11 Easy Tips to Improve Your Drive: From Beginner to Expert
If you’re a beginner golfer, you may think that your drive will just improve with time and practice, and that’s certainly true. However, there are some really easy ways to improve your drive immediately, whether you’re a beginner or an experienced golfer.
Most issues that all golfers struggle with are slicing or hooking the ball, but beginners struggle most with accuracy, speed, and distance. I will address all of these issues in the following tips and if you try these, you will see immediate improvement.
Probably the most common problem for beginner golfers is the length of the drive. You know that you want to get some distance under the shot, but you suspect that, if your drive is short, you must not be very strong.
This is a common misconception. While strength is important, a greater distance can be achieved with just a few adjustments to your swing.
The most important aspects of your drive are distance and accuracy. You want to drive that ball as far as you can, but it does you no good if it lands in the neighboring fairway. Two of the major directional issues, the slice and the hook, and both are problems on the fairway as well as from the tee box. Two other issues that usually occur on the tee box only are the push and the pull.
- Slice: This is when the ball curves to the right, usually caused by hitting the ball with the forward tip of the club head.
- Hook: This is the exact opposite of a slice when the ball is hit with the back tip of the club head and hooks to the left.
- Push: A push is when you hit a bit in front of the ball, pushing it away from you.
- Pull: This is when you hit behind the ball, pulling across the ball toward you, resulting in a straight hook.
1. Pick the Right Driver
First things first – you need to make sure that you have the correct driver for your height, strength, and experience level. For newer golfers, or those who struggle with consistency, you will want a golf club with a larger sweet spot, ideally a club with a 460cc head. Better golfers however, find that smaller driver heads add the control to their swing
One thing to consider is the loft (degree of angle) of the club head. Lots of golfers believe that the higher the loft the further your drive will go in the air, but a lower loft will roll further. However, this is a contentious question. For beginners, you probably want to go with a higher loft. These days, most popular drivers have a 10° angle
The shaft flex varies based on the player. Most experts suggest that the slower your swing, the more flex you want in your shaft. A graphite shaft has the most flexibility, but just keep in mind that you may sacrifice some accuracy. I recommend, as with all new clubs, that you try before you buy. You will be able to tell rather immediately if the club works for you
2. The location of the ball
The location and height of the ball are also quite important for improving your drive and fixing common errors such as the slice. If you tee the ball too high, you run the risk of either hitting behind the ball or hitting the ball with the top of the club head. In either case, your ball isn’t going very far, and in some instances may pull or hook.
If you tee the ball too low you run the risk of popping the ball too high by hitting down on the ball, resulting in a nasty backspin. Alternately, you may have trouble getting under the ball, resulting in a slice. If you consistently slice off the tee, consider lowering the height.
However, you also need to take into consideration your club. If you have a driver with a large sweet spot, then you will want to tee the ball higher than if you use a standard driver.
Golf Magazine did a study that suggests that higher tees add a lot more distance for most golfers, so this is my recommendation. Therefore, unless you have one of the issues listed in the high tee section above, try raising your tee to add distance
You also want to make sure you stand the correct distance from the ball. If you stand too close or too far from the ball, you are much more likely to slice the ball, for different reasons.
For the best results, most pros suggest that the top of the grip of your club should be 6 inches from your belly button and feel comfortable. You don’t want to feel like you’re straining or standing over the ball.
For a video tutorial on how to judge the distance between you and your ball, see the following video by PGA Pro Rafael Floriani:
You probably know the basic stance, for a drive – ball even with the lead foot, legs, shoulder width apart. However, once you’ve mastered this, there are some adjustments you can make for better accuracy
One major issue that comes from a poor stance is its width. A narrow or wide stance can cost you power and timing. When teeing off with a driver, your feet should actually be 2-3 inches wider than the length between your shoulders and you want to ensure that your feet are lined up straight with the ball, rather than pointing out.
You also want to make sure that your knees are slightly bent, but not too bent. You want them to be loose, rather than straight, but you shouldn’t feel a stress on your hamstrings. This is important because you will be shifting your weight as you swing.
