Better Golf Through Better Strategic Decisions

For the vast, vast majority of us, golf is a leisurely activity that we play for fun usually on the weekend. We’re not severely sweating over the 3-footers to make a cut or a mortgage payment. If we snap hook our tee ball into a lake on 18 the sun will still come up tomorrow and our significant other will still love us. That being said, if I rinse one left on 18 to lose a Nassau three ways that car ride home will be far less than pleasant.

Ultimately a big key having fun while playing this crazy game is to have expectations that match your current reality. If you were a 3-handicapper pre busy career and pre wife and two kids under the age of five and now you’re a 10 who plays twice a month and rarely visits the range or the short game area, it’s high time to revise your expectations when you’re standing on the first tee. And, to revise your strategic decisions.

What if I told you that the driver I splashed on the final tee wasn’t really the result of a bad swing but rather poor planning? I asked a student recently what they thought the average driver dispersion was among PGA Tour players. In other words, the distance of their far right shot from their far left over the course of an entire season. Their guess was 35 yards. In other words, 17.5 yards either right or left of the center line. In reality, it’s 65 yards from right to left or 32.5 yards each way from center. I’m not a Tour player but I know from my launch monitor that my dispersion with the driver is roughly the same as theirs.

On the 18th hole that day, the center line of the fairway was 28 yards from the water. So, my mistake that day wasn’t so much with the swing; it was not aiming far enough to the right to allow for my 32.5 yard dispersion potential.

When it comes to approach shots from 100 yards the PGA Tour proximity average is 18 feet. As Scott Fawcett of Decade golf points out, a golf club is not a sniper rifle, it’s a shot gun. There is going to be dispersion even for the absolute best players on the planet. Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods have notoriously always aimed at the center of greens on almost all approach shots. They know that with this formula they’ll make their fair share of birdies but they’ll also reduce the chances of bogeys caused by short-siding themselves.

Think of a dispersion pattern as a football with the ends of the ball being the far right and far left shots. There is obviously also a long/short pattern as well which would be represented by the wide part of the football. If you think your average 8-iron is 150 yards there will probably be a 142-158 dispersion even for an elite player. And if you ask the average double-digit handicapper how far the hit their 8-iron they will almost always mention a number that represents the longest one they’ve ever hit.

If you have access to a launch monitor hit 10-15 balls with every club in the bag so that you can dial in your averages. There is almost nothing you could do that will help you lower your scores the fastest.

Now let’s move to the putting green. I frequently ask students what the average make percentage is from 8-feet on the PGA Tour. The usual guess is 75%. In reality it’s 49%. For a 15-handicapper it’s more like 27%. And yet when I give playing lessons, I often see high handicappers getting furious when they miss one.

Here is another putting metric that might surprise you. Among pros, 33-feet is a key number. Inside it Tour players average less than two putts. Outside it’s more than two putts. Additionally, a 10-handicapper will 3-putt 20% of the time from 30 feet.

A good barometer for you: try to lag putts inside 10% of the putt length. In other words, if you roll a 40-footer inside four feet that’s a success story. Less than six feet from 60 feet, pat yourself on the back.

Hopefully what you’ve learned here is that Tour players are really, really good but maybe not as good as we thought they were. And maybe you’re a little better than you thought! Golf is hard. Celebrate your victories and don’t unnecessarily beat yourself up over the mistakes. I often tell my students that there are two kinds of shots in golf: good shots and learning experiences. Look at the game through this lens and I guarantee you will have more fun!

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