Golfers: How to Know How Far Your Clubs Carry

To play accurately around the course, you have to know how far you hit each club. Here’s how to find that out.

Driver: Step off the vertical distance between your ball and the 150-yard marker for drives that stay in the fairway. By vertical distance, I mean the distance along a line connecting your ball and the green.

Irons: If you have a laser rangefinder, find the distance to the pin. Select your club and hit the shot. If the ball lands on the green, step off the vertical distance between the pitch mark and the hole. Here, vertical distance means the distance along a line parallel to the axis of the hole between perpendiculars at your ball and the hole to that line. Write down the club and distance, and after a few rounds, you will have a pretty good profile to work with. Bonus: from the same spot, take one more club, grip down one inch, and make another shot. By recording these gripped-dwon shots, you will come up with two working distances for each club.

Wedges: Do this at the range. Pick a flag and hit different wedges to it, using your standard pitching swing, until you find the wedge that hits the ball closest to it. Use the same swing every time. Move to different places until you find a place where that wedge gets the ball right to the flag. Then measure the distance to that flag with a laser rangefinder. That’s your distance with that wedge. Continue to this procedure until you have a distance for all your wedges. If you want to get finer, you can measure what you get when you use a standard shorter swing and standard longer swing. Or a standard faster swing and slower standard swing.

Chipping: Take out your lob wedge and hit five chips, with the same swing, and step off the distance you get. That’s how far a chip with your lob wedge goes. Do the same with each club in progression down to your 7-iron. Important! Use the same swing for all the shots you hit with all the clubs. You want the club to be the only variable.

Putter: This more subtle. You’re looking for a way to putt the ball different distances. You do that by taking the club back to spots where you feel different muscles get strained. That’s the stopping point for that particular swing. For example, if I take the putter back to the point where my left forearm touches my abdomen, that stroke will hit the ball 15 feet. If I take it back farther, to a point where I feel a slight strain on the right side of my lower back, that stroke will send the ball 22 feet. And so on. These distances were determined on a medium-speed green. If the greens you play on run faster than the ones on which you calibrated your stroke, just increase the distance of your standard strokes by an appropriate amount.

None of this is to say that you play strictly by formula. Feel counts for a lot, but you need some place to anchor your feel. It can’t be out there by itself. And, on days when your feel isn’t working, you can still play well.

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Good golf is all in your head

Three days ago I played in an end-of-the-year scramble. I hit the ball flawlessly for about the first six holes, then had a small collapse, but got it back again for the finish of the round. There was nothing wrong with my swing. It was all in my head.

At first, all I thought about was swinging the club, just letting the ball go where the swing sent it. But I started thinking about hitting the ball little farther, or a little more intentionally somehow, and that’s when the problems started. Only until I went back to letting the swing do the work did things get better again.

Part of it is that when you swing the club, you don’t have the satisfaction of you hitting the ball, of you making the shot happen. Golf is paradoxical in that way, that we have to cause a very precise thing to happen, but we have to give our entire body, not our sensitive hands and fingers, the job of getting it done. That means giving up controlling the club and the ball, something we find hard to do.

So when I said to myself, just swing the club, because that is enough, things go better again. A lot better.

So many golfers, especially at the start of their golfing career, think that hitting the ball is the object of the game. When they learn otherwise is when they start to get better, and in a hurry.

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Thirteen golf clubs, one swing

Many advisors say you would be better off leaving your driver at home and teeing off with a 3-wood. I am completely opposed to that idea. The driver is one of the most valuable clubs in your bag. Instead of avoiding it, learn how to use it.

The reason the driver is so hard to hit is not because it is so much longer than the other clubs, or has less loft, but because of the way you approach it. The driver hits the ball father than any other club, and you see the touring pros absolutely bombing it, so you think you have to do the same, that it’s a distance club.

That makes you swing it differently from your other clubs, asking your swing to do different things, and the driver to different things, than they were designed to do.

