Master the Tee Box: Top Tips to Become a Fairway Finder
Although improving your short game is often promoted as the quickest way to get your handicap moving south, there's an undeniable benefit to be gained from working on your ability to find the fairway from the tee box.
You might be one of the few golfers with a solid ability to escape gnarly rough and a knack for scrambling well around the green, and perhaps these two traits combine to help you shoot good scores despite wayward driving. If so, that's great. You do you. For the rest of us, keeping it in the short grass as much as possible makes sense.
When your ball comes to rest in the fairway, it generally means a good lie, an unimpeded line into the green and a chance to make par (or better).
To help improve your fairways in regulation (FIR) percentage each round, we've gathered a collection of tips to help you find position A from the tee. When you straighten up those tee shots, lower scores should naturally follow.
How many fairways do you need to hit?
When it comes to FIR %, while it may be admirable to aim for 14/14 fairways hit during a round, we would all likely agree that's an unrealistic target. Finding enough fairways for your handicap level - or your desired handicap - will provide the foundation for a good score. At the same time, any underperformance will put pressure on the other areas of your game to pick up the slack.
As a general rule of thumb for the average golfer, if you can hit 50% of fairways, you'll be giving yourself a great shot at beating your handicap. A 20-handicapper is more likely to be around the 40% mark, and low handicappers are up towards the high 50s or as much as 60%.
And while the number of fairways you have missed might be less of a concern than the severity of those misses, there's no doubt that finding the short stuff more often will only help you score well.
Utilise your Hole19 app
Before we get into the actual improvements you can make, it's vital to understand your current performance from the tee box. Straight off the bat, let's highlight some of the data you already have at your fingertips within your Hole19 app.
Head over to the Performance tab to get an idea of your recent driving performance. Here you'll find your saved rounds. Click on each round to get an indication of your Driving Accuracy which will show FIR % and the percentage of shots which missed left, right or 'other'.
Premium Hole19 members get the added benefit of being able to review their Overall Stats at a glance. Here you'll be able to see your overall driving performance, and you can see whether your miss is more likely to be to the left (hook for the right-hander) or to the right (slice for the right-hander).
During your round, before selecting your club on each tee box, preview the hole layout and consider fairway bunkers and other hazards that may be hidden from view. Add in the accurate GPS yardages, and you'll be in a good spot to choose your next club confidently.
Make the tee markers your friend
As amateur golfers, we can all be guilty of not using the tee box to our advantage, but where you tee the ball up can massively increase your chances of finding the fairway.
Use the full width to help you select a favourable tee position and one that best suits your shot shape and the hole's layout. It will give you the best angle to find the fairway and help you take trouble out of the equation, giving you the best chance of an unimpeded approach shot.
If you tend to slice the ball, it would make sense to tee up on the far right side of the tee box and aim to the left side of the fairway. If you're more prone to a hook, tee up on the far left side and aim towards the right.
Don't neglect your ball position (and alignment)
Focusing on a tricky tee shot can take your focus away from your golf fundamentals and your pre-shot routine. Before you know it, ball position and alignment could be a little off, and this can impact the outcome of the strike.
If you have the ball position out of kilter, your body may compensate on the way back down into impact leading to a whole host of possible outcomes (apart from the one you were after).
Also, how you position your shoulders, forearms, hips and feet can have a huge bearing on your golf shot, as correct alignment ensures that your body is free to move how it should within the golf swing.
Take the time to employ your pre-shot routine, and don't just assume the ball is in the correct position and you're appropriately aligned. Ensure you take the same approach at the range before hitting each ball. Before you know it, pre-shot oversights should become a thing of the past.
Have a stock shot
When the pressure is on, do you have a stock shot that you can rely on? If you've answered no, you should spend some time at the range finding yours.
Being able to hit a draw or a fade on demand can be quite liberating as a golfer. If you're tired of not knowing which way your golf ball will fly, taking time to develop one particular shot shape can help you down the stretch.
