The 3 biggest keys for hitting a fairway when you absolutely have to

tiger woods hits driver off the tee box during the 2009 BMW Championship

There are a few things to keep in mind when you have to hit a fairway under pressure.

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Welcome to Play Smart, a regular game-improvement column that will help you play smarter, better golf.

Golf is a game of managing pressure. Those who have the most success in this game are the ones that can keep their head when the stakes get highest. Although hitting the shots is important, managing the mental game is paramount.

Pressure comes into play on all sorts of shots. There’s seldom a shot that doesn’t come with a little bit of anxiety, but those that produce the most typically come at the end of the round when the stakes reach their peak.

Hitting the fairway on the final hole with the tournament on the line is a safe bet for one of the most pressure-packed shots in golf. Getting your ball safely on the short grass is the first step to making birdie on your final hole. Fail in that endeavor and you’ll be scrambling to save your score.

Luckily, you can lean on a few keys to hit the fairways when under pressure. GOLF Top 100 Teacher Kevin Sprecher shared three of them with us at the recently.

1. Visualize success

As noted above, golf is first and foremost a mental game. You must rid your mind of bad thoughts if you want to execute at the highest level. And that’s especially true standing on the tee box with your match.

“You must stand on the tee box and visualize the shot you want to hit,” Sprecher says. “If you can’t picture yourself having success, it’ll be hard to produce it.”

2. Nail the setup

Pressure can make us do funny things. Mistakes that we’d never make under normal circumstances become all too common when the heat gets turned up. With that in mind, it’s crucial that you can lean on your fundamentals, namely your setup.

“Make sure you set up correctly for the shot you want to hit,” Sprecher says. “You can’t hit a good shot if you have a bad setup.”

3. Choose the right club

If missing the fairway isn’t an option, you’ve got to choose a club you’re confident with. That might not necessarily be the driver, although Sprecher recommends you hit the big stick if at all possible.

“I would recommend hitting driver, because with the size of the head, they’re actually pretty forgiving,” he says. “Learn to hit the punch cut shot that you see Tour players hit. If you can execute that, I think it’s much more effective than going full bore with a three wood because with the biggest face, the driver is much more forgiving.”

Zephyr Melton Editor

Zephyr Melton is an assistant editor for where he spends his days blogging, producing and editing. Prior to joining the team at GOLF, he attended the University of Texas followed by stops with the Texas Golf Association, Team USA, the Green Bay Packers and the PGA Tour. He assists on all things instruction and covers amateur and women’s golf. He can be reached at