I don’t know any golfers, with one or two exceptions, who paid $200 for a putter, but I know dozens who laid down $400 for a driver. Golfers may realize intellectually that pinpoint putting wins golf matches, but nothing gets the old testosterone flowing like a booming drive that sails over the horizon.
But you need more than just an extended line of credit if you want to bomb it off the tee, so I asked 2007 Met PGA Player of the Year Tony DeMaria to show us how to drive like the big boys. An Assistant Pro at Harrison’s Willow Ridge Country Club, DeMaria says you should begin by putting the steroids back in the medicine cabinet and stop swinging as hard as you possibly can.
“Swing at about seventy-five percent of your maximum effort—the ball will go farther,” he explains. It’s counterintuitive, but a moderate, well-paced swing will lead to more solid contact, which means you’ll hit the sweet spot on the club face more often and launch the ball on a straighter line. Besides, straight drives go farther even if they don’t fly farther because balls don’t roll at all in the rough, but they do in the fairway. “You may swing harder and hit the ball twenty yards farther,” DeMaria points out. “But if it’s twenty yards into the trees on the right, you’re dead.”
But first things first. Before you swing that cantaloupe on a stick you call a driver, you have to address the ball. DeMaria says you should tee the ball so its equator is even with the top of your club or even a little above. The modern, large-headed driver is meant to produce a high trajectory. Even with a bigger sweet spot, the “sweetest” place on the face is in the upper half.
Then align your feet, knees, hips, and shoulders with the intended line of flight and place the ball opposite your front heel. When you practice, lay a club between the ball and your feet to set up this line. Check the width of your stance—the inside of your feet should be in line with your shoulders. “Center your weight over your feet, so you’re nice and stable,” DeMaria says. “You don’t want to be too much on your toes or heels.”
Now, flex your knees slightly and bend forward a bit from your hips. Lean so that your shoulders are just over your toes. “Now, let your arms hang softly,” he says. “Wherever they hang, that’s the proper place to hold the club. You don’t want to reach too far out and you don’t want to pull the butt of the club into your body.” Take your normal grip—strong or weak, whatever brings the club face into the ball squarely.
“After the setup, it’s really about making a nice turn with a good tempo,” says DeMaria. “I think of the tempo as counting, â€˜one-and-two’. â€˜One’ is the takeaway, â€˜and’ is the slight pause at the top where you change direction, and â€˜two’ is the downswing.”
DeMaria says the speed of your takeaway isn’t too important because everybody is different. “The main thing is to apply the power at the bottom of the swing, not at the top.” How do you do that? “The lower body has to lead. The legs move first, followed by the hips, shoulders, arms, and finally the wrists and hands.” Bio-mechanically, centrifugal force moves each body part faster than the one before it, which produces the club speed you need to bomb it down the fairway. When DeMaria swings, the whoosh of his club builds to a crescendo at the moment of impact.
Finally, relax! Tension is a huge power-killer. To keep your hands and arms loose, try hovering the club behind the ball rather than putting the sole of it on the ground before you start your takeaway.
You’ll know you’ve swung the driver well if your follow-through leaves you standing balanced and poised on your forward leg with your belt-buckle pointed at the target. It’s almost impossible to hit that pose if you’ve swung as hard as you canâ€¦or lunged from the topâ€¦or tried to lift the ball into the air by shifting your weight to the rightâ€¦orâ€¦