Everyone needs a tee shot they can rely on. It’s not necessarily the longest drive, it’s the one you’re sure you can put in the fairway when you can’t afford to be in the rough. I had one of those situations last year on the first hole of a sudden-death playoff with Minjee Lee at the LPGA Mediheal Championship. — with E. Michael Johnson
The 18th at Lake Merced in San Francisco is a par 5, so the odds were pretty good I would need a birdie or I’d lose. I went to my go-to tee shot, a baby draw, and split the fairway. Then I hit my 3-wood to three feet, setting up an eagle and the win—my first in almost two years.
Most people focused on that 3-wood, but it was the tee shot that set the whole thing up. If you’re looking for a driver swing you can rely on, let me show you how I hit this shot.
“To hit a good shot under pressure, you want as little movement as possible.”
1. BE IN CONTROL
When I don’t need to hit a drive as far as I can, and accuracy is way more important, I grip down on the handle of the club. I don’t grip it at the end of the club normally anyway, but I go even farther down for my go-to drive—nearly double the amount, about the width of two fingers. Shortening the length of your club increases your chance of having good control.
2. PUT YOURSELF AT EASE
You need to have a pre-shot routine. For me, that’s a short move back with the club—my version of a waggle. You can do whatever you want for your routine, but make sure you’re consistent. Having a routine helps keep me relaxed and in control when the heat is on, whether that’s the last hole of a major or a big spot in a friendly match. We all feel pressure. It’s the golfers who know how to deal with it who tend to perform the best when they’re stressed. So do something that turns the situation from stressful to just another routine shot.
3. SWING WITH EFFICIENCY
For my go-to drive, I focus on making a smooth and controlled swing—no excessive movement. I used to sway away from the target in my backswing for more power, but that made it difficult to get back to the ball with the face square or slightly closed. My instructor, Ted Oh, helped me get rid of that move, and I find it so much easier to control the clubface now. It’s also important to relax—mentally and physically. You’re not trying to rip one. Instead, make a swing that’s unhurried, in sequence and has great balance and tempo.
4. FINISH GRACEFULLY
A key indicator you made a good swing is how you finished it. If you’re off balance at the end, you probably weren’t in control during the swing. Notice how my upper body and hips are facing the target, and not rotated past that point. That’s a sign I made a smooth through-swing. Also, my left leg is nice and straight, and my right toe is sticking into the ground. That means I’m in balance. Finally, notice my eyes are looking straight ahead. That’s because I was confident my drive would split the fairway. Now onto the second shot.
LYDIA KO is a 15-time winner on the LPGA Tour and the 2015 LPGA Player of the Year. She spent 85 weeks at No. 1 on the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings.