Do you know your yardage gaps?

whispering-creek-golf-club-hole-15

There is a very interesting thread over on GolfWRX about Ryan Moore’s set.  He doesn’t have his irons stamped with the traditional iron numbers.  Instead he has them stamped with the loft of the club.

What we’ve been told is that this gives him a very consistent yardage between clubs.  He is a real feel player and this helps to visualize the type of shot he wants to hit to get it close to the pin.

I would like to know my yardage gaps better but I don’t.  For the amateur golfer it is not as easy to get them.  Here’s why.

  1. We don’t often accurately know how far we hit each club.
  2. We’re not as consistent striking the ball as the pros, there is a greater difference in distance between our poor and solid strikes.
  3. We’re typically forced to hit poor driving range balls instead of the usual balls that we play with.
  4. Little access to a good launch monitor.
  5. If we play public courses, we can’t just go out and hit shots and measure them because we’ll hold up play.

Without accurate knowledge of our yardage gaps how are we supposed to plan our set makeup and of course how are we supposed to plan our shots to the greens?   I think this is one of the reasons that I’ve heard pros say over and over that amateurs under club.  Knowing your yardage gaps and your distances with each club enables you to plan your shots and factor slope, wind and temperature with confidence.

There’s a psychological benefit to knowing this information as well.  If you know the information, and you know that the club you selected is the right one, then you can more confidently setup and strike a good shot.  However, if you’re uncertain that you have the right club because you might have too much or too little club, that uncertainty will be expressed in your swing.  You may compensate for under clubbing by swinging harder, or you may decelerate if you feel you have taken too much club.

What are the solutions to getting your yardage gaps checked?

  1. Rent some time on a launch monitor.
  2. If you belong to a private club, then go when it is empty, bring a laser range finder, or a gps with a shot marking feature, and hit shots with each club.  Measure both your solid and your mediocre shots and see what the difference is.
  3. Write down the information that you get and understand it.  Are your yardage gaps consistent?  Do they make sense for your game?
  4. Seek out a teaching pro and get confirmation that your distances and yardage gaps make sense.  The pro can make some recommendations for you to get some of your clubs bent, or may recommend adding hybrids or wedges, depending on how your numbers came out.

Get to know this information and it will help you on the golf course.  If you have a forced carry, then you need to know what club will get your ball safely to the next shot.  If there is trouble behind the green, you need to know which club will get you on the green, but take the back of the green out of play.  Get to know your yardages and your gaps and you can make smarter decisions on the golf course.

Scoring when you don’t have your best stuff

Being a scratch player, to me, means being able to score well when you’re not playing particularly well.  When some part of your game is off it takes guts to grind out a good score.

My scores in the last 3 rounds have been about 10 strokes over my course handicap.  Ouch.  Now, I am working on some swing changes so that takes time and patience before it translates onto the course.  But it is difficult to know you can shoot a 78 and end up with and 87.  It’s tough when you can feel the round slipping away but you don’t know how to get it back on track.

Today I feel I learned something important.  Throughout the round I did not feel like I had my best stuff.  My ball striking was off and I wasn’t sure where the ball was going to go.  I had a slow start 3 over par for the first 5 holes.  But I finished strong going 3 over par over the next 15 holes.  I really had to grind on each shot.  I only hit 7 greens in regulation, 4 fairways, but I only needed 26 putts.

What were the keys to this round?

1. Staying patient

2. Vividly visualizing

3. Staying within my capabilities

1. Staying patient

For me this was probably the most difficult thing to do.  It was very frustrating to hit those early misses.  I had some of the worst ball striking I’ve had in a while.  I also had to rein in the feeling that the round was getting away from me.  I reminded myself that this was really early in the round and to just try and play comfortable, and not go for too much.

2. Vividly Visualizing

I think this was a major key.  Normally I pick out a target and I think about what I want the ball to do, then I do a slow half-swing emphasizing the movement I want to feel.  Today I did something different.

I would walk up to the ball, and from behind vividly imagine the flight path.  I would see the ball take off a roughly the same speed that an actual shot would, but I would see it leave a bit of trail (sort of like the tail of a comet) as it headed to the hole.  From this point of view of looking at the ball from behind it I would also see me taking the swing that would hit the shot.  Sort of like watching a preview of it.  I had never really done this before this way.  I also would not address the ball until I had really clear visualization.  Then once the visualization was really clear and I addressed the ball, it sort of felt like stepping into the shot that I saw.  I would address the ball, see the path again and swing.  Once I started to do this it was amazing how many shots actually took the path that I visualized.  Obviously not every shot did, but it was amazing to me how many actually did what I saw in my minds eye.

