Rickie Fowler striped a driver off the deck twice this weekend at Conway Farms. It's a shot only a Tour pro can hit, right? Not exactly. There's a time when it can be the right play for those of us without the clubhead speed of a PGA Tour player, according to PGA Professional Lou Guzzi.
First, let's look at what Fowler did this weekend.
In Saturday's third round, Fowler faced a 274-yard shot from the fairway, over water to an elevated green guarded heavily by bunkers.
Rather than lay up, Fowler pulled driver from the bag and absolutely ripped a high, towering shot that softly landed on the green and settled to within 50 feet of the hole.
From there, he would unfortunately 3-putt for a par.
Then again on Sunday, trying to sneak into the top 5 on the FedExCup points list heading into this week's Tour Championship at East Lake, Fowler again pulled driver for his second shot on the 18th.
Just like Saturday, he pulled it off to near perfection, this time from 281 yards away.
However, he failed to get up and down from behind the green, settled for another par and a tie for second with Justin Rose to stay at No. 6 in the FedExCup standings with one playoff event left to play.
Fowler's aggressive play was all about trying to make a move.
While hitting driver off the deck is rarely the prudent play, there are circumstances where the average golfer can benefit from trying to play such a shot.
But don't expect -- heck, don't attempt -- to hit one of those high, towering beauties you saw from Fowler though.
"The average amateur does not have the clubhead speed to hit that particular shot the way Rickie hit it," Guzzi, 2013 PGA National Teacher of the Year and owner of the Lou Guzzi Golf Academy at Talamore Country Club in Ambler, Pa., told us. "You need speed. A lot of speed. Tour player speed. Otherwise, it's not going to be productive. That said, there are other instances where a driver off the deck isn't just a shot you may want to consider, but also the shot that might in fact be the high-percentage play."
A driver off the deck as a "high percentage" play?
That's right, Guzzi explained.
"When I was playing in a club championship one time as an amateur, I hit a lousy drive into some trees on a par 5 and my ball settled onto some hard pan," Guzzi said. "I was 230 yards away from a green that had this shoot in the middle of a bunker on the left and one on the right. With trees in front of me, I had to keep the ball low for the first 70-80 yards. My thought process was, 'If I hit it good, I'll be able to keep it low and get it to the green. And, if I top it, it'll stay real low and the overspin might even get it to the green.' Either way, I was in the driver's seat unless I flat-out missed it. I made a good swing because I freed myself up due to the through process, knocked it up there and two-putted for birdie."
With a driver off the deck, you really need to pick your spots.
"Look, I think just hitting a 3-wood off the deck might be the hardest club to hit properly because the instinct for most is to get it in the air by trying to help scoop it up since they don't see the loft," Guzzi said. "With the driver, that's magnified even more seeing that along with very little loft, the driver head is so big. Hitting driver off the deck is a different ball game."
That may be so, but it's one you can play at times.
The key to hitting your driver off the deck, Guzzi said, is to hit it like you would any other fairway wood, or hybrid. Make contact with the ball first and then the ground.
Take a few practice swings allowing the driver to brush the ground -- something you're not used to doing. Then, play the ball slightly back in your stance.
"I even like to take my favorite club -- a 9-iron -- out of the bag and swing that before taking the practice swings with the driver," Guzzi said. "I want to feel that same 9-iron swing when I swing the driver."
Guzzi recalled a trip one time to Scotland where he made what he called, "the best 5 I've even made on a par 5 in my life."
The wind was howling about 35 mph. Guzzi reached the green in three shots using the same club for each of those shots: a driver.
"By the time I got to the third shot, I was about 175 yards away," he remembered. "This Scottish gentleman I was playing with, Jimmy, suggested I hit a nice smooth 4-iron like I did on the hole before. Instead, I hit the driver -- and I needed to to get there with that wind. I'll never forget it."
To get the most out of hitting your driver off the deck, Guzzi said there are a couple of factors to keep in mind.
"For the average golfer, you only want to try this kind off shot when you're trying to cover distance and you need to keep the ball low," he said.
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