In this article we’ll look at how you can hit a driver straight and long by building a driver swing that relies less on timing and more on sound mechanics. We’ll start with basic driver swing technique and finish with some more advanced ways to think and practice.
Modern statistics show that straight and long driving has a considerable impact on scoring for pros, but the impact on scoring is even greater for amateur players wishing to improve.
On average, PGA Pros hit their drives 70 yards past a golfer who shoots 90. They also hit their drives straighter, with just 3.4º of lateral error compared to 6.5º of lateral error that an average 90’s golfer produces.
So how can you start hitting longer and straighter drives?
The following guide assumes you already have sound fundamentals (grip and posture). If you need help on these areas check out the links below:
A lot of the points we’ll discuss aim to get you into good positions earlier in your swing, creating the feeling that you have all the time in the world to crush your drives.
Great drivers swing in a way that gives them time – they make driving look effortless. Whereas, poor drivers have a swing that requires precise timing to hit the ball straight and wayward shots are often saved with late in-swing adjustments.
Let’s get going.
Setup changes with Driver
The driver is the one club that you are trying to hit on your upswing, rather than striking down. Rather than making any in-swing changes we can achieve this by tweaking our setup with driver.
The golf ball should be positioned just inside your front foot when hitting driver. Next, place a little extra weight through your back foot, which has the knock-on effect of creating a small amount of spine tilt away from your target.
These adjustments at setup pre-set the ideal impact position with driver, they also help us initiate a great backswing as shown below.
Extra driving tip at setup
Tee the golf ball high, aim to have roughly half the golf ball visible above the driver head when you are setup. A ball teed too low creates a steeper angle of attack and can prevent you correctly releasing the club head.
Wide takeaway with driver
The next step is to create a wide takeaway, turning your body and moving club head away from your target. This move winds up the large muscles around your hips and trunk and also shifts a little more weight onto your back foot.
This motion prevents another killer move amateurs have when hitting driver – they aim to transfer their weight onto their back-foot near the top of their backswing – this is too late. Pros at the top of their swing are already shifting their weight towards the target. Shift your weight early and create a solid foundation for the rest of your backswing.
Hopefully you can start to see a pattern of great driving relying on doing things earlier and creating more time later in your golf swing to swing freely.
Modern coaching leans towards a big body turn and early weight shift when hitting driver. But I must note, the amount of body turn is dependent on your physical constraints. Don’t feel you should force 90º of shoulder turn, instead aim for a turn that feels coiled and powerful to you. This might be 45º or 110º of rotation, it is the feeling you are aiming for, not a set position.
Top of backswing with driver
As you reach the top of your swing your wrists should be fully hinged, and you should continue to rotate your body to complete your backswing. The righthand image below shows the wrists are fully set just after your left arm passes 9 o’clock on a clock face.
These days there is some data to suggest setting your wrists very late in your backswing may lead to increased club head, but I still feel the method above simplifies the downswing transition and produces greater consistency.
For a strong, powerful ball flight your club face angle should be square, or slightly closed to your forearm angle at the top of your swing (shown below). This position means you have very little work to do in your downswing in order to square up the club face.
The position above is closed relative to my forearm angle, meaning it is easy to hit a draw. I’ve grown up playing this way and wouldn’t recommend it to all golfers – most golfers will perform best with a neutral position, where a line drawn along their club face runs parallel to their forearm.
Creating a neutral or strong club face position is more complex than the flat left wrist you see above. Your club face to forearm angle is a product of:
- Strength of your golf grip (left and right hands)
- Left and right wrist flexion/extension
- Left and right pronation/supination
If you suffer slicing a driver then follow the bullet points above, in order, to create a more neutral club face at the top of your swing. First check grip, next wrist angles, last forearm rotation during your backswing.
Another little tip – don’t try to alter your club face angle at the top of your swing. Instead, create your ideal position half-way back when your wrists are setting. This is far easier and more consistent than trying to alter your technique at the top of your swing.
