Total Driving

Sean O'Hair's coach helps you hit it long (and down the middle) every time

So what is Total Driving? According to the PGA Tour, it’s how long and accurate a player is off the tee. It’s not an easy stat to master, but I think it’s absolutely vital to master if you want to be a good player. After all, good driving will boost your confidence.

In early March, one of my students, Sean O’Hair, put on a master class in Total Driving at the PODS Championship. (The Tour computes Total Driving by totaling a player’s rank in both driving distance and driving accuracy.) For the week, Sean finished T15 in driving accuracy and 8th in driving distance, averaging 282.6 yards. Sean won that week—his second Tour victory—and earned a trip to the Masters. I couldn’t have been more proud.

Sean’s driving was key that week, in particular because Innisbrook’s Copperhead Course was playing incredibly difficult. By getting the ball in play, he could avoid the trouble that other players were getting into._Ê

Although leading the Total Driving category doesn’t guarantee success on the PGA Tour, driving the ball long and straight (particularly, straight) will help players of all levels knock strokes off their handicaps. Although you could argue that the world’s best player doesn’t rank high in this category, Tiger does put his ball into play most of the time, and when he finds a bit of trouble, he gets out of it—fast.

The key point I want you to take away from this article is first to drive the ball in the fairway and then maximize your distance. After all, good drives allow you to play your next shot from a position that will let you make some birdies and pars.

1 Find The Perfect Posture
Stand Tall. The first step to good driving is to have a perfect posture. Without it, you’ll have to make compensations in your swing to deliver the club on its correct path. In this photo, I’ve taken my driver and am holding it parallel to my spine and flat against my back. I want the grip end of my clubshaft against my tailbone and the clubhead just above my head.

Bend From Your Hips. I often see my students misunderstand this next step, so I’ll be very clear: Bend from the hips while the club touches your back and head. If you round your shoulders or keep your legs straight, the club won’t stay in place, so flex your knees into an athletic position. If I were to let go of the club, I’d look like a shortstop awaiting a ball.

Perfect Posture. The club is back in my hands, but I haven’t lost my athletic posture. My back is flat, my knees are slightly flexed, and the angle between my chest and the club is 90 degrees. Also, notice how my belt and clubshaft are on the same plane. Use these references the next time you photograph or record your swing, or simply check your posture in a mirror.

2 Manage Your Drive
While it’s tempting to grip it and rip it, it’s more realistic to think of your drives the same way tennis players think of their second serves—with the emphasis on placement. Tiger and Phil might miss nearly half their fairways, but they have the strength and skill to get out of the rough and put enough spin on the ball to stop it on the green. I suggest playing to your strengths. In the photo, I’m teeing it up on the right side of the teebox because the hole is a dogleg right. That gives me a great angle if my natural shot shape is left to right, which is the case for most amateurs. The key point is, whether you play a draw or a fade, it’s important to play to your strengths off the tee and not attempt shots that are beyond you. Trust me, you’ll save strokes if you play it smart._Ê

Play to your strengths! Although most amateurs slice the ball, I rarely see them actually play for one. If your ballflight normally curves from left to right, consider teeing it up on the right side of the teebox. That way, you can aim to the left and let the ball find the fairway.

My lead hand is square to the target line. You can clearly see the label on my glove.

My hand (and, hence, clubface) is pointing to the right of the target line. Look out slice!

Fore left! My glove’s logo is facing way left, and that’s where the ball will go._Ê

3 Control Your Clubface
Hey, what happened to my golf club? Well, I don’t need one to demonstrate how your glove hand mirrors your clubface position during the golf swing. At impact, if the back of your glove hand faces to the right of your target line (see the center photo above), your club hasn’t released yet, so the clubface remains open (causing a slice). On the other hand, if the back of your hand points left of your target line (above, right), you released the club too soon and closed the clubface, producing a hook. To find the proper impact position, check out the top, left photo. The back of my left hand is perpendicular to my target line, pointing right down the heart of the fairway (note how you can clearly see my glove’s label). When this happens, I guarantee the clubface will be square, your shot will be straight, and you’ll hit the fairway every time. See? No club needed.

4 Optimize Your Flight
total drivingControlling your trajectory and ball spin greatly affects your distance and accuracy. Hit it too high, and you’re susceptible to the wind; hit it too low or with too much spin, and you’ll lose distance. One way to control these factors is to select the right ball for your game. The other is to know on what part of the clubface you should hit the ball. These days, it’s pretty much a given that your new driver will have a large, 460cc clubhead that works best when you hit the ball high on its clubface. Take a look at the photo. See how the ball is teed up almost higher than the club’s crown? It’s vital you tee it up that high so you can take advantage of the club’s design and find the hot spot of the clubface. Oh, and only use tall tees!

5 Hit It Long
Two things help you hit it farther: solid contact and increased clubhead speed (good equipment and a physically fit body don’t hurt either). Swinging the club on a consistent swing plane and controlling the clubface will help you achieve solid contact. Also, the winding and unwinding of the body in proper sequence will help you maximize your power. Finally, if I want an extra five or 10 yards, I make an aggressive move into and through the ball. In this photo, notice how my left leg is straight at impact? This happened because I really tried to snap my hips through the ball to create a little extra speed. If I recall, I really smashed this one down the fairway._Ê

Your lower body’s large muscles initiate the downswing. To gain a few yards, snap your hips through the ball so your left leg straightens. You’ll pick up 5 to 10 yards.

Steve Dahlby, PGA, teaches at the Golf Club Scottsdale and Forest Highlands. To learn more, visit

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