Mental Mondays: Know Your Distances

The Five Inch CourseIn 1960, the average golf score was 100. Forty years later, in spite of all the innovations in clubs, balls and instruction, the average golf score is … still 100. In fact, only 20 percent of all golfers will ever break that mark.

Here’s the problem: Even with all the improvements, the one thing we haven’t been able to improve is the golf intelligence of the players. Most hackers—and more than a few better players—just play dumb golf. So here’s a series on playing smarter golf. I’ve been collecting mental game golf tips for years in a series of notebooks, on my palm pilot, in my phone, and in various computer files. They’ve helped my game. I know they’ll help yours

Know Your Distances

The admonition to know how far you hit your clubs seems too obvious for words, but the fact of the matter is that most amateurs really don’t know.  A study from a few years ago showed that while the average golfer thinks he hits the driver 230 yards, he actually averages around 200. Similar distance miscalculations hold true throughout the bag.

Too often we see our golf game through rose colored glasses. Because we once hit a six iron 170 yards, we have convinced ourselves that’s our natural distance with that club. What we don’t remember is that nine times out of ten it goes more like 150.

If you don’t know with a fair degree of accuracy how far each club goes, you will constantly make errors in judgment that will cost you strokes.

In years past, getting a good read on your distances was real work. The most common method was to take a shag bag to an open field, hit a bunch of balls and then take measurements with a long tape measure or by pacing it out. I actually did that on several occasions and collected a fair amount of data, but the whole process was rather inconvenient.

These days, even the most basic GPS units will let you measure shot distances. Another option is to go to a local driving range that has a radar system, set up and hit several buckets of balls. This, however, is not as good an option for several reasons. First, hitting a ball off a plastic mat is not the equivalent of hitting off grass and dirt. Second, unless you play with driving range balls, your own ball likely will perform differently.

In any case, whether you pace off distances, measure with a GPS or rely on driving range radar, you should begin to collect data on your shots. Try to get ten distances per club. Toss the top and bottom two as outliers and then average the rest.

Write the distances for each club on a small piece of paper and then tape it to the back of a bag tag. Alternately, put a small sticker with the distance on the shaft of each club. Either way, you’ll have a handy reference to your real distances until they become second nature.

Then—and this is the hardest part—pay attention to the measurements on the course.

This mental golf tip is an excerpt from The Five Inch Course: Thinking Your Way To Better Golf.


3 thoughts on “Mental Mondays: Know Your Distances”

  1. The advice about knowing one’s distances is spot on, especially the “carry”.  If one plays courses with significant bunkering or forced carries, knowing how far the ball goes on the fly is crucial.  Ocassionally playing when a course is very wet is a good check on one’s “carry” distances.  It does not help the ego but it gives you a good read on how far the ball travels without any roll.

  2. I’ve always thought the game of golf was more mental than anything else.  Although talent goes a lot way, you need to have the right attitude when out on the links.

  3. Great idea for a series!  And a great start!  Couldn’t agree with you (and the commenters) more.  Looking forward to the rest and getting smarter about my game. smile


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