My answer to your first question is YES! Personally, I’d be willing to sacrifice 20-30, or even 40-50 yards to ensure hitting the fairway. But the problem is that I haven’t found that magic club that’s 30 yards shorter than my driver but hits the fairway 100% of the time. I’ve found that I can hit a 3-wood or 3-iron just as crooked as my driver! A lot of commentators on TV seem to think that there is a magic automatic-fairway club. Every time a player hits a crooked drive in a critical situation, the talking heads will say that he or she should’ve hit something else. A bad swing with a 3 iron will miss the fairway, just as easily as a bad swing with the driver. But, here’s a true story that I’ll never forget. A few years ago, I was a young Assistant Pro at a very nice club in Wisconsin. I was good friends with another Assistant Pro at the same course, and we regularly had the argument about distance vs. accuracy. He was in favor of hitting driver as far as you can, as often as you can, and I was in favor of hitting shorter clubs, and maximizing fairways and greens. I proposed a wager (something golfers are known to do) in which we’d play 18 holes; he’d hit driver from every hole and play his normal game, and I would drop a ball exactly 250 yards from the tee in the middle of the fairway and play my normal game from there. (Being young and strong at the time this distance was 30-50 yards behind our normal driver distance.) This meant that I could not hit the par 5’s in two, and had middle irons into the longer par 4’s, but I took his money easily. I shot a 5 under 67 in my non-official round without a bogey, and he shot a 2 over 74. This changed my attitude about distance vs. accuracy.
So needless to say, I want to hit as many fairways as possible. (The answer to your second question is 100%. You SHOULD hit 100% of fairways, but obviously that’s not possible or realistic.) But distance plays an important factor in golf. If you’re approach shots are so far that you can’t hit the greens in regulation, you need to hit more club off the tee, or move up a set of tees. There’s no guarantee that hitting a 3-wood, 5-wood, or any other club will find the fairway. A lot of top players (Phil Mickelson is one) employ the theory that they’d rather be long and crooked than short and crooked, and therefore they hit as many drivers as possible. There’s a lot of truth to that. But it’s my experience, both personally and with my students, that bad shots with a 3-wood, or 3-iron, or hybrid, are much better than bad shots with a driver. So I tend to recommend that players only hit driver when needed, if they are especially confident with the club, or if there is minimal risk with an errant shot. You may not make as many birdies, but you’ll surely reduce the number of balls OB, lost, or in hazards. If your driver accuracy is dramatically worse than that of your other clubs, you may be setting up to the ball differently (see above question & answer), or your driver may not fit your swing (bad loft or lie, wrong shaft flex or length).
So here are both sides of the argument. Personally, I’d sacrifice distance to hit more fairways, but everyone’s game is different. Each person has to evaluate the trade-offs, and decide what will give them the best chance for success. You are, however, only allowed 14 clubs, so if you have no confidence in your driver I recommend seeing your local PGA Professional or sending in a video of your driver swing to www.Fixyourgame.com.
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