Category Archives: playing the game

The Importance of Iron Play

1. There is a chapter in the book, The Search For the Perfect Golf Swing, titled, “Long Approach Shots — Where Tournaments are Won”.

By “long approach shots”, they meant shots between 130-220 yards. The indicator is proximity to the hole. The closer, the better, obviously.

There is another chapter on driving which concluded that length counts most, but I won’t go into that here.

2. My favorite Tiger Woods quote was when he said his irons were his offensive weapons. Yes, he made some putts, but they were putts his irons gave him the opportunity to make.

3. My favorite golf quote of all time comes from Percy Boomer’s book, On Learning Golf: “It is true that if you cannot putt, you cannot win, for no hole is won until the ball is down—but good scores are only made possible by good play up to the green.”

4. This article, which came out in Golf Digest today, explains why Collin Morikawa is so good. Big hint: it’s his iron play.

You’ve no doubt read the comment that his dispersion with a 6-iron is the same as the average Tour pro with a pitching wedge.

5. I was a decent iron player even at the time when I wasn’t all that good at anything else, and one thing that got me into single digits was becoming a very good iron player.

So when you go to the range, spend a lot more time with your irons than you do with your driver.

Although he had to find fairways, Johnny Miller didn’t shoot a 63 at Oakmont because of his driving.

Notes From a Round of Golf

To hit a good opening tee shot, look at your grip to be sure you have placed your hands on the club correctly. When you swing, make sure you apply good rhythm and tempo. Do just those two things and you should be O.K. Actually, do this before every swing for the first two holes while you’re getting settled in. Actually, do this all day.

Two hundred and sixty yards from the green? Put away the fairway wood. You’re going to take two shots to get there no matter what, so make them easy shots: two 8-irons, a 7 and a 9, etc. Unless you are really good with them, I don’t know why you would hit a fairway wood from the fairway anyway.

Do you have a five-foot putt that looks like it will run straight into the hole? Walk to about thirty feet away and look again. Now you can see that the green is a little higher on the right than it is on the left, and only from back there can you see it. A putt that looked straight really breaks left, and now you know.

You know how some of the pros take the club part way back and look at the clubface? They’re looking to see if the face turned out of square in their takeaway, which is easy to do. Checking yourself this way might be a good habit for you to adopt.

Take Your Course Game to the Range

Yesterday I went out to play nine holes. That might not sound like an earth-shaking statement, but because my immune system is compromised I haven’t played, except for a few rounds on an executive course, since February of last year.

I have been practicing all along, and can hit the ball pretty well, but that is different than playing. Which is the subject today’s post.

What I have been practicing are the mechanics the swinging the golf club, chiping, and putting. But I had not been practicing the act of making a golf shot. Those are two very different things.

When we complain that we can’t play like we practice, not understanding that difference, I believe, is the likely cause.

When we hit a shot on the golf course we have to pay attention to these things:
– Focus our mind what we are about to do
– Decide where we’re going to hit the ball to
– In many cases, decide how we’re going to hit it
– Decide which club we’re going to use
– Set up: grip, aim, stance, posture, ball position
– And finally, hit the shot.

Do you practice all of that at the range? Or just the last one, hitting one ball after another?

If practice is just ball-striking, we are not preparing ourselves to play the game.

Yesterday I hit five bad shots that turned a 40 into a 46. None of them were the fault of bad ball-striking. The fault was in not paying attention to the things that surround ball-striking, because I hadn’t practiced them enough.

I know how to do everything on that list. But I had not practiced doing those things enough, and in sequence, so they had become habits. I would forget to do one or two, or not do them correctly.

If you just want to go out and bat the ball around and have fun in a pleasant surrounding with your friends, go right ahead. There is value in that.

But if you want to shoot low scores, you need to practice in such a way that you make a habit of all of golf. Not just the hitting-the-ball part.

My Favorite Golf Toy

I made toy a few years ago to show myself how easy it really is to shoot a low score in golf.

It’s an Excel spreadsheet called The Longest Shot Score [course name] on my hard drive, but I abbreviated it for this post as longestshot.xls. so you can download it.

Enter the yardages of each hole on your course, then enter the longest shot you can hit off the tee, and the longest shot you can hit off the fairway.

