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Reckless driver

Thursday, July 1

LEMONT, Ill. -- I have hit some terrific drives lately. I'd say about a third of my drives have been great. The other two thirds, unfortunately, can be described as "last seen traveling left" or "last seen traveling right." I hit the ball solidly and launch it in a reasonable direction, but the clubface imparts too much right-to-left or left-to-right spin, sending the the shot off course. Or, on occasion, off the course.

I was very interested, therefore, to read my old pal Jaime Diaz's analysis of David Duval's swing problems in the June 25 issue of Golf World. In describing how Duval, once the world's top-ranked golfer, shot 82-83 to miss the cut in the U.S. Open by 20 strokes, Jaime quoted Duval's swing coach, David Leadbetter. "Right now," Leadbetter said of Duval, "he's lost that acute awareness of where the clubface is."

That is exactly my problem. I know where the clubface of my driver is right now -- it's in my golf bag in the garage -- but I lose that acute awareness during the forward swing, when my clubhead is racing toward the ball at supersonic speed. To use the terminology of SI.com's resident swing guru, Rob Stanger, I try for an 11:45 clubface angle at impact, hoping to hit a slight draw, but I overturn to 10:45 instead and hit a snap hook. Or I try to dial in 12:45 (a power fade), and instead I get a 2 a.m. wake-up call (a Vegamatic-grade power-push slice). That doesn't hurt me on the driving range, but on your championship tracks -- those golf courses that have trees, rough, sand, water and lateral housing -- I waste a half-dozen or so strokes per round.

Here's the rest of what Leadbetter had to say about Duval's difficulties: "David used to come into the hitting area with a shut face and basically held the club open through the ball. It's the way Lee Trevino swung, and it can be very accurate. But I think David's back injury changed the dynamics in his transition, so he isn't starting down as strongly, and he began coming into the ball with clubface open for the first time. When he holds his hands through the hitting area, he hits that big push-slice. To compensate, he has to rotate the clubhead to the left, which is a very foreign feeling to him. When he overdoes it, he hits the pull, something he never did when he was winning."

Those words, too, seem to describe my situation exactly (except for the phrase, "when he was winning.") I've been doing some experimenting at driving ranges, trying to gain control over my tee shots. One promising approach has me weakening my left-hand grip when I want to hit a draw. That is, I keep my left thumb on top of the shaft. Then, when I swing, I can release the club as far as it will go, confident that I won't hit a big hook, just a draw.

If I want to fade the ball, I do the opposite. I strengthen my left hand grip, turning my hand to the right and letting my thumb ride the side of the shaft. This actually programs a hook, but I then try to do what Duval apparently used to do -- hold the clubface open through the ball -- and that leaves the clubface either square or slightly open at impact, producing a straight ball or a tight fade.

Does it work? It sure does -- about a third of the time.

Personally, I have always liked the advice of Jim Murray, who wrote, "If your caddie coaches you on the tee, 'Hit it down the left side with a little draw,' ignore him. All you do on the tee is try not to hit the caddie."

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