Thursday, July 7, 2011

On Demand - Hit the Fairway

The title of today's blog has a double meaning.  What if you absolutely have to hit the fairway?  What is your thought process?  What is your go-to shot?  Which club do you pull out of the bag?  Does increased pressure lead to increased focus or increased tension?  Can you hit the fairway "on demand"?

The other meaning of the title is, this blog is a request from a great player who has lost her way.  Fairways appear to be ribbons instead of I-635 with four lanes.  When she begins her pre shot routine, she doesn't see her target in the fairway, she sees the trees on the right or the water on the left.  She has replaced decision making and focus with wishing and hoping.  If it can happen to a great player like her, it can happen to you, too.
Does this narrow fairway make you nervous?  If so, read on!

What to do?  First, answer the questions in the first paragraph.  It is important for you to understand the process you are using when your back is against the wall.  Many of us see fewer options when the pressure is increased.  The game feels forced and decision making is made from a defensive standpoint or from a stance of what you don't want instead of what you do want.  The first step is taking control of the answers to those questions in a way that makes sense to you and you can rely on under pressure.  Here is an example of a thought process.

When I absolutely have to hit a fairway, I will hit a high cut with my driver.  I pick a point out just left of center on the fairway and visualize the ball starting on that line and working softly to the center of the fairway.  Once I have the mental picture, my routine will serve to get me aimed correctly and I will make a little practice swing to get the feel of the swing I will put on the ball.  I trust my driver to hit the shot.  With the visualization, I will be comfortable with my shot and focus on letting it happen.  

How would you answer the questions?  I urge you to actually write it out so you can refer to it when you practice and see if it is correct or if you need to adjust it.  Here is a great article about Tom Lehman's go to shot and includes some drills by Jim Flick for better driving of the ball at the end. 

Okay, so I hear you out there telling me you don't have a go-to shot.  In fact, the reason you don't hit fairways is because your ball goes everywhere, not just one direction or it goes one direction really hard.  Hitting fairways is tough when you don't have control of your club face or your swing in general.  Instead of writing about controlling your ball flight, you probably need to go take a lesson.  Also, it wouldn't hurt you to have a clear understanding of what you are trying to accomplish with the swing and the club face, so check out my blog on the D plane and go from there.  This blog isn't the place to fix a swing. However, it can be a place to show you what great players do to make things easier under pressure.
How will the pros handle the obstacles at Royal St. George next week in the British Open?

The scariest feeling in golf is standing over the ball with no clue how it will fly.  The driver is often the scariest club in the bag for just this reason.  Can you hit a 3 wood straighter?  If so, pull the 3 wood out of the bag under pressure.  If the 3 wood doesn't work, try a hybrid.  Don't let pride get in the way of your decision making.  One of the first things you notice when you look at the scorecards of touring pros is, they don't make many doubles or higher.  That is due to the fact that they keep the ball in play.

When I was coaching at A&M, one of the guys on the men's team was Ryan Dreyer.  He was a talented player from South Africa.  I learned a lot from Ryan about doing what you can on the golf course and not trying for more.  While playing for the Aggies, Ryan played Butler National, a very long course, with a 5 iron off the tee all day long.  That was the only club he could put in play.  He made a score that helped his team by accepting what he could do and relying on his short game to score.  Ryan is now playing poker for a living and doing well with that also, so I guess his attitude of weighing risk and reward are still working for him.

Next, if you are having trouble keeping the ball in play, are you picking a shot that you can see, feel and execute?  Prior to hitting your tee shot, you should be able to visualize the shot in some way.  Some people connect with the landing point, some see the ball flight before it happens and some see themselves successfully hitting the shot.  After seeing it in your mind's eye, now you need to feel it.  It doesn't have to be a practice swing, but can merely be you imagining that you are hitting it on target.  Imagery is such a powerful tool that you can feel your muscles twitch when you are feeling the swing.  This is the level of commitment needed prior to hitting your drive.  You need to see the shot in your mind, feel the shot and then allow the power of your visualization and imagery to let it happen.
Did Ty have something when he said, “There’s a force in the universe that makes things happen. And all you have to do is get in touch with it, stop thinking, let things happen, and be the ball”.

Finally, when you are working on hitting fairways, your level of "try" needs to be at its optimum for performance.  If your driver is straying from the fairway, gripping it tighter or swinging with tension will not help you.  A guided tee shot rarely works under pressure.  The next time you have a great day on the course, a great hole or even a great shot, ask yourself how hard you were trying and rate it on a scale of 1-10.  Most tour players keep their "try" level at about 4-6.  Anything lower than 4 isn't determined enough and anything above 6 often causes tension.  Learning how to recognize it when you slip from your optimal zone for trying is the first step and putting yourself in the right frame of mind for performance is the next step.  Executing the shot is the final step.

Keep stats on your fairway hits and see if you have any trends.  Do you hit more fairways at the beginning of your rounds or at the end?  Do you miss fairways right or left?  Do you miss fairways on par 5's due to overswinging?  Learn from your tendencies and make adjustments to your game.

Your driver sets the tone for the hole.  Learning to hit fairways is a step toward consistently scoring well.  Work on these steps of having a go-to shot, learning to keep the ball in play however possible, seeing and feeling the drive prior to hitting it and keeping your "try" level at its optimum level.

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