The spreadsheet tells what score you could shoot.

My real intent when I wrote this was to see how short you can hit and still score.

Let’s use this screenshot of one of the courses in play, in Dallas, Oregon (several miles east of Salem).

If you never hit over 200 yards off the tee, and 175 yards off the fairway, you are set up to score a 75.

Trying to break 90? You can do that if you never hit over 150 yards off the tee and 125 yards from the fairway.

There’s a given, which is that you always get down in two whenever the ball is up to the green, and that’s a really big given.

But still. I’m trying to tell you that length is good, but straight is better, even if it isn’t very long, and there’s more than one plan for getting around the course than to hit driver all the time.

Play within yourself, keep the ball in play, and shoot scores you would be proud of.

Google Maps and Golf

A few days ago, I got to playing with Google Maps to see how far away different objects in the Fairgrounds field, where I hit golf balls, it being only one block from my house, are from each other. The Internet is such a wonderful thing.

I found a feature that I didn’t know about before which measures straight-line distances. Pull up your map of, let’s say the second hole that requires you to carry the tee shot over a ditch or lay up. How far do you have to carry the tee shot in order to carry the ditch?

GM will tell you, and if I am not the last man on Earth to have found this feature, you’re in for a treat.

With the image of the hole, nice and big, in front of you, right-click on the tee box. A box will pop up with all sorts of features. Left-click on “Measure Distance”.

Right-click on the spot you want to measure the distance to. Another box will pop up. Left-click on “Distance to here”. A graduated line will appear, giving you the distance between the two spots.

This image shows you why I don’t try to hit over the ditch. 633 feet (211 yards) is more than I want to try for. Not to mention, it’s uphill. I can do it, if I really nail it, but how often you really nail it? Besides, this a par 5 and I almost always get par by laying up to the ditch. But now I know.

If you want to get deep into your strategy, you might find holes that you can play better by playing to a specific spot off the tee and finding out what club you would hit to get there.

I’ll let you figure out how to use this tool in places other than off the tee.

The whole point is to perhaps learn how to get your way around the courses you play by hitting manageable shots that play to your strengths.

Arriving (II)

A year or so ago I posted an article on the importance of arriving–getting the ball up to or past the hole when you hit a shot into the green. That was all based on theory, with a generous assist from the writings of Vivien Saunders.

Now I have some actual data. Yesterday I was prowling around the Internet (why is that word capitalized, anyway?) looking for data on the average leave for recreational golfers’ shots into the green because I was writing about the interplay of swing improvement and short game and putting improvement. What I found forced me take a U-turn and revisit arriving.

The image below is a chart of the dispersion of the AMA (average male amateur) from 160 yards away. What I don’t know is whether the dots represent shots hit only by male golfers who are of average skill, or if the dots show the average compiled by male amateurs regardless of skill. That difference probably isn’t relevant to the point I’m making in this piece, though.

I divided the chart into a sixteen-cell grid. Four columns separate shots that missed left, hit the green left, hit the green right, and missed right. Four rows separate shots the missed long, hit the green long of center, hit the green short of center, and missed short.

Because the green is round and not square, there are a few shots in the corners of the four grid cells for hitting the green that did not hit the green, but I accounted for those.

An eyeball inspection shows two things: most of the shots that missed the green missed short, and most of the shots that missed short were on line to hit the green.

Here are the actual numbers, which I got by counting the dots:

I won’t make your eyes glaze over by throwing bunch of numbers at you. You can make whatever you want to out of what’s in the table. I will say just two things with numbers that I already said with words.

(1) Eight out of ten of the shots in the chart finished short of the center of the green (GS+S). That means that only two out of ten shots into the green finished beyond the center of the green.

(2) Of the 574 shots that finished short of the green (S), seven out of ten of them (411) would have hit the green if they had been hit far enough: S: GL+GR.

What does that mean? Four out of ten of all shots hit the green (green cells). If you push the shots in the (S: GL+GR) cells into the GS row, now over six out of ten shots will have hit the green: (S: GL+GR) + (GS: GL+GR). The actual percentages here are 38% and 64%.

If you apply these percentages to every hole (which doesn’t match reality, but this is all the data we have) you get 6.8 and 11.5 GIR, respectively. THAT’S ALMOST FIVE MORE GIR JUST BY HITTING ENOUGH CLUB INTO THE GREEN.

