Safe Driving

John Stahlschmidt
PGA Director of Instruction
JW Marriott Camelback Golf Club
Scottsdale, AZ

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Driving the golf ball long and straight is a key ingredient to good golf. The players who drive it long and straight will have the best chance to win this year’s U.S Open, which is being played at historic Congressional on June 13th-19th. To understand this, look no farther than last year’s winner, Graeme McDowell. Graeme is in the top 15 this year in total driving – a statistic the PGA TOUR measures each week incorporating length and accuracy.

The U.S. Open is one of the few events each year that places a premium on driving the golf ball in the fairway by growing out the rough some 4-6 inches. Make no mistake, the winner of this year’s playing of the U.S. Open will be one of the most accurate drivers for the week.

With the help of Track Man, the industry’s leading launch monitor, we now know how the driver should contact the ball to maximize distance and direction. Below are two essentials in accomplishing this very feat.

Key #1: Hit the ball with a slight ascending blow.

Strike the ball when the driver is moving up, not down, and you will hit the ball farther. The reason behind this is simple, the ball leaves the driver head spinning backwards and sideways. The more the ball spins backwards, the more the ball resists air. Also, more spin will equal less roll once the ball lands. See the attached Track Man data chart to compare the two launch conditions created by an ascending blow versus a descending blow and how they influenced spin rates and total distances.

Tips for hitting the ball on the upswing:
1) Tee the ball so that half the ball or the equator is as high as the top of the driver head.
2) Play the ball off your front heel
3) Create more secondary spine angle or spine tilt. This will position your back shoulder lower than the forward shoulder.

Key #2: Strike the ball with a club head that is approaching from the inside of the target line.

The best golfers in the world are able to curve their golf ball in both directions. Having said this, a ball that draws will give you the best chance to maximize your distance. The only way to draw the ball consistently is with a swing that allows the club head to approach the ball from slightly inside the target line. Again, the reason is simple. A draw or a right to left shot for a righty will impart less spin than a fade. This fact will allow the ball to fly through the air with less resistance and allow the ball to roll more when it lands. See the attached Track Man data to compare total yards for a fade and a draw. Also, notice how the spin rates change with the different ball flights.

Tips for delivering the club from the inside:
1) Complete your shoulder turn during the backswing.
2) Make sure you start your downswing with your lower body moving first and not your upper body.
3) Feel the club head moving out to the right at and after impact – “swing to first base.”

Almost every golfer I teach on a regular basis struggles with the driver. Almost all of these golfers hit down on their driver with an over the top path. I promise that if you can fix these two elements to your driving game, you will have greater success off the tee.

John Stahlschmidt is the Head Instructor for TOUR Academy at TPC Scottsdale. Email John at