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Do You Really Know Your Distances?
This week's article about distances from the hole on approach shots from various yardage ranges brings to mind another question. My experience with golfers of all skill levels has shown me that most do not have an accurate understanding of how far they really hit each club.

In speaking engagements, I tell the story that most golfers have three yardages with each club in their bag:
  1. How far they think they hit it.

  2. How far they wish they hit it.

  3. And How far they really hit it.
Tim mentioned the laser range-finder, and I agree that it is a resourceful tool, especially in practice. I suggest each golfer take the time to accurately chart their realistic average distances with each club in your bag, and a laser is a great tool for this exercise.

The best place to do this is out on the course somewhere on an afternoon where it's not crowed. Go to a hole on the back side and choose a spot where you have open flat fairway in front of you for at least 150 yards. Start with your highest lofted wedge and hit 5-10 shots, until you have a grouping. Leave your bag next to the hitting spot and walk/drive down to the center of the group and shoot the actual yardage. Then repeat this with each club in your bag, and build yourself a "cheat sheet". Then memorize it or keep it handy.

It will take you an hour or two, but the knowledge you'll gain will help you drop strokes from your score almost immediately. You'll probably find that your real distance gaps between clubs are inconsistent, too wide at the narrow end and too tight at the long end. And you'll probably find you are playing the course relying more on #1 or #2 above, rather than #3.
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[ comments ]
Matt McGee says:
This sounds like a great practice exercise.
Currently, however, I have a different set of three yardages for each club:
1. Distance I'll hit it with a great swing (always worth aiming for, because that next swing is going to be perfect).
2. Distance I'll hit it most of the time (of which my estimation may be significantly inaccurate).
3. Distance I'll hit it in the wrong direction.
bkuehn1952 says:
I totally agree with Mr. Koehler's advice. I know my realistic "carry" yardages. Do I always pull the right club? Nope. While I know my real "carry" yardages, things like how well I am striking the ball, wind, elevation changes and lie tend to force me into a bit more guessing. Still, having accurate knowledge of how far my shots "carry" for each club under benign conditions gives me a good start on club selection when conditions are not perfect.
Wes11point5 says:
When I first got my skycaddie, I did a lot of data gathering with each club. I would mark the distance for every shot and log the club used. After I had enough data points for each club, I did a little test for statistical outliers and then work out a range for each club.

Man what a nerdy post!
Duke of Hazards says:
funny you should mention this. just got a laser rangefinder w/ slope a couple of days ago, primarily to take to the 2 ranges that I practice at so that I can see what my carries are. a lot of times, the hitting stalls are spread wide, so that if I'm hitting to the 100-yd flag that's on the right side of the range from a stall on the far left of the range, I now know that it plays to 114.3 yrds, of course adjusted by the -3 degree slope from line of sight at 115.6 (or somesuch).