And that is just getting the ball onto the green, never mind getting the ball onto the green past the hole.

Maybe some of the shots at the green that ended up short were mishits. Well, not maybe. Were. But that’s only a small portion of them, and not enough to take away from the following point.

The average male amateur (that’s you) can GREATLY increase the number of greens he/she (you) hits JUST BY USING ENOUGH CLUB.

Why doesn’t that happen? Either you don’t really know how far away the green/pin is, or you don’t really know how far you hit your irons, or do know but base club selection on how far you are capable of hitting that club rather than how far you usually hit that club. Or you don’t take your lie into count. Or the wind. Or the condition of the turf. Or how you’re hitting today. Or the green is elevated.

All of those are easy problems to solve. They do not require you to be one bit better of a ball-striker than you are now. They just require you to think.

Maybe you won’t get five more GIR. Maybe four, maybe three. But you’ll get more.

I’m not going to listen to any excuses.

Chart Your Shots Into the Green

In an earlier post, I talked about arriving. A shot to the pin must finish past the pin. It must arrive. It doesn’t matter how good your good shots are. It matters that they arrive.

Your long game sets up your green game (short game and putting) if you have the habit of arriving. But you’ll never really know if that is a problem if you don’t see a picture of how you really bring the ball to the hole.

This blog post is about making that picture.

You might keep statistics as you play. Fairways hit, greens hit, number of putts, are the basics and you can get as detailed from there as you want.

I ask you to not do that the next time you play. Instead make a picture. If you never keep stats, you get to make a picture, too.

You know the saying that a picture is worth a thousand words. It’s so true. Looking at a collective picture of where your shots into green end up will tell you in an instant what a row of numbers might only suggest.

What you do is draw a big circle in the center of a 3×5 card. As you play into each green, put a dot where the ball ends up, and draw a line from the ball to the approximate location of the pin. After nine holes, start in on a second card or draw a chart on the other side of the same card (eighteen holes on one chart makes too much clutter).

The picture below is my chart from the last round I played.

I was short of the pin four times, past it (way past!) once, and about even four times. Not bad. For the times I was short, it took ten strokes to get down. For the other five times, it took eleven strokes to get down.

Just nine holes doesn’t tell you that much. But if you get charts for four or five rounds, they should show a clear pattern of how you’re playing the ball into the green. I’ll leave it to you figure out what to do with that information.

Breaking X0

There’s a class of golfers who are on the cusp of breaking what I call a milestone score—100, 90, or 80. (If you’re trying to break 70, you don’t need my help.)

I’ll tell you right now, that if you’re flirting with that 99, 89, or 79, you’re already good enough to get there. What’s keeping you back is not be coming a better shotmaker, but a better player.

Golf is a game you play. Good shots get you in the ball park you want to be in. The right shots bring you home.

Example. I was playing a few days ago and my second shot on a par 4 ended up on a mound about five feet above the level of the green, maybe 30 feet from the hole. I took out my sand wedge and pitched on. The ball landed about three feet from the hole, but rolled about ten feet past.

That sounds all right, maybe, but it was the wrong shot. I had released to clubhead, that is, let my hands turn over. That puts a moderate amount of spin on the ball, which is why it ran so far past.

I was playing solo, so I dropped another ball and this time held off the release so at the finish, the clubface was still facing to the sky. That puts a lot of spin on the ball. The ball flew the same, landed close to the same spot as before, but rolled out less than one foot. Tap-in par.

The first shot was a good shot. It was just the wrong shot, which added a stroke to my score, whereas hitting the right shot would have kept my score down.

Now there’s a difference between the wrong shot and a bad shot. We all miss shots, make bad ones, even if they were the right shot. That’s why we’re handicap golfers.

But the more you know about how to play the game, the lower your score will be with the same skills.

Raymond Floyd wrote this in his book, The Elements of Scoring, which I highly recommend: “If somehow I was given your physical (golf) game and we had a match I would beat you 99 times out of 100, because I know how to play the game better than you do”

Got that?