PGA Golf Instructor, Dr. David Wright, has a great tip for how to determine the best width for your stance, especially to help with lowering the tension of your swing, using playing cards
PGA Pro Pete Styles explains more about stance in his video:
4. Upper Body & Head
One of the first mistakes golfers often make is to stretch their arms in an uncomfortable maneuver toward the ball. Your entire stance, including your upper body, should not feel uncomfortable.
I mentioned standing too far or too close to the ball above, but one thing to pay attention to, regarding your position relative to the ball, is the angle of your waist.
You want to lean over the ball slightly both in the setup and even more so as you address the ball. This will help you get under the ball and provide greater distance.
Another key aspect of your swing is the location of your shoulders relative to the ball.
Photo credit: mcclave
First, you need to have your arms in a straight V holding the club, with your shoulders slightly hunched. (the arms will change position during the swing, see below).
They should be tilted with your lead shoulder lower than your back shoulder. Then, during your swing, the shoulders will rotate with your chest in a smooth motion, though they should still be tilted, though ending the backswing with the lead shoulder forward.
Michael Breed has a really good video explaining the angle of the shoulders through the swing, for better distance and accuracy.
Beginner golfers often think that you just watch the ball from the moment you begin your backswing until your follow through. In fact, a recent study showed that amateurs don’t focus on the ball for nearly as long as professionals, and this makes a huge difference.
This study recommends that you focus on the ball for a full 2 seconds before you begin your backswing.
And, of course, common golf knowledge dictates that you don’t lift your head during the backswing or address, though you definitely want to do so during the follow through. One important reason to keep watching the ball is also so that you can see if your ball landed anywhere near where you were aiming so that you can make adjustments in future games.
Another study found that visualizing where you want the ball to go and focusing your sightline on that spot before focusing on the ball itself had a great impact on drive accuracy. If you keep your eye on the ball after impact, you can also get a better sense of your visualization accuracy
How you hold that driver can be the difference between a long straight drive and a whiff off the tee. You already know how to hold the club in your hands (grip). One common error golfers make is to place the handle too close to the palm of the hand.
You want to make sure that most of your grip is with the fingers, rather than the palm of the hand because this gives you greater wrist flexibility. This is true for both the lead and back hands. This will help you with distance and power.
The Golf Channel has a great tip for a more accurate swing by adjusting your grip.
6. Pre-Shot Routine
If you watch any professional golf tournament, you will notice that no golfers just walk up and swing the club. It may look a little silly, but it is very helpful to have a pre-shot routine before following through with your swing.
Photo credit: Phil Sexton
Begin by positioning yourself in the correct set up for your swing and put the head of the driver directly behind the ball. Then take a couple of steps back and try a few things:
- Waggle the club back and forth to loosen your grip and remove tension from your shoulder.
- Take a couple of practice swings, paying attention to where your club hits relative to the ball set up.
- Visualize the swing. It may sound silly, but practicing in your mind can help with confidence and lower stress and tension
- Visualize where you want the ball to go, and focus there (see step 4, above)
- Try a mindfulness exercise for focus. This will help you eliminate distractions.
What’s most important about the pre-shot routine is that you loosen up and focus, eliminating stress and distractions.
A lot of beginners believe, quite logically, that the most important part of the drive is the address and follow through, but don’t underestimate the importance of the backswing in arriving at that optimal address.
Photo credit: Neville Wootton
You will want to shift your weight to the back leg during the backswing while twisting your waist and bringing your lead shoulder down, below your back shoulder. Remember, too, that you need to keep your head down, focused on the ball
One of the major errors golfers make with their backswing is the speed. Whether it’s impatience causing you to swing back too rapidly or focus causing you to swing back too slowly, the speed of the backswing can make or break your swing.