yes, obviously, you don't need to be that precise but I feel better knowing that the posted flag distances at my primary practice facility are, in fact, pretty accurate from the middle stalls and I can now lase the landing areas between flags to know how far my mid-irons are going
Anti-Mulligan says:
I think the post makes a lot of sense. The key here is the higher handicapper has a larger spread on your iron shots. When they nut one it flies their max distance of say 150 for a 7i. But they also have the ability to pop it up, chunk it, thin it, thick it, etc where it can go anywhere from 150 to 100 yds outside of a chunk. The better player has a much tighter dispersion so distances are more important. The higher handicapper needs consistent strikes, distance is not as important and merely advancing the ball in play. I also think it is mental for a higher handicapper. They know they once hit a 7i 180 yards and that sticks in their heads. Mentally they can't make a normal swing with a 5i when that is the actual distance they hit it because that one time a 7i worked. They can't commit to the shot.
DoubleDingo says:
I know exactly how far I hit each club in my bag. From the point where the respective club strikes the ball to the point where the ball comes to rest. Sometimes it flies as far I expect, sometimes it flies shorter than I want, but it always goes as far as physics allow it too.
Dusty23 says:
This year has been an adventure, I got new clubs in the spring. They have a different feel and more loft than my old clubs and I'm still learning them. I haven't had any time to spend a day at the range to figure out my averages, so the whole season has been an adventure, sometimes they go what I expect, others they go further, mostly I have been about a club to a club and a half shorter than my old yardages. It definitely is important to know how far you hit your clubs.
legitimatebeef says:
Are you trying to say that I am one of these rank amateurs who comes up woefully short all the time? Screw you!! I most certainly am not. I may leave an approach short due to mishit but who on this planet does not mishit the ball. The answer is none. I'm not a scratch golfer but I am sick and tired of being told that I: come up short all the time, am delusional about my distances and routinely base my club selection on wishful thinking rather than facts and rational thinking. You're wrong!!!
birdieXris says:
One of the first things i did when i could afford a laser rangefinder was to go out and get my full, half and 3/4 swing distances with every club, including my woods. Just to have. The second that was complete, i learned how to hit "the 9 shots" and looked at what that did for the distances. I know now that a full 7 is the same distance as a choke 6. However if i want to hit the same ball flight, i have to not choke down and just hit a fade 6. it goes down the set like that. I have 18 stock shots i can hit with every single club in my bag. 9 normal and 9 choke, with the partial swings in between. Do i always pull them off - no, that's why i'm not on tour - but CAN i hit them? yes, yes i can and a good amount of the time. As i get better, i can hit them more often and more consistently. The win tho, is not to let ego get in the way at all. I have no problem hitting 5 when someone is hitting 7, especially when i hit it stiff and they miss the green.
GBogey says:
I think that Beef has a good point in some regards - most amateur mishits will end up either as a short shot or a slice (which will be short as well). Given that most of us probably mishit (at least slightly) 50% of our shots, we will tend to come up short.
However, we have all been matched with players who consistently hit a 7 iron on the par three where you are hitting a 4, and then you watch them act puzzled when they come up 30 yards short.
The laser approach probably works, but I think you can get the same place by honestly asking yourself at the end of each round, were my approach shots, particularly the ones hit solid, short, long, or the right distance. I know that when I do that, I feel comfortable with the distances I play.
GBogey says:
That being said, I know that I have a tendency to play to the hole for fear of going long (I see this in others as well). Why, I don't know, as I am much more likely to be too short than too long. It's to the point that I would usually rather see a back pin than a front one. So I guess that I would be better off adding a few yards to target shot even though I am comfortable that I know my distances.
Tim Horan says:
wIND IT IN BEEF! with between 61 and 71 million golfers world wide. What makes you think this was an attack on you?
legitimatebeef says:
Tim Horan, I take everything personally. Anyways I was half kidding around, but isn't it true that amateur golfers are besieged with this kind of lazy broad-stroke advice all the time. "Amateurs never take enough club, so next time out, once you've picked your club, put it back in the bag and then take out one more club. You'll find that you come up short way less often, and your scores will drop noticeably." IMO coming up short is usually a symptom of deeper issues, one that can't be truly fixed by merely taking more club. The root cause needs to be addressed.
onedollarwed says:
Nice rant Beef! I think it's obvious when tongue is in, or half in cheek. My distances are quite accurate with irons, and rarely go long. One area that still needs work is working out the trajectory on wedges - taking the time to develop specific techniques for different shots (Thoroughly presented by Wedgeguy a la Hogan).

For instance, realizing when you're going to take a divot, or dig through long dry grass. I'm not always sure if I'm settled on a particular trajectory, or just hitting my standard shot. What is my standard shot? I do play the ball back in the stance most of the time to increase good clean contact.

Like Xris I also work the 9 shot types and calculate +/- clubs. Excellent for the range. It sounds like it's time for me to get/borrow a range finder and chart specific shot types and distances for my wedges. Luckily, my yardage estimation is stellar, pacing off from markers - as good as GPS unless a course is mis/un-marked... often forgetting to factor wind/lie/elevation/depth of green!
windowsurfer says:
RE: Red-hot beef: Plus . . . chipping uphill from a mowed apron when you come up short is usually preferable to chipping back downhill from the tall grass behind the green. Pros also remind us to "manage our misses". (Another broad bit of advice, pardon the pun.)
Tim Horan says:
@Jason- It is true that a blogg directed at thousands of golfers cannot hope to address individual problems but golf bloggs, books and magazine articles should all be read and digested like religion, life styling, health awareness - take from it what is good for you don't judge the rest and discard what is not relevant to you at that time. Your blood pressure will benefit and who knows you may see things a little less black and white. There is a whole array of nuances that given an open mind can come from "generistic golf instruction". It is just "bubblegum for the brain" and works away in the background to formulate the "light bulb" moments in life. Have a great Christmas all.
Norboo says:
What is the best way to find out my carrying distance?
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Terry Koehler is "The Wedge Guy" and President of SCOR Golf- The Short Game Company.

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