Here’s another example. Earlier in that round, I was on a sharp upslope in front of the green about 40 feet from the pin. Since an upslope adds loft to the club, I chose a 52-degree wedge to chip on with. I hit a good shot that finished about 15 feet past the hole. So I tried another shot, with a 56-degree wedge. Same stroke, different club. The ball finished about four feet past the hole.

In the first example, it was the right cub, but the wrong stroke. In the second example, it was the right stroke, but the wrong club.

Do you see what is going on here? These little things are what can add strokes to your score that you don’t reflect your skill level. Your score doesn’t reflect how well you hit the ball so much as how well you play.

In that nine holes, there were four occasions where I hit a wrong-shot do-over that saved a stroke. The bad shots I let lie. All that turned a 42 into a potential 38.

Four shots in eighteen holes is a lot, but four shots in nine holes is enormous.

I strongly recommend that you find time, on occasion to play a solo round when the course isn’t busy and do what I did. You will learn a ton about being a better player, which is all you need to be to break that milestone score.

4 Cornerstones of the Game

There’s a golf blog I recommend you give a look to, called 3Jack Golf Blog. It concentrates on professional tournament golf, but occasionally has instructional relevance for us. Find it at https://3jack.blogspot.com/.

One post that struck me presented Richie’s analysis of the telling skills for professional golfers. He called them the 4 Cornerstones of the Professional Game.

They are,

1. Driving Effectiveness
2. Red Zone Play (175-225 yards)
3. Short Game shots from 10-20 yards
4. Putting from 3-15 feet

Players that rank average or better in all four these areas do well on the Tour. Recreational golfers who do well in these area will do well overall, too.

Driving Effectiveness is a combination of length and accuracy. For us, accuracy would be more important than length, but don’t discount distance. My par rate is clearly related to being the fairway. I don’t think about distance, because the ones I hit straight are my longest drives.

I would reduce the yardage of Red Zone Play to 125-175 yards for recreational golfers. This is about hitting greens from distances we can realistically have a chance. I once wrote about the yardage gap for recreational golfers, the distance from 175-200 yards that we don’t have a realistic chance of hitting the green with any consistency. Take a look at that post.

By the way, I have this rule of thumb for hitting greens. It is just my guess, with no data to back it up at all, but it makes sense to me. Add a zero to the number of the club you are using. That is the percentage of greens you should hit with that club.

The standard for a 9-iron then is to hit 90% of greens, and with a 5-iron, 50% is a reasonable expectation. Thinking along these lines can help you plan you approach to the green, as in what are my chances of missing, and if I miss, where is the best place to do that?

Numbers 3 and 4 are obviously just as important for us, without modification, as they are for the pros. The short game metric is measured in yards from the green, not from the hole. Putting? How many putts from 3-15 feet do you sink? Just two more per round would help, don’t you think?

I know these cornerstones sound obvious, because when you take them out, there isn’t that much of the game left. Long-range pitching, bunker play, and approach putting is about it.

But you might want consider concentrating on these four areas in your practice sessions and see how it works out. I’m focusing on #3, because those are great places from which to steal a par, and there’s no reason I can’t get good with those shots. Or you, for that matter.

A Few Shot Savers

Here are some easy ways to save a shot here and there which do not require you be any better than you are now. Each one can save you one stroke per round. They are taken from the upcoming edition of Bob’s Living Golf Book.

Play from the right set of tees.

Off the tee, use the longest club with which you can reliably hit the fairway. If that’s your driver, go for it. If it’s not our driver, don’t just assume it is your 3-wood.

Every shot at the hole (iron, pitch, chip, putt) must pass the hole. If the iron into the green requires a longer club than you can reliably hit straight, lay up. It is easier to chip on from the unobstructed fairway than from problematic ground on the sides of the green.

From 10-20 yards off the green, getting the ball on the green in one shot is a higher priority than getting the ball close to the pin.

For any putt of under roughly 20 feet (you have to determine the exact distance) look at the hole when you putt.

For putts beyond 20 feet, use the Triangulated Approach Putting technique.

Realize that some holes are too hard for you. Play them for an easy bogey instead of a hard par.

When you’re in trouble, think first about hitting the ball back into the fairway and playing on from there.

Put more importance on having fun with your companions and enjoying the day than you do shooting a low score.

Carry these playing tips with you, use them, and see how many strokes they save you. There are nine of them. What if each one did save you one stroke per round?