Any time you're feeling the heat, it's comforting to know that you have a go-to shot in your locker. It could be a little draw, maybe a baby fade, or a straight shot; the shape isn't important. The key is that you can reproduce the same swing at will when you're feeling tense or stressed on the golf course.
Whether during the back 9 of your weekly medal, the closing few holes when you're on for beating your handicap, or even after coming off a couple of bad holes, the stock shot can help inject some confidence into your play.
Driving range tip: Get ten balls and pick a target in the distance to use as a centreline (or put an alignment stick in the ground). Depending on your go-to shot's shape, you will want to start left or right and draw or fade it back without ever crossing that centreline. It will take some time to really ingrain the shot shape.
Being able to hit a shot that starts one way and then curves back toward the target on demand is a skill which will stand you in good stead throughout your golfing journey.
Visualisation is key
How can you tell whether you've hit the shot you were looking for, if you don't see it in your mind's eye before striking the ball? It's an interesting question, and you'll find plenty of examples of elite sports stars who swear by the power of visualisation.
Creating a mental image of what you want to achieve before you address the ball is an approach which can lead to powerful results. By simply training your brain to see the desired outcome, you can calm your nerves, take your focus away from the million-and-one swing thoughts buzzing through your head, and generally feel more confident and 'in the zone'.
When pro golfers step in behind their ball, they do so to sort out their aim and alignment, but most will be picturing the ball flight too. They visualise the desired trajectory before addressing the ball because it often helps the body instinctively get into position to hit that golf shot.
The subconscious mind doesn't know the difference between real and imagined actions. When you visualise hitting a golf shot, you will stimulate the same muscles required to perform that action in reality. So get in behind your ball and pick a specific target in the distance before imagining yourself pulling off the perfect shot in your mind.
You could be surprised how this simple mental change could revolutionise your game. Of course, in this article, we're considering tips to find more fairways, but it could be just as readily employed in your short game and on the greens.
Use your driver intelligently
We know how tempting it can be to hit driver on most golf holes. If your playing partners are all going for a risky play with the big stick, it's easy to give in to peer pressure and join the 'grip it and rip it' club. The smarter approach would be to choose the right moment to reach for less club - and not let others sway your judgement.
Whether it be a short hole where a long iron will still leave a comfortable full shot in, or a hole where driver would bring trouble into play, reaching for one of your woods, a hybrid, or even a long iron can put you in better shape.
Again, previewing the hole layout on your Hole19 app will be great for identifying the potential pitfalls up ahead. With more information at your disposal, you will make better decisions. If that decision is to leave the big dog in the bag, go with it.
Ride the wind
Don't forget to take account of the wind before hitting your tee shot. In the wind, straight shots aren't possible. The ball will be affected in some way or another, so it's best to try and use it to your advantage.
If it's particularly gusty, and you're not confident of being able to control the flight, try to keep the ball under the wind. Not sure how to hit the golf ball on a lower trajectory? No worries. Check out our recent article on mastering four main shot shapes.
Finally... missing the fairway isn't a catastrophe
If you find trouble from the tee, it's not the end of the world. What matters is your response to such a situation. Often it pays to exercise restraint and take your medicine.
When they find a cluster of trees, PGA Tour professionals card bogey or worse, 80% of the time, let's think about that for a minute... 80% of the time! Any mid-high handicap golfer who is faced with a similar situation and believes they have spied a tiny gap to 'thread the needle', 9 times out of 10, they'll be left wishing they had punched out.
Increasing the number of fairways you hit is one step towards a more complete golf game, but if all that good work is undone through questionable decision-making, your game improvement will be a slower process overall.
If you're on the last couple of holes of your club's weekly comp, and you need a birdie or two to tie the lead, then sure, go for it. In almost every other situation, get the ball back in play and try to scramble your par or make bogey to keep your round ticking along.
If you enjoyed this article, take a look at our tips on how to flush your ball from tricky lies. You can read it here.