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-down 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.
* This is the first mention of a concept that in 2017 became Triangulated Approach Putting (TAP).