You Don’t Hit The Golf Ball As Far As You Think You Do

Golf Digest recently analyzed data from Game Golf and the evidence suggests that you don’t hit the ball as far as you think you do. It is something I have been harping on for years. The best studies I have seen suggest that the average weekender hits the ball 200 yards off the tee, but thinks it goes 30 yards further. The expectations gap is actually low compared to my own observations. I cannot even begin to count the number of people who have told me that they hit the ball 300 yards when my GPS measurements tell me it is more like 240.

Golf Digest’s data suggests that the average drive is about 215 yards. Seven irons average 133. And the average golfer hits the fairway 46% of the time.

Those are not very impressive numbers when compared to golfers’ own expectations. Worse, I think the Game Golf numbers are overstated.  If you have paid for, and are using Game Golf, you probably are a more serious player. Game Golf is not cheap, and requires a player to integrate it into the preshot routine. If you are using Game Golf on a regular basis, you are serious about improving your game. And in my mind, that implies a player who is somewhat better than average. The same likely is true when studying players who keep a handicap.

Still, even with those inflated numbers, the weekender who tells you that his nine iron is his 150 club likely is lying. I also think it is the case that if you get a nine iron to go 150 by swinging out of your shoes, but can’t hit a green or keep the ball in the fairway, the nine iron really isn’t your 150 club.

I am under no illusions about my own statistics, since I track them using my golf gps. I was therefore gratified to find that I am slightly longer than the Game Golf average with the clubs and significantly more accurate off the tee.

The discrepancy between player distance fantasies and realities is amusing, but also ultimately problematic. Misjudging distances leads to playing from the wrong tees. And THAT is the cause of five hour rounds. It is also the reason why the average golf score is still 100, even after all the equipment innovations and instruction improvement over the last fifty years.

Players who use a tee too far to the rear will need to use longer irons on their second shots, resulting in more missed greens. More missed greens means more shots from around the green, or at the very least, longer putts. In any case, those shots add up to more time and higher scores.

Players who are continually frustrated by their seeming inability to play the game will quit. Sadly, they will never know that the standard to which they were holding themselves was unrealistic. If more players realized that 220 is a more realistic driver number, they might stick with the game.

Here’s a measure: If tee shots on a par four regularly leave you with a five iron (or more) to the green, you need to move up a tee. If your five iron from 150 regularly misses the green short, left or right, you should move up at tee. If your average score is in the mid to high 90s, you need to move up a tee.

The Game Golf data tells the weekender that they need to temper expectations. We should expect to have fun. We should not expect to hit balls to pro — or even single handicap — distances. If you aspire to a better game, play it forward until you regularly score in the low 80s from that distance. THEN move back.

In the meantime, have fun. The pros hit driver-short iron for a chance at birdie. Why shouldn’t you?



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2 thoughts on “You Don’t Hit The Golf Ball As Far As You Think You Do”

  1. That Golf Digest article has been getting a lot of discussion within the golf blogosphere. I agree with you that the actual averages are likely lower than the Game Golf population. When a golfer is asked how far they hit a certain club, many invariably cite the yardage achieved with the most perfectly struck shot in the past 12 months (with a helping wind and firm conditions).

  2. I am convinced that the original figures I saw — 200 yards and a score of 100 — are correct for the average golfer.

    The difference between reality and fantasy is exacerbated by the manufacturers who keep promising 10 yards longer. There’s no way you hit it just 200 yards with that new $500 driver and $5 ball, right?


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