Starting the downswing with driver
This move could be described as the nemesis of amateur golfers – how do you ‘drop it into the slot’, ‘start the downswing with the hips’… insert your own favourite line here. Shallowing out your shaft angle when starting down makes hitting driver far easier.
One of the main reasons golfers struggle with this move is because they haven’t completed the steps above early enough in their backswing. As a result, they are still floundering to set their wrists, transfer their weight…and so on.
Once you’ve built a sound backswing using the steps above, this transitions becomes a lot easier to perform. The move you are looking to achieve is one where the driver, hands and arms fall, and the shaft angle shallows.
If you struggle with this move, I have a few handy tips for you. First, I’ve never succeeded in helping a player achieve this move consistently who has a very weak grip and/or open club face at the top. Performing this move with an open club face results in a 40 to 60-yard push slice.
So please, if you slice, focus on a club face first approach. You can read more by following this link.
The looping swing drill (Matt Wolff)
Momentum is also helpful in creating this move. If you swing the club head a long way outside the desired path during your backswing, you’ll find the club wants to fall and shallow as you reach the top of your swing. Exaggerating this move for 5 reps can help your body learn what this move feels like.
Practicing this Matt Wolf style backswing can really help you get the feeling for how to shallow the driver as you start down. This feeling can be combined with the practice task of trying to hit big draws that start right of your target line. Try out the practice sequence below next time you head to the golf range:
- 5 exaggerated Matt Wolff swing
- 5 driver swing trying to hit a big draw
- 5 normal driver swing
- Repeat this cycle
Taking your time to start down
The final tip is to take your time when moving from backswing to downswing. There is a desire to rush this part of the golf swing, but you’ll find slower movements lead to better angles and more club head speed at impact.
Next, we move onto pre impact.
Pre impact square club face
If you’ve nailed the steps up to this point you are odds on to start hitting thumping drives. As the club returns parallel to the ground, we come across a great checkpoint.
If the driver head is covering in line with our hands and the toe of the club is pointing straight up we are primed to hit it straight drives.
At this point in the swing, slicers will have the club head outside their hands and the club face open (toe of the club pointing towards your chin).
Hookers of the golf ball will have the club head inside their hands and the club face very slightly closed (toe of the club pointing away from your body).
Degrees count for your ball flight
This position is well worth paying attention to. A club face that is 3º open or closed to your swing path at impact will result in a solid fade/draw and a 6º discrepancy will result in some serious ball curvature.
My point is 3-6º doesn’t look like a lot on camera, but it matters greatly to your performance. Hence why you can go from a wild driver to a super accurate driver without your golf swing looking very different.
If you build a great backswing and start down well, this pre-impact position should come naturally.
Unwind through impact when hitting a driver
A great pre-impact position, discussed above, makes the next stage very easy. Unwind your body through impact. If your swing mechanics are sound, you’ll find the harder you unwind your body through impact the straighter you hit your driver.
Again, a common misconception with beginner golfers is the need to roll their wrists or actively rotate the club head. This isn’t required if the club face is primed to hit the ball straight pre-impact. This is consistent with the theme in this article – doing things earlier in your swing gives the illusion of more time to hit great golf shots.
Balanced follow through
It is no coincidence that when you watch the best drivers in the world they hold an elegant finish, this doesn’t mean that they aren’t swinging hard. A balanced finish position is the result of great sequencing, effective delivery of power through impact and being balanced throughout their swing.
As a result, a balanced finish can been seen as a result of what came before.
Nonetheless, practicing hitting drives and holding your follow through until the ball lands is a surprisingly good way to improve your dynamic balance and sequencing throughout your golf swing. Setting your brain this challenge really changes how it organises and performs the golf swing.
Start with five smooth swings and try to hold you finish until the ball lands. Once you can hit five drives in a row with a balanced finish, begin to build up your swing speed and see if you can maintain your balance.
That wraps up the basic driver swing section, below are a few other driving tips and some more advanced concepts.
Grip pressure when hitting driver
When learning any new move in your golf swing you’ll likely grip the club harder. The motor learning theory behind this suggests the body freezes as many degrees of freedom as possible to make controlling the new movement simpler.