Most golfers err on the side of a really slow backswing, which can cause you to lose momentum for the downswing, leading to a shorter drive. When you’re still a beginner and working on form and building up muscle memory, you really can’t bring the club back too slowly. But as you improve your swing, speed that backswing up a bit
Most people know that you shouldn’t backswing too quickly because you can easily lose control of the club and the proper form. Michael Breed explains the importance of a slow backswing, here.
Another issue some golfers struggle with is their arms. Remember that you want to keep your lead arm fairly straight (you can have some give in the elbows), with your back arm bent, with the elbow close to your side. When you get to the top of your backswing, however, be sure to break your wrists so that the club is behind your head.
8. Downswing and Address
There’s nothing like the sound of the club head smacking the golf ball up into the air in a straight line down the fairway. And there are lots of adjustments you can make on the downswing and at the address to make that crack sing.
One mistake golfers often make in the downswing is to rotate their back shoulder across their body, keeping them even, trying to turn only at the hips. Hunter Mahan, in Golf Magazine, suggests, instead, that you rotate your back shoulder down.
If you concentrate on this move, you will have a better aim and better lift, without having to worry about the movement of your hips or elbows because they will automatically fall in line.
He also points out that one error a lot of golfers make, especially beginners, is that when you shift your weight back to the front foot during the downswing, most of the weight shifts to your front heel.
This is logical, of course, because we naturally place our center of gravity over our arches and heels, but if you make the slight adjustment of moving your weight to the front toe, instead, you will have a much straighter and longer drive.
Another mistake a lot of golfers make in the downswing is to “throw the club at the ball.” In other words, we have a tendency to let gravity do most of the work for us, resulting in several different kinds of errors, especially in accuracy.
In Butch Harmon’s “Best Tips for Driving” article in Golf Digest, he points out the importance of keeping a steady speed on the downswing and the importance of follow through (see below). In fact, he even states that an overly aggressive swing is still preferable to a slow or less controlled downswing
Lastly, many beginners struggle with how fast to swing the club. The speed of your swing should depend on the fairway and your own personal struggles. If you have issues with hooking the ball, then you will want to slow down your swing (PGA Pro Graeme McDowell suggests 85% of your fastest swing) slightly to give you more control.
However, if you have a wide fairway and need to work on distance, swing the club as fast as you can, while still maintaining correct form.
9. Follow Through
Follow-through is crucial for distance, as well as accuracy. In fact, one of the most common causes of a hook is a lack of follow through.
If you slow down as you address the ball because you feel like your swing is coming to the end, your club head will follow suit and turn, as if at the end of the swing, and close the face.
To combat this, you want to make sure that you completely follow through with your swing until the club head is over your lead shoulder and your full chest is facing the green
Photo credit:U.S. Army
10. Practice with Drills and Exercises
The best way to improve any aspect of your game is practice, practice, practice. There are lots of drills and exercises you can do that will help your drive considerably
There are several good drills you can try, such as the following:
- Some Basic Drills
- Practice for Driver Accuracy
- The Right-Toe Drill for Fixing a Slice
- Hank Haney’s 5-Minute Slice Fix
If you’re a gym regular, try these exercises to improve your distance:
11. Get out of Your Head
The golfer’s worst enemy, by far, is his or her own self-consciousness. This is especially true if you find yourself making the same mistakes, over and over again. My grandfather used to tell me “Don’t get in the way of yourself” when teaching me to golf.
One way I interpret this, in light of the recent scientific evidence, published in Golf Magazine, is not to think so much about my body and position. You often hear golf instructors tell you to treat the club like it’s an extension of your body, and the study, mentioned above, shows that golfers who focus their attention on the club, rather than their own bodies, while swinging, show greater improvement when attempting to correct a slice.
I hope you found this list helpful. All golfers struggle with the perfect drive, and it’s important to always be on the lookout for ways to fix problems. As a beginner, you may not have known what problems you were having, just that you weren’t hitting the ball as far or as accurately as you want to.
As you play more golf, you will learn to fix these issues, and undoubtedly develop different ones. These are some of the best fixes for the most common problems.
Please include your comments or questions in the comments section, and share this article if you found it helpful