3. Staying within my capabilities

Although it was tempting to hit the “hero” shot, I did my best to stay within shots I knew I could pull off.  When I was chipping or pitching instead of really trying to get it to the hole I gave myself slightly bigger margin for error.  I think this took some pressure off me, and the pitches and chips came off really well, on a number of holes I was left with easy tap ins for par this way.

Although my ball striking was not where I wanted it to be, I was happy with the score at the end and I felt that I am on my way to being a scorer and a scratch player.

4 Keys to a great round today

Just got back from upstate NY where I got to play one of my favorite courses, Orchard Creek in Altamont, NY.  I had a 77 on a tough, very wet course.  Drives were only rolling about a foot, and the rough was pretty wet.  The sand in the bunkers was heavy.  The greens were still fast as usual though.  Things I learned during this round:

1) Putting Speed

The best way I’ve found to control my speed on fast greens is with a stroke that is short on the backswing and long on the forward swing.  With this stroke my speed was not only much better but the roll was truer.  I marked my golf balls with alignment lines and I was amazed at how true my putts were rolling with that end over end roll.  Although unfortunately I didn’t have any short birdie putts, I was able to make plenty of long (10+ feet) putts for par which went a long way toward saving the score.

2) Reading the Line

I’ve been writing about how many putts I lipped out, or burned the edges on.  I realized that this came from reading too much break into the putts.  It is a difficult thing to change because when you are used to reading a certain amount of break it is actually uncomfortable to play less break than that.  I had to learn to trust that the amount of break was actually correct even if it seemed like too little.

Yesterday I went to the putting green to practice armed with an excellent practice aid to help me read the greens.  It is basically a circular level that shows you in what direction the green is breaking at the point where you place it.  I learned to correlate the amount of change on the level to the amount of break and I really was shocked at how much break I had been reading into the putts.  Once I started to play less break and feel comfortable with it I started sinking a lot of putts on a fast practice green.

Combining #1 and #2 above really allowed me to feel comfortable putting.  It led to making a lot of nice long putts.  A few putts that didn’t go in where on exactly the right lines, they just needed a bit more speed.  Overall I was very happy with my putting.

3) Approach Shots from 120 Yards

This shot has been troubling me lately.  It’s not a full pitching wedge, and it’s too much for a sandwedge (52 or 56 degree).  I started playing a knockdown pitching wedge and it turned out to be the best way to hit this shot for me.  I had a number of these during the round and I started feeling very confident from this range.  As a result I hit many more greens today then usual.

4) Short Game

This is the one area that let me down today.  I feel like the 77 could have been a 74 or maybe even a 72 if my short game had been on.  Pitches from 15 to 30 yards where my biggest weakness during the day and turned some pars into bogies.  This area definitely remains fertile ground for improvement and I look forward to being a much better short game artist next season.

I did a lot of things well today on a tough course in cold, wet and windy conditions.  I was very pleased with my play and saw some serious room for improvement still.  But I do feel like it is doable and like I should be able to reach mid to low seventies next season on a regular basis.

Observations from today’s round

I am pretty happy with the progress I’m making.  My handicap is steadily going down, my consistency in scoring is much better, and my swing feels like it’s on solid ground.  Some things to still bug me.

I don’t get up and down enough.  I know that I have to improve my short game.  I need to leave short game shots close enough to easily one putt but it’s tricky.  This is my next challenge.  I feel like I’m plateauing around the 79-81 range.  And yet walking off the course I know where I left shots on the table.  Today I had an 81, which is one under for my course handicap so again, it was a solid round.  Although I do feel it could easily have been 4 or 5 strokes better.

I had a thought that was helpful on the golf course today. The image of the inner workings of a clock, seeing all the gears moving, synchronized, no one gear speeding up.  It seemed to keep me much more synchronized and helped with the long game.  I had a really good driving day and I had a lot of good shots.  It does get to me when I have a wonderful tee shot, and a bad approach shot.  It’s a nice drive wasted and it drives me crazy.  I had two of those, with the approach shots coming up way short (I had enough club but actually hit the ball fat).  I’m pretty sure that is just a mental game thing.

A couple of things were interesting.  I really felt comfortable driving the ball, and I also felt really comfortable with my fairway woods.  I’m not sure why that was but it was nice.  On 18 I hit my drive off the toe but still got it out with pretty good distance and in the fairway.  I had about 230 up hill and I hit a nice 4 wood, pin high, but in the rough on the left side of the green.  I ended up 1 putting for a par 5 but could easily have had a birdie if I had chipped it close.