You don’t think that way with your 9-iron, do you? With that club, you’re trying to hit an accurate shot to a target. No one tries to bomb their 9-iron. So why not do the same with your driver? Hit an accurate shot to a target. A very long time ago, the driver was called a “play club,” meant only to get the ball in play at a distance, with “in play” being the part that mattered.

The way to hit your driver well is to hit it the way you hit all your other clubs. Here’s a drill that will show how that feels.

Take two clubs to the range, you driver and your 9-iron. Warm up with your 9-iron and get to the point where each shot is a good one. Then, lay down that club, pick up your driver, and swing it with the same swing you’ve been using with the 9. That swing might feel a bit small, so open it up a bit, but stick to that 9-iron feeling. Hit three balls (no more!), and go back to the 9 and hit it with the driver swing you were just using. Now you will have a bit of driver feeling in your 9-iron. Hit a few balls with that swing, then go back to your driver and hit three balls with your new 9-iron swing.

What you’re doing is bringing aspects of one club into the swing of the other. You’re making your driver a little more like a short iron, and your short iron a little more like a driver. You keep going back and forth, one club borrowing from the other, until there’s nothing left to borrow. At the point where both swings feel the same, you’ve done it.

At that point, you should be hitting smooth, straight drives, and 9-irons that have real authority. This is the place where you want to be with your swing, where you have one swing for thirteen clubs.

In your daily life, you don’t run into a problem area and avoid it. You would figure out how to solve the problem and make that area a new strength. Do the same in your golf. Learn how to hit the driver and leave your 3-wood at home. That would make room for another wedge!

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Practicing golf in cold weather

It’s cold where I live, too cold to even go outside for much time at all. Forget about playing, how do we practice? Well, it’s not too hard, and you can end up practicing some things you should have been practicing, but never do.

Putting on the carpet. Everybody knows that one. I like to putt at a tin can lid. You need something to align the putt to, to know that you’re not pushing or pulling the putt, but hitting the lid isn’t the important point. Making a smooth stroke is. In fact, don’t even watch the ball until you know it has gone past the lid.

You can practice your chipping stroke, off a carpet remnant so you don’t damage the good carpeting. Plastic golf balls make good targets, and you’re practicing making good contact with a consistent stroke. Chip with a number of clubs, too, from you 5-iron to your lob wedge.

Your swing? You can swing inside the house. You won’t hit the ceiling. Use a 7-iron or less, and there won’t be any problem.

As for those things you should practice, but don’t? Get a block of wood to practice your takeaway. The club should start back straight for the first few inches. Toe the club against the block of wood and take the club back. You should hear a quick scraping sound, like striking a match. No sound, you’re taking it back inside. Long sound, you’re trying to take it back outside.

Practice keeping your hands ahead of the ball at impact. My YouTube video on this point shows you how.

Invent. Think of something. There’s lots you can do.

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Two Moves to Straight Golf Shots

To hit the ball straight, the clubface must be returned to the same position it had at address. From what I see, the two things recreational golfers do to ensure that does not happen are these. They start the club down with the right hand, in an effort to hit the ball, and their clubhead is the first thing that gets to the ball.

You must start the swing down with a gravity move. Start turning your body and just let the club start moving by falling. It floats down to the hitting position supported by your two hands. It does not get pushed into the hitting position by your right hand.

When your swing passes through impact, it must be led by the hands. There’s a race between the hands and the clubhead to get to the ball first, and the hands have to win. If they do, the clubface will be square.* If the clubhead wins, a square face is iffy.

You can see that these two factors are related. Starting the club down by letting it and your hands fall gracefully sets up a natural pulling action, energized by centrifugal force, that lets the hands get to the the ball first. Result: square clubface, straight shot, powerful shot.

I believe that if you practice these two things and make them a habit, you will hit the ball straighter, and straighter more often, than you believed possible.

*Assuming a proper grip, of course.

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