Straightening The Driver

One of the hardest things to practice on a driving range is straightness for longer shots. It’s easy to see how far a ball goes (especially with my Flightscope Mevo), but (especially with my mediocre distance vision), it’s hard to tell how left, right, or straight a ball goes. It probably doesn’t help that my last few range sessions have been at dusk.

Yesterday morning I flew to Florida after a little more than a month in the cold. I went to the range a few times in that month, but only played 9 holes of actual golf.

After dropping off my bags, I went straight to the range to warm up, then go out and play. I hit 90 balls, including 26 drives. They averaged 212 yards and seemed to be going reasonably straight. Then I hit the course. We skipped around a little, so I don’t have full round stats, but I don’t need data to tell me it wasn’t pretty. About half of my drives ballooned right. About 1/4 were straight, and 1/4 were low and left. I lost more than a few balls.

After the round, I went to the driving range to try to figure out what was going on. I video-ed some swings, and looked at swing data on my Mevo, but it was something more old-fashioned that gave me the clue I needed: The impression of a ball on the toe of my clubface. I started more intentionally setting up balls on the sweet spot of my clubface, and my drives instantly started flying straight.

I played a full round today and drove it much better. I didn’t lose a ball with my driver. 7 of 14 were 215+ and 3 of 14 were 220+. My longest of the day, 246, was on 12, a hole I traditionally struggle to drive the ball on. One of my two mishits still split the center of the fairway. The other was challenging.

I also putted very well (for me). I had 28 putts, including 3-4 makes from outside of 12 feet.

So how did I shoot 101 while driving and putting well? The par 3s. I was 8(!) over on the four par threes at Old Palm Golf Club.

On the first par three I hit a decent 6-iron a little right off the tee, it caught a slope and trickled into the water. I then skulled the pitch shot. I made a nice up-and-down from the coquina (waste bunker) where the skulled shot ended up, but the damage was done.

On the second par three, there was a big right-to-left wind (14-18MPH) and I hit a drawing 6-iron (too much club) into the back-left water. I hit an ok chip and two putts for another 5.

On the third par three, I once again hit a 6-iron draw which crawled into the back edge of the left bunker. The ball perched just below the lip, giving me an all-but-impossible stance. I should have taken my medicine and knocked it into the center of the bunker. Instead, I took a stance with one foot in the bunker and one on the lip, and hit a low runner that somehow got out and bounced another 50 yards to behind a tree. I also hit my knee with the shaft of my wedge on the followthrough. Not my favorite shot today.

A couple more wedges and a put led to another double.

The last par 3 of the day, the 15th hole, is where I really blew it. 120 yards or so to the flag. I tried to open up a pitching wedge to get a little extra loft and a little less distance, and ended up hitting it into the right trees. For those of you who’ve never seen this hole, no one should ever hit into the right trees. I found the ball, but I was blocked (by the afformentioned trees) and made another 5.

“But Michael,” you point out, “101 is still a high score, even going +8 on the par threes. How did you manage that?”

Well, the distribution of bad shots was as follows:

Woods (4):

  • One sky-ball driver that carried only 167 on the #1 handicap (It was in the fairway).
  • One sky-ball driver that ended up in the right treeline on 18. I found it, but it set up a difficult 2nd shot.
  • One three-wood on 18 (from that bad lie) that got lost in the right trees.
  • One three-wood that went too left, settled near a fence, and forced me to punch out, on the 4th hole (a par 5).

Irons (9):

  • A 6-iron right on #2 (the 1st par three) that crawled into the water.
  • A 6-iron left on #6 (the 2nd par three) that flew into the water.
  • A 6-iron right on #10 (I was aiming right, expecting a draw).
  • A 6-iron left on #11 (the 3rd par three).
  • A 7-iron left on #8.
  • A 7-iron well short on #9.
  • A 7-iron low and left on #17.
  • An 8-iron short and heavy on #3
  • A 9-iron way short from the coquina (waste bunker) on #16 (I ended up with a long bunker shot which I managed to get pretty close).

Full wedges (5):

  • A near-full 60 degree wedge a bit short and left on #4 (the par 5).
  • A gap wedge slightly short and right (into a bunker) on #5 (the hill pushed the ball right and I didn’t account for that).
  • A gap wedge short (into a bunker) on #13.
  • A pitching wedge way right (off the tee on #15, the par 3).
  • A 60-degree wedge short on #18 (it hit a rock and bounced back another 20 yards into the coquina. I did get up and down from there).

Pitches and chips (4):

  • I hit a pitch with my 60 thin on #2 and through the green.
  • I hit a pitch with my 56 thin on #3 and over the green.
  • On the followup shot, being extra careful to get the loft of the club, I came up well short of the hole.
  • On #17 my pitch (w/ 56) out of the trees was well short.

Bunker shots (4):

  • I failed to get out of a bunker in one twice today, and both times the second shot rolled off the back of the green (I was compensating). All four shots were with my 56-degree wedge.

The bad bunker shots are hopefully isolated incidents. I hit some good and very good bunker shots elsewhere in the round. I remedied the thin-pitching woes after the 3rd hole and hit mostly good pitches from then on.

Which leaves these shots to work on the next time I go to the range:

  • Full gap wedges (Contact)
  • 40-60-yard pitches (distance consistency).
  • Full 6-irons and 7-irons (alignment/trajectory consistency).
  • Full three-woods (Alignment and ball-flight).

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