The Big Dog gets you in trouble sometimes, and you have this nagging feeling every now and then that you shouldn’t be using it. How do you decide which times those are? These four questions can help. First, be honest and decide what score you expect to get on this hole. Then go down the list. At the first No, leave the driver in the bag and hit something else off the tee.
1. Is your expected score on this hole a par?
2. Think of the longest club you feel confident about hitting into a green. Will your average drive get you to at least the distance from which you can hit that club?
3. Do you need to hit a driver to have a short iron or less into the green?
4. Think of the trouble off the tee. If you hit into it with a driver, can you still make one stroke over your expected score with average play?
Here’s how this works out in practice. There is a hole on a course I play several times a year, 386 yards uphill, par 4. In the nearly twenty times I have played this hole, I have parred it twice. It’s an easy bogey for me, but a hard par. A perfect drive (what’s the chance of that?) leaves me with a hybrid club off an uphill lie to hit the ball onto the green (what’s the chance of that?). The answer to question 1 is No. I don’t expect to par this hole.
I play a hybrid club off the tee, advance the ball with a 6-iron, pitch on, and get my bogey. Keeping the driver in the bag lets me hit three easy shots into the green instead of two hard ones. Double bogey never gets put in play, and there’s an outside chance of making par if my chip gets close enough.
The very next hole, on the same course, is a 391-yard par 4. It’s longer, but I always use a driver. Why? Par is a reasonable expectation for me here because the fairway slopes downhill, making the hole play shorter, and angles to the left, favoring my shot shape (question 1 is Yes). Catching the slope will leave me with a short iron into the green. (question 2 is Yes).
Question 3 is Yes; a shorter club off the tee will leave me with a mid-iron to the green. As for question 4, the trouble on the right is easy to play out of. Sometimes I have made par from there, so the answer is Yes. Out comes the driver.
You don’t have to use your driver just because it’s a par 4 or a par 5. Make that club work for you when it’s to your advantage. Otherwise, try a different option off the tee.
See also: Keep the Long Clubs at Home