You Can “Fail Positively” When You Tee Up (and Aim) Wisely

Choose one side of the tee area and pick the proper side of the fairway to drive toward

This is a common-sense type of golf tip, but it takes on much greater meaning when explained by an actual course designer and expressed with the heavy emphasis and enthusiasm Brian Silva gives it.

Silva, named the 1998 Architect of the Year by Golf World magazine, is an outspoken critic of the setup work at many of today’s courses. As in: pins inappropriately located, tee markers in strange places, mowing patterns incorrect for the hole design, etc.

But if he can say one thing about how a course is set up and how the average golfer should play it, Silva says this: Never aim for the middle of a fairway (or the middle of a green on a par-3) and never tee up in the middle of he tee markers.

Unless, that is, you are a straight-shot golfer whose typical ball flight doesn’t drift or curve in one particular direction. That’s the rare exception, of course, the rule is the player who–though 65-80 percent of his shots fade, slice or get pushed right–tees up in the middle of the markers and aims for the middle of the fairway. By doing so, he basically cuts in half the fairway area he can legitimately play to.

“The average golfer can save six strokes a round–no exaggeration–by teeing up to one side of the teeing area and aiming down one side of the fairway,” Silva declares. If he is a prone to fading or slicing, he should tee up far right and aim down the left side of the fairway, this logic goes. “Doing that changes your focal point 15 or 20 yards,” says Silva, “and it effectively widens your landing area by that much or more.” If the ball stays straight, you’re in the left rough and you’ve “failed positively,” to use Silva’s term. If it curves as expected, you end up on fairway instead of rough, or instead of in a hazard. “If you can predict your ball flight (on the shots that don’t go dead straight) with average reliability,” he concludes, “you can literally double the width of the fairway landing area you’ve been playing to. That’s going to help your score more than any mechanical adjustment, and it’s childishly simple to do.”

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