Longer term you’ll find that soft, relaxed arms and a gentle grip pressure results in more speed and accuracy. If you struggle with your driving and often feel tense try building a step into your pre-shot routine where you squeeze the club hard, then relax all the muscles in your hands and arms before you take the club away.
What is the ideal grip pressure?
Image you are holding and swinging a banana that you have to eat afterwards. You don’t want that banana to fly out of your hands, but it will also bruise if you squeeze it too tight.
What is the ideal launch for driver?
The ideal launch angle with driver depends on your club head speed. PGA Tour players, with an average club head speed of 112mph, create an 11.2º launch angle with 2,685 rpm. The optimal launch angle moves towards ~14º as club head speed reduces to 95mph.
The lower your club head speed, the higher your launch angle needs to be to max out distance.
Ideal impact form hitting great drives
To become an accurate driver of the golf ball you’ll need to consistently create a swing path and club face combination that gets the ball to your target. The obvious solution is a square path and square club face to your path (straight ball flight).
However, many elite players favour slight variations. It makes sense to fix a wild hook or slice. But, if you find you have a talent for replicating a soft draw or fade, there is little value in chasing a perfectly square impact position that might prove less repeatable.
Ideal angle of attack with driver
Launch monitor data tells us that striking upward 1-2º on the golf ball is optimum for energy transfer, reducing backspin and increasing driving distance. Interestingly, few tour players do this, most have a level or slightly descending angle of attack.
We can’t be sure of why, maybe this action is closer to their iron swing motion and easier to produce. Possibly, the added backspin is the ideal trade-off between max distance and a little more control (increased backspin keeps the ball flight slightly straighter).
The take home message is that a level to slightly upward angle of attack is ideal for distance optimisation. Close to this mark is good enough to make it on tour.
Advanced driving tips
Golfing performance is dependent on more than mastering a swing positions. Below are some wider performance strategies that I feel are important in becoming an exceptional driver of the golf ball.
Developing a stock shot
A stock shot is an action that may not optimised for distance, it may not look or feel pretty, but it should get the ball down the fairway and rarely land you in trouble.
Developing a stock shot requires you to work out your miss with driver, then to build setup changes and in-swing changes that prevent you ever hitting that shot. It is a highly personalised skill that comes with practice on the range and golf course.
Below is an example to help explain this concept in more detail.
In my early 20’s I struggled with a hook. If I kept the ball in play and stopped it going left, I could always compete. To help me on off-days I developed a driver swing where I gripped down the club, placed the ball further back in my stance. Then made a 3/4 backswing and did everything I could to drive my hands through impact.
I found this was the best anti-left swing I could create. These drives went 15-30 yards shorter than a full swing and came out much lower. I didn’t like hitting driver like this, but I can’t tell you how helpful this shot was for competing and scoring.
If you aim to become a great driver in all situations, then dedicate time to developing your own stock shot.
Cutting out one side of the golf course
All players miss shots both right and left with driver, but when the distribution of your misses is 50% left and 50% right, and the misses are a long way left and right driving becomes very challenging.
In contrast, great drivers are likely to hit 70% of drives in play, miss 22-25% of drives in one direction and rarely miss the opposite direction. This allows them to aim straight, or favour one side of the fairway and allow for their common miss.
The quick take home point here is that great drivers don’t always aim straight or hit it straight. It makes sense to aim slightly left or right and allow for your bad shot when you are struggling.
How do you build a golf swing with a one-way miss? Solid, repeatable swing mechanics and focusing on your club face having little rotation through impact. This topic is another article in itself, but I recommend you take note of the tips in this article and find a great, local PGA pro to help you on this quest.
How to hit a driver long and straight – Summary
That summarises this guide on how to hit your driver long and straight. Focus on those key moves, get in good positions early and then unwind through impact.
Becoming a great driver requires a blend of great technique, performance practice and great decision making in play. If you want some great ways to practice your driving, check out Will’s range challenge and Hugo’s range challenge in this article.
If you would like more articles like this one email direct to your inbox, come join the Golf Insider weekly post.
Happy golfing – Will @ Golf Insider UK
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