot, especially with the hands. Releasing the club with more hand speed will carry you to a fuller follow-through.

STINGER DRIVE

Use the stinger to cheat the wind

The driver stinger is a natural progression from my 2-iron stinger and just as effective in windy conditions. It’s also great for tight fairways. I tee the ball a little lower than normal and play it toward the middle of my stance, which helps lower the trajectory. I flex my knees more than usual, which lowers my center of gravity and allows me to get on top of the ball through impact. I like to feel as though the emblem on my glove points to the ground through impact, and the clubhead extends straight down the target line after impact to an abbreviated finish.

JEFF SYLVIA

HANDICAP: 1

KISSIMMEE, FLA.

I’m a high-ball hitter, and sometimes I really struggle on windy days. My normal bail flight with the driver is a little high even when I tee the ball down. If I could master Tiger’s stinger, that’d be great–I’d have a valuable new shot. I had never tried it with the driver before, but it definitely brought my ball flight down to a low, piercing trajectory. I felt like I could control the ball better, too. I carried it about 260 yards, and I could work the ball both ways. I loved it.

CHRIS GELNAW

HANDICAP: 12

LEXINGTON, MASS.

I’ve seen Tiger hit the 2-iron stinger, but I didn’t know he hit it with the driver, too. I figured if it works for him, I might as well give it a try. The first five or six swings resulted in a couple of tops, a duck hook and a few low bananas. On the last three, though, I concentrated on really firing my hips through impact, and that seemed to help me square the clubface. On my last try, I hit a bullet that carried about 200 yards and rolled out pretty good.

3-WOOD DRAW

For a draw, let the right wrist rotate

Swinging the club along a slightly closed stance flattens out your swing, crucial for working the ball right to left. Another key is allowing your hands to release through impact so that the club goes down the target line. The right wrist will rotate over the left one naturally. Your weight stays behind the ball a little so that your arms can release. I like to pick out a target in the distance right of my ultimate target and a spot a few feet in front of my ball in alignment with that initial target. Then I swing down that target line into a nice, full finish.

Shape shot with foot alignment

The player who can shape a tee shot has a definite advantage. The key is making it happen with your swing path and not your hands–especially when it comes to the 3-wood. After all, you’re using that club to stay in control on a tight hole. To hit a 3-wood draw, I set up with the ball slightly forward in a slightly closed stance. Then I take the club back along my foot alignment, which promotes an inside swing path. Because my downswing mirrors my back-swing, I impart right-to-left spin on the ball, which produces about a five-yard draw.

3-WOOD FADE

Bow left wrist for a controlled fade

I’ve really worked hard on building enough strength to hit certain shots while staying in balance. The bowed-wrist controlled-fade is one of them, I set up with the ball an inch or two inside my left foot and my stance slightly open. Then I swing the club along my foot line and bow my left wrist toward the target at impact. That enables me to hold my release of the clubhead a fraction longer through impact. The bowed wrist makes my finish appear shorter, but that’s from not releasing the club fully through the shot. It’s the perfect play for a short, tight dogleg right.

Your swing path turns ball from left to right

Working the ball off the tee has become a necessity with the way courses are set up today. You must be able to find the fairway with your drive and land the ball on the side of the fairway that gives you the best approach to the green. The soft fade is probably the most accurate shot in my arsenal, the one I rely on when I absolutely must hit a fairway. Think of the fade as a draw in reverse and you get a pretty good idea of how I play it, aiming left of my target and letting my swing path turn the ball left to right.

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