Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Clubbing for Perfection

How far do you hit a 7 iron?  Was your answer based on the best shot you ever hit with that club?

If you want to be an effective course manager, you need to know how far you carry each club in your bag.  Your knowledge needs to be realistic. You can gauge this by hitting ten balls with each club and seeing where the middle of the cluster falls.  Let's say for this article that you carry your 7 iron 150 yards.

Now that you know that information, how you use it is as important as the knowledge itself.  Therese Hession, the Ohio State Women's Golf Coach, shared this course management lesson with me when we were both coaching and it was simple, but striking.  The easiest way to share it is to draw a few pictures and caption them.  Below, there will be explanations.

 This is a picture of a green with the hole dead center, 15 yards from the front edge.  Assuming there are no extenuating circumstances, we would like to land our ball hole high.  The blue shaded area represents the shot pattern of your 7 iron, which we decided you hit 150 yards when well struck.  That means that when not well struck it probably goes anywhere from 135 to 145.  The pro's mishits are closer to 5-7 yards from being max.  That means if you hit your shot great, you will be at best, pin high and at worst, off of the green.
Below is the same green, but the grey shaded area represents your six iron.  A well struck 6 iron will carry 160 yards, which is 10 yards past the pin.  However, a mishit will land anywhere from 145 to 155 yards.  If you are like most players, you are much better off putting, than chipping for birdie.  Any shot with your six iron will give you a putt, while probably half of your seven irons will result in a chip shot.                                   

Scoring is pretty simple.  Check out this link, Probable Golf Instruction and you will see that your greens in regulation statistic is extremely important to your scoring.  I love it when other golf pros share their knowledge and do the math to back it up.  I am a big believer in statistics.  Statistics tell the story in black and white and if you hit more greens, you have a better shot at making more pars.  If you make more pars, you will bring your handicap down.

By deciding not to club for perfection, you will greatly increase the odds that you will hit more greens, putt for birdie more often and therefore score lower.  When I was coaching full time, I always noticed that the best players were never afraid of being past the pin, but the struggling players often played to the front of the green or up to the lip of the hole.  At the time, I believed it was an aggressive mindset, but I now understand that the better players hit more good shots and that put their variance around the hole, while the poor ball strikers' variances were short of the hole.

Learning to club by giving yourself more room in front and past the hole will also free up your golf swing.  That mindset of ease often translates into smoother swings that are better controlled.

This strategy works most of the time, but you need to be aware that there are circumstances when it won't work.  If the greens are firm, if you are playing downwind, if the green is sloped severely back to front, if the hole is cut on the back of the green, you have a flier lie or if you are pumped with adrenaline, you can go ahead and club for your perfect shot.  On the other hand, this strategy is especially crucial if the hole is cut on the front of the green, you are into the wind, you aren't on your game, your normal ball flight is low or you have a lie that will produce a lot of spin.

This strategy for choosing clubs is tough for many people to adopt, because their mind is focused on the area between them and the hole.  It is as if the world stops at the hole and the area past it is a wasteland.  Golf course designers understand this tendency and you will find a lot more trouble short of greens than you will over greens.  How many bunkers are past the green at your home course?  Where is the water?  Where is the green the smallest?  You have played the course hundreds of times and you know the answer to these questions, yet how many times do you visit those bunkers, that water or chip from the front of the green?  The sooner you learn to use the entire green complex, including choosing to be off the green when severe slopes present themselves, the sooner you will make more pars and drop your handicap.

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