The Tee Ball


The tee ball: we crush it, or it crushes us. No full-swing shot causes more joy or more angst, sometimes within the same four-second period.
The good news is that modern equipment offers more options than ever for getting the ball into play off the tee. Between drivers (traditional and new geometries), fairway woods and hybrids, the tee toolbox is wonderfully full. Herewith, some thoughts on using the latest technology to accomplish one of golfs most hallowed ' and harrowing ' tasks.
Whats the Goal? It pays to step back for a moment and think about what were trying to do with a tee shot. Anyone who has been around this highly strategic sport for awhile knows that no shot exists in a vacuum ' each one is either a preparation for the next or a reaction to the last, or both. Although the most public aspect of the tee shot is the distance it will fly, good players know that where the ball comes to rest is at least as important as how far it went to get there. Especially on good golf courses designed to challenge your second shot, placing the tee shot is paramount. It may require raw force or restraint. Thats one of the key attractions of the game.
Thats Great, Perfesser. Now Shut Yer Pie Hole and Tell Me How to Bust It. Fair enough. The best players are usually also quite long. This is where modern drivers come in. Over the last five years, a sea change ' no, an air change ' has occurred in the way we think about what a driver should do. Instead of a low, penetrating flight that bores through like a cruise missile, even the best players have come to want more air under the ball. Parabolic trajectories, once thought to invite ballooning and loss of distance, are now the rage. We have modern golf balls to thank for that. They spin less off drivers, and therefore are less subject to that annoying ballooning in the second half of flight.
So the important thing in choosing a driver head to go with modern balls is to get enough loft. Get the ball up. The longer its in the air, the farther its going to go. There is a limit to this, of course; youre not an NFL punter who needs to hang it up while the other ten guys get downfield. But in general, recreational players need to hit their drives higher. Stick with lofts above 10 degrees, and consider as much as 13 degrees. Get your local PGA pro or clubfitter to put you on a launch monitor to make sure youre getting at least 14 degrees of launch angle. (Some folks can go as low as 11, but err on the high side.) Youll find yourself getting more distance.
And yes, the shaft plays a big role in this. Most of us can benefit from a softer shaft that flexes lower (that is, more toward the clubhead), encouraging the ball to get up quicker. If you find yourself hitting it left with a good swing, consider a lower torque model, or take a step up in flex, perhaps to stiff. New interchangeable shaft systems can help with the trial process, so it will be easier to go stiffer or lower torque while avoiding a clangy or boardy feel.
But avoid copying pro specs. Most touring pros swing extra stiff (X) flex shafts, and most of us cannot make that work any more than we can pure short little forged muscleback blade irons more than once a round.
Having directional problems? This is where high moment-of-inertia (MOI) models, including the squares, could help. High MOI drivers resist twisting at impact, which could help keep it on the world. Also, dont be afraid to look into models with a face bias engineered to create a draw. It may not look very closed at address, but a degree or two can make all the difference.
Finesse at Its Best. When less than a driver is called for ' you dont want to hit through a fairway, or the shot is narrow all the way down ' fairway woods and hybrids offer some comfort. Theyre shorter, and therefore easier to control. And in the case of hybrids especially, there may be enough offset to help straighten out whatever directional risk a driver may have.
More and more recreational players are relying on their hybrids to reach long par 3s. Putting a plain ol iron swing on them ' that is, hitting down instead of trying to sweep it ' can lead to a long, high flight that holds the green more easily than, say, a fairway or 3-iron. And since hybrids are so much easier to hit than long irons, the issue should be settled.
Also, with a little practice, you can choke down on a hybrid and flatten the flight. Thats extremely useful on windy days. There will still be a bit of a humpback quality to the trajectory, but the ball will get under more of the wind.
With fairways and hybrids, watch your tee height. We have been told ' and its good advice ' that the equator of the ball should be even with the top of the driver. Get it lower for the fairway and hybrid ' fairways especially have lower profiles these days ' so that the equator of the ball cuts across the top line of those clubs ' go no higher. I stop the tee with the thickness of a finger between the ball and the ground, and that usually works well. However, this is merely a guideline. If you like, go a bit lower, especially if you do indeed hit down on your hybrids like irons. You can get the ball almost on the ground in this case. As usual, there are no hard-and-fast rules, and plenty of room for experimentation.
Now, get out there and crush it.