Continuing the theme of course management, I will now touch on the topic of managing your distance. Many of the greatest players will agree with me when I say that managing how far you hit your clubs is one of the most important elements to a great golfer. There are many technical elements to distance control, but this will deal with how to manage your strategy to maximise your chances.
If we take an example below, we see a green protected by a bunker at the front, a typical scenario on the golf course. The pin is also at the front, enticing you to take it on. Whilst the strategy should be individualised for every person, I have listed what I consider the best strategy for both a good player (single figure handicap) and an average player (above 10 handicap).
For the average player, the main aim is to avoid going in the bunker, as this generally results in a dropped shot most of the time. It would be better to be at the back of the green and putting from 60 feet than coming out of the bunker, statistically. Add to that the fact that, even if you did knock it to 10 feet, the chance of converting that to a birdie is probably lower than 25%.
Therefore, the best strategy would be to aim to the middle of the green and pick a club which will get there with an easy swing. E.g. If it is 140 yards to the flag, play it like it is 150 yards. On top of that, if your normal 150 yard club is a 7 iron, use a 6 iron instead and swing it easy.
By using this strategy,
- If you are to get the yardage you want, it means you will only be 10 yards away from the flag
- If you are to accidentally hit it a little too hard and pure it at the same time, you will still be on the back of the green, or at the back edge, where it will be an easy ‘chip and run’ style up and down.
- If you mis-strike it a little (quite likely at your level), you will actually end up closer to the flag and may have a birdie chance.
- You will only end up in the bunker if you really mis-strike it, but this is less likely due ot the fact you are swinging easy.
The better player
For the better player, strike quality is generally much higher, therefore distance control is also better. For this reason, a similar but slightly different strategy can be more optimal. The things we have to remember with the better player is that a ball landing in the bunker is generally going to cost only half a shot each time (with a 50% up and down rate), and that they are more likely to take advantage of a shot knocked close, due to their better putting skills. This allows for a more aggressive strategy, without compromising risk/reward percentages. This translates into a strategy of aiming 10 yards past the pin (see below).
However, for the better player, the strategy would be to use a club which would require a ‘hard swing’ to get there. For example, if the flag is 140 yards away, play the club which would give you 150 yards if struck nicely with an aggressive swing. This would usually be your 140 yard club hit hard in most cases.
The reasons for this are
- If you happen to crush the ball, it may fly 10 yards past the pin, but it will usually have a higher flight and have more spin (from the good contact and higher swing speed), resulting in a ball that spins back towards the flag, or stays in a safe place on the green at worst.
- If you hit the ball just a fraction poor, it will just land closer to the flag, and there is a good chance you will suffer a slight mis-hit when you are swinging aggressively.
- You will only go in the bunker if you really screw up your strike, but as your ability is higher, this should not happen too often. Even if it does, you are likely to not suffer too many dropped shots, and the reward (more birdie chances) outweighs the risk (occasional bunker shot).
Don't forget to adjust for the wind. Similar to our direction management talked about in the last post, we must adjust for the effect of the wind. If, for example, the wind is into our face, it will knock the distance of your shot down. The simple strategy change for this will be to aim 10 yards further (if the wind is a 10 yard strong wind) by adding an extra club (hitting a 6 iron instead of a 7 iron, for example).
Take home message
When you look at the patterns of almost every player, they are very unlikely to hit it further than the yardage they wanted. At least half, it not all of shots end up finishing short of the intended distance. For this reason, the general strategy is to aim further than the flag, allowing your mistakes to work for you. This is not only practically efficient, but psychologically. A player who aims past the flag and then executes their shot perfectly will not be disappointed. Also, average mistakes will result in a better shot, so the player will not be disappointed either. Who can be angry with themselves for knocking it close? This is contrary to what you see on the golf course from day to day – players making small mistakes and getting punished big time. Imagine how many shots you could save per round, just by playing the percentages.