Left, right. Left, right. Left, right.
Like a march cadence, most weekend golfers often find that their positions off the tee are "left" and "right." Not in the fairway.
Fred Funk, the Takoma Park native who ranks first on the PGA Tour in driving accuracy by hitting 80 percent of fairways, said mishits and bad swings are to blame.
"The key is learning to hit the ball solid," Funk said after shooting 68 in the third round of the Kemper Open. "And the best way to hit it solid is to keep the target line."
Keeping the target line -- the line of swing in relation to the spot where a golfer would like the ball to go -- often is difficult for even professionals to do consistently. So it's no surprise that a lot of amateurs and high-handicappers have difficulty keeping the ball in the fairway. And they usually opt for a quick, and expensive, fix rather than seeing an instructor.
Golfers spend millions annually on the latest technology in drivers -- big club heads, small club heads, stiff shafts, flexible shafts, weighted convex club faces -- seeking distance off the tee and finding little more than a jungle of three-inch rough and bad lies. But which club they use off the tee isn't necessarily the key.
"It's all in their swing," Funk said. "[A lot of amateurs] aren't physically capable of putting their swing in a good position to make solid contact with the ball. Either they're not strong enough or physically flexible enough to do it."
Yet some seniors and women seem to have little trouble being in the fairway consistently. Because they don't swing as hard at the ball, their swings have less opportunity to break down and track away from the target line.
"They're not trying to overpower the ball," Funk said. "They aren't swinging harder than they are capable of hitting it."
In other words, what some seniors and women lose in distance, they more than make up for in accuracy in the fairway.
Sometimes just being in the fairway isn't enough. A golfer must be in the right spot on the fairway. Failure to do that nearly cost Funk a stroke yesterday. On the 524-yard, par-5 13th hole, his ball was situated on a downslope just past the landing area, leaving him a long-iron left to the green.
"I hit too good of a drive," Funk said. "The downslope gave me a really tight lie and made it a much more difficult shot."
After studying the shot from different angles, Funk widened his stance, playing the ball toward his back foot, and took a swing. He said the ball came off the club "thin" -- meaning not solid -- and went off-line toward the gallery on an embankment to the right of the fairway. From there, he had to pitch short of the green and let the ball run toward the hole, where it stopped eight feet short. Funk sank the putt for a birdie.
At the short 301-yard 14th -- a hole where some players use their drivers because of the opportunity to hit the ball onto the green -- Funk, not a long hitter, used a rather strange club.
As he pulled out a club with a small, mallet-like face, he turned to the gallery and said jokingly, "I don't want to hear any comments about this club." After hitting his drive in the middle of the fairway, just about 60 yards short of the green, Funk kissed the club -- an 18-degree loft Taylor Made "Rescue."
"It's kind of like a chipper that goes 4-wood distance," Funk said. "I've replaced my 4-wood with it because it's easy for me to hit it high when I need to and low when I need to."
Straight Down the Middle
Driving accuracy leaders at the Kemper Open, through Saturday's round:
1. Fred Funk
95.2% (fairways hit)
1 under par
2. Brian Claar
3 over par
3. Jeff Maggert
2 over par
3. Jeff Sluman
5. Tommy Armour III
9 under par
5. Esteban Toledo
4 over par
7. Clark Dennis
2 over par
7. Brian Gay
3 over par
7. Greg Kraft
3 over par
7. Lee Rinker
1 over par
CAPTION: Fred Funk uncoils 2nd shot from fairway -- he hits 80 percent of them -- on No. 13. "The key is learning to hit the ball solid."