Play Smart: Staying out of big trouble off the tee
Find the fairway from the tee is supposedly one of golf's most important assignments; yet at the time of writing only one of the world's top five golfers is in the PGA Tour's top 100 for fairways hit.
Justin Thomas, who just became the World No.1, is the lowest ranked of the World's top five at No.144 on Tour - having hit 57.74% of fairways in 53 rounds measured. Justin Rose is the best of them at No.72, hitting 62.61% of fairways, while Dustin Johnson is ranked 117 (59.65%), Jordan Spieth is 102 (60.79%) and John Rahm is 121 (59.57%).
So how can we make sense of this confusing state of affairs, and what does it mean for your own tee game? Follow this guide to find out...
#1: Find Fairways Is Overrated, Sort Of...
Well, perhaps a better way of looking at tee game accuracy is that not all missed fairways count equally. To take an extreme example, a ball sitting in semi-rough two yards off the fairway and a snap hook out of bounds both count as a missed fairway, but their repercussions are massively different.
As the world's best golfers are showing us, the key to driving isn't so much finding the fairway as staying out of big trouble.
#2: So How Do I Do That?
One of the best ways is to develop a consistent and dependable shape. When you know which way the ball is going to curve through the air, you can make better strategic decisions and approach the shot with more confidence.
If you are stood over the ball not knowing whether it's going to go left or right, that fairway looks mighty narrow. If this sounds like you, work with your local PGA pro to find a shape that takes one side of the course out of play.
#3:Are There Times When I Should Actually Be Aiming Away From The Fairway?
Arguably yes, and this drive is a good example. A combination of a slight right-to-left dog-leg, dense foliage to the left and a fairway cambering down towards it makes trying to drive up the middle a risk; turn it over at all and you could be completely blocked out for your second.
Instead, aiming up the right edge of fairway makes more sense, even if you do court missing the fairway. You will have opened up the hole and are guaranteed an unobstructed swing.
#4: But There's Sand Up There, And Potentially Thick Rough
Your ideal aim and shot would of course be inside the rough and bunkers, but what we are saying here is that a miss on this side will be less penal than missing the fairway left. You can always select a club either to carry the bunkers or fall short.
As for the rough, its severity will vary from course to course, but unless it is very thick it should not put you off changing your focus to a safer line off the tee.
#5: Does Placing Less Emphasis On Finding The Fairway Mean That, As A Rule, I can be more aggressive off the tee?
Absolutely, as long as you can keep the ball between the tree lines and your misses aren't seriously hurting you. Jack Nicklaus once said he'd rather be in the rough and 40 yards ahead of anyone else and those top five, bombers to a man, are testimony to this approach.
A longer drive also means a more lofted iron for your approach, and that extra loft and steeper attack go a long way to neutralising the problems posed by rough.