Why you should almost always hit driver off the tee

Hitting driver often yields the lowest scoring average.

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A common mistake players make when considering strategic options off the tee is comparing one outcome directly to another.

I’m sure you’ve heard someone say, “I’d rather be 150 in the fairway than 120 in the rough.” This statement, on average, is true, but it’s also like saying, “When I hit on 17 in blackjack, I’d rather get a four than a two.” It’s true, sure, but not useful because there is an entire range of possible outcomes that can happen. After all, you could hit on 17, not bust and still lose. 

Courtesy Pinehurst Resort

It’s the same in golf, which is why I’ve pulled up the 7th hole at Pinehurst No. 2 as an example. It’s a short hole — just 358 yards — and when I played it during the 1999 U.S. Open I thought I was being so smart by hitting an iron off the tee, trying to “get it in play.” What I now know, and teach as part of my DECADE Golf system, is that I was evaluating the trade-offs all wrong. When you’re trying to decide what to do off the tee, think about all the different places your ball may end up and go with the option that gives the lowest overall stroke average. 

For example, when you hit less club off the tee to get it in play, you’ll typically hit slightly more fairways—about 15 percent more. However, you’ll also be 30 to 50 yards farther away on 100 percent of your next shots. 

layup
These 2 charts show why laying up is rarely the correct play
By: Nick Clearwater, GOLFTEC VP of Instruction

That’s a bad trade.

If I was advising a player who hits the ball about 240 yards with their driver, I would tell them to aim so their average shot (not their good shot) finishes just left of the small pot bunker on the right side of the 7th fairway and to send it with the big stick. The grid you see is one I use with my players and represents the places where your drive may end up if you take what some people would say is an aggressive line. 

If you miss your ball slightly left, either short or long (as golfers do about 50 percent of the time), you’ll still be in perfect position — better than anywhere a good iron shot will have left you. If you hit an average shot, you’ll have just under 150 yards in. The trade-off is that if you hit your driver slightly to the right, you’ll pretty much be guaranteed bogey. But that outcome will also be in a better spot than a bad shot with an iron. Overall, you’ll come out ahead. It’s basic weighted average math. Use it to stack the deck in your favor. 

Scott Fawcett is the creator of the DECADE Course Management system and app.

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