Welcome to Play Smart, a regular GOLF.com game-improvement column that will help you play smarter, better golf.
Viktor Hovland ranks No. 6 on the PGA Tour in Strokes Gaines: Off-the-Tee, so it’s safe to say he’s quite comfortable using driver.
Most amateurs on the other hand? Well, many struggle with grip, setup, alignment and even swing thoughts, making it a struggle to consistently hit solid drives. When we feel like we should be better, it can throw off an entire round, causing frustration and golf anxiety.
As GOLF’s July cover star, Hovland recently caught up with our own Dylan Dethier to talk through a variety of golf topics — one of which is a tip that will help amateurs hit better shots with their drivers.
In today’s Play Smart lesson, Hovland gives his advice to the Average Joe when using driver. By following some of his tips, you may finally stop slicing and start seeing longer, straighter drives.
Low rate of closure
The key to hitting bombs with the driver is clubhead speed and having the clubface square at impact. When this doesn’t happen, hitting off the toe or heel of the club can occur — which will either result in a disastrous hook or ugly slice.
For Hovland, he has the ability to keep the face square all the way through impact.
At the top of his swing, Hovland says his left wrist will be a little flexed, the clubface is pointing up towards the air, and his arms aren’t very deep.
“My clubface does not go super open to super closed quickly; it stays square throughout the golf swing,” he says. “I kind of have high arms in the backswing.”
By understanding his swing tendencies, Hovland is able to assess how to properly play his shot, saying he’ll often find himself either aiming way left or way right — but still seeing the result he wants.
“On some holes, I knew I was going to aim it towards the left trees because, if I just hit my normal shot, that’s going to be in the fairway,” he says. “I think playing like that makes it a little bit easier for you.”
Limit lateral movement
Another factor that makes Hovland so good with the driver is the ability to restrict his lateral movement.
“I don’t have a lot of lateral movement,” he says. “A lot of the great players have lateral movement — which is not necessarily a bad thing — but, too much, and if you don’t get the proper tilt, you’re going to hit down on the ball.”
Hovland mentions all-time great golfers like Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus having lateral movement, but then explains how he sees great results without incorporating such swing action.
“If you watch my left arm and my left shoulder, it will pull up. That’s how you get the club up out of the ground and you hit up on the ball.”
When asked about an alternative move he uses, Hovland says he pivots around his back foot and bends down a bit more.
“I’m still moving forward, but I can’t move too far forward because my arms; as I said, I don’t have a lot of depth,” he mentions. “So I pivot more around my right foot, which is still fine because I get a lot of side bend.
“You see my left shoulder kind of going really up in the air, and that’s kind of how I make it work.”
Have a game plan
For many amateurs, negative swing thoughts can make everything go sideways. Even if they do everything else right physically, the result is poor from overthinking (which can cause added tension on the club).
This is where Hovland says having a plan is important, understanding what you want to focus on as you take your swing.
“I want to kind of stay back a little bit, and still get my body forward, but kind of pivot a little more on the right foot and get that left shoulder up in the air. So that’s all that I’m kind of thinking about right now.”
And when he has the mechanical part of his swing going well, he can confidently use his driver with fantastic results.
“When I’m playing my best golf, it almost feels like I have a wall down the left side of the fairway, and I can just try to hit it up against the wall; and it always comes off of it.”
How to limit slicing the driver
Finally, Hovland says it’s possible for amateur golfers to avoid slicing off the tee, but they need to accept the fact that they don’t have the athletic abilities of pro golfers.
“If you just sit at a desk all day and you try to ‘hit bombs’, most guys come over the top,” he says. “If you struggle with a slice, a good feeling for most people is actually to kind of move forward with the pelvis so they can allow some side bend in there.”
So if you’re slicing the ball off the tee with your driver, Hovland says be sure to get some added side bend as you make ball contact.
“They exaggerate this pelvis movement, kind of getting it away from the body. Now you’re rotated, but if you don’t have any side bend in there, your path is just going to go straight to the left.”
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