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Prepare for success: How to hit the driver on the first hole

Patrick WalshBy Patrick Walsh,
PGA Professional

Much of the success of our round depends on the solidness of our first tee shot. If you ask most professionals what the most important shot of their game is, the resounding response is the tee shot on the first hole. So the first place to start this season's golf tips is explaining how to hit the driver off the first tee.

Part A: How to hit the driver

Because the ball is on a tee (and with the new large headed drivers, very high on the tee) we must make some adjustments with our posture at address. First, widen your stance so you can make a sufficient move to allow your weight to transfer over the back leg in order to build power. Second, make sure your spine is tilted properly and the upper part of the spine is angled away from the target creating a low back shoulder so the placket of your shirt is set at the proper angle, not straight up and down. Third, make sure the shaft forms a straight line with the left arm and the ball is forward in the stance so you can contact the ball just as the club is beginning its upward arc. Playing the ball too far back causes you to hit down on the ball and sky shots.

Once set up is complete you focus on striking the ball. This begins with making a good move off the ball by turning the front shoulder away from the target and setting the weight over your back foot. To initiate the downward motion, bump the left hip forward while dropping the arms. Once you have shifted the momentum to the front foot rotate your back hip through the impact zone while leading with the handle. Then you allow the arms to extend as you rotate your upper torso finishing in balance over your front foot. Your chest, belt buckle, and shoelaces of your back shoe should be facing the target.

Remember, the ball is high on a tee so there is a difference between hitting irons (ball on ground) and tee shots (ball in air). You must keep your head behind the ball through impact. Imagine watching the ball leaving the face of the club with your forward eye. This will keep your head back and allow the arms to extend much more freely.

Grip tension should be relaxed so the arms can swing around the spine without any lifting motion. Think of hitting the ball with the big muscles not the little muscles in the hands.

Part B: How to prepare for success on the first tee

When warming up, once you hit the 'perfect drive' put the club away. Don't press your luck and hit another one. Take the positive thought to the tee not a negative thought of a bad swing. If it takes one shot so be it. If it takes ten shots, then put the club away after the 10th swing. Practice putting before hitting balls; don't go to the putting green after warming up just to get stiff again. Arrive at the course early enough to practice putt first then hit balls so you go to the tee ready to swing and play.

If the first hole is very tight and you don't feel comfortable using a driver then swing a three or five wood. The key is to make solid contact and if you need a club other than driver then that is what you must use. If that is the case, swing that club on the practice tee (using a tee) until you hit a really good one, then put the club away and take that thought to the first tee.

In life we always prepare for success so why not transfer that same philosophy to the golf course. Don't see the woods or lakes, only the fairway. Go to the tee with a positive thought and more importantly a positive memory of the 'one you crushed' on the range.

Once again, the keys are:

• Proper set up
• Understand the sequence of motion
• Let the power build then release at impact
• Swing within yourself so you maintain balance
• Repeat the swing you produced on the range
• Imagine the ball in the middle of the fairway

Walsh is a past champion of the Southwest Chapter, North Florida Section and two-time recipient of the Bill Strausbaugh Award. From 1993 through 2000 he played in the Callaway-Pebble Beach Invitational, featuring a limited number of invited Club Professionals, PGA Tour Professionals, Champion Tour Professionals and LPGA members. Past champions include Johnny Miller, Kirk Triplett, Jim Furyk and Robert Gamez.

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