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5 Steps to Keep Your Tee Shots Out of Trouble

By Keith Stewart, PGA
Published on

Phil Mickelson of the United States plays his shot from the second tee during a practice round prior to the start of the 2021 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines Golf Course on June 15, 2021 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Torrey Pines has fairway bunkers placed alongside 13 of the possible 14 driving holes. Last month at the 103rd PGA Championship at the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Golf Resort, the players faced one of the most demanding courses off the tee. Phil Mickelson’s historic victory at the PGA Championship was due in large part to his fantastic ability to place his drive safely in play hole after hole. If Phil were to win back-to-back majors, he would definitely have to repeat that driving performance.
We are not going to play the Ocean Course or Torrey Pines every week, but many courses we play have trouble off the tee. Many times, trouble can be avoided by selecting a particular club or choosing a very conservative line. Golf doesn’t always offer those options. Sometimes the hole demands a driver and the fairway has a large fairway bunker guarding the landing area.
PGA Coaches spend countless hours with their students teaching them better course management. The theme of this piece goes one step beyond that conversation. Once we recognize the trouble area from the tee, how do we adjust our swing to ensure we miss it? There are a couple simple alterations we can make to our setup that are guaranteed to get the ball moving in one direction or another. Using these simple modifications will allow you to keep the golf ball safe off the tee.
Some think to aim near and let the ball travel away and others believe you should avoid it altogether.
  1. Find the trouble
  2. Select the club
  3. Tee up the ball on the opposite side of the tee box from the trouble
  4. Take your normal setup toward the fairway edge of trouble
  5. Adjust the clubface toward the center of the fairway
Tee shot landing areas can get tight. Always aiming away from the fairway bunker can significantly shrink our safe zone. On the other hand, aiming toward the side of the fairway bunker and allowing the flight to carry the ball away gives us more room. Close your eyes and imagine a golf hole you have played before. A hole with a very difficult and large fairway bunker lining the landing area. For this discussion, the bunker is on the right side. The first move to hit a successful tee shot is to tee up the ball as far left on the tee box as possible.
The next step is to address the ball as if you are going to hit a straight shot toward the fairway side of the bunker. At this point, your body lines are parallel to the target line and the clubface is pointing along the target line. The last adjustment is to point the clubface toward the center of the fairway. It doesn’t matter if you’re left or right-handed, this strategy works for both. Now you’re ready to launch that tee shot. Make sure you focus on a follow-through swinging toward that target line just inside the bunker on the fairway side.
The ball will bend and follow the clubface you pointed toward the center of the fairway. By swinging toward the trouble and turning the ball flight away from it, you will maximize your safe zone for the ball to land.
 With those five fundamental steps you’ll certainly find more fairways.

Keith Stewart is a 5-time award-winning PGA Professional with 25 years of experience in the golf industry. His network of players, coaches and insiders provide him with a unique perspective on the game. He's a writer on PGA.com and host of the ProShow on ESPN 920 AM Friday afternoons at 3:00pm EDT. Check out his PGA Coaching articles archived here or his conversations on air with this link to his website The ProShow.
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