I burned the edge on so many putts today.  Had a few of those gone in it could have been a stellar round for me.  I realized that I was reading 1″ too much break on each putt.  I didn’t correct that until the 17th hole but it made a difference once I figured that out.

A good fall round

Another fall round today.  Actually, it’s my first time on the course since last week.  Anyway I posted a 79.  I hit 6 GIR, 9/14 Fairways and had 32 putts.  Not a bad score considering only 6 GIR.  I shot par for my course handicap so I’m pretty happy with the score.  I didn’t make any birdies though which was disappointing.

Overall I was pretty happy with my ball striking today.  I had a couple of bad chips and a few bad putts, but as I said I felt I scored well, all things considered.  I had a few errant drives, and although I hit some fades I didn’t have any big slices.  I basically kept the ball in play and recovered from a couple of miscues.  I know that I need to hit more greens.  That will definitely lower my scores. I crushed a few drives but I’m still not sure the driver fits me totally, but it’s kind of too late in the season to change it up.

On the 9th hole, a very short par 3, I hit sand wedge from 109 yards.  I landed the ball pin high (then pin was about 10 feet from the front of the green), then spun it back to about 10 feet off the green (for a total spin back of about 20 ft).  That’s what happens when you’ve been playing a low spin ball and decide to switch to a tour ball.  Way too much spin.  I only needed some controlled spin and it just over spun on me.  Oh well, at least I got up and down for par.

Handicap Drop – Now 8.6

Once again my handicap index has dropped.  I think all of the things I’ve been working on are having a major impact on my game and how I play it.

This is the lowest my handicap has ever been and I’m pretty excited about that.  I am also very excited because I know I still have much I can improve on.  I think to move to scratch I will really need to improve my short game.  I think the strategy for this will be as follows:

  1. Putting.  Must become a better putter.  You can always save strokes putting well.  Putting practice will continue while I work on the other short game areas.
  2. Bunker game.  I am finding myself in more fairway bunkers and bunkers by the green.  When I miss from long range I don’t miss by as much, but the misses are just enough that they put me in the bunker. I will need to improve my sand save percentage as well as my ball striking from fairway bunkers.
  3. Pitching and chipping from 60, 30 and 15 yards.  Getting up and down from these ranges is essential.

So far this has been an exciting journey.  Things have not totally gone according to plan, but what actually does?  I’m playing with more freedom and confidence and it is just such a joy to be on the golf course because I’m always learning something.

Lesson learned: Don’t go for broke

Today I had one of the most difficult rounds I have had lately.  I played a new course and before the round started I was feeling fine.  Then the round started and I just couldn’t put a hole together.

I kept trying a lot of things to get back on track and none of it was working.  Sure I hit a few great shots, but I just couldn’t string them together.  If I hit a great drive, I’d hit a poor approach.  It just wasn’t coming together.

The last 3 holes I figured something out, and during those 3 holes the game seemed really easy.  So easy that it was worlds away from the previous 16.

What I did was to not go for broke.  For example on the 17th hole I picked a spot, roughly 150 yards in front of me.  That was were I tried to land my drive.  So I swung, and hit it 90 yards past that spot and in great position for my layup on this par 5.  I only needed about 160 yds to lay up to about 75 yards.  I picked a spot about 120 yards in front of me to land my 8 iron.  I picked it cleanly and ended up in the perfect layup spot, about 50 yds from the green.  The green was on up on a hill maybe 15 ft above my feet.  I picked a spot, on the front of the green and hit my lob wedge to about 15 feet with an uphill putt left.  I two putted my for par and moved on.  18 was another par 5.  Again, I picked out a spot about 150 yards in front of me.  I smashed a perfect drive to the left side of the fairway just before it got to a big downslope.  I had about 220 yards to the green into the wind.  I picked out a spot about 100 yards in front of me and hit my 4 wood just short of the green.  I had 20 yards left to the pin.  I picked out a spot just in front of the green to land the ball to as the green sloped down from there.  Any further and it would have had a good chance of rolling by the hole.  My pitch ended up in that spot.  I putted from just off the green and it went in for birdie.

Those two holes just seemed so easy.

I think this put my mind at ease in a number of ways.  Instead of trying for a shot that I’m capable of, but may or may not pull off, I picked out a target well within reach.  This allowed to put some smooth swings on the ball which ensured solid contact and shots that actually went futher, straighter and were more solid than usual.  I know from my work on the range, that when I try to hit a driver 150, I can’t.  I always end up with a full but very smooth swing that sends the ball on a great flight way past the target.  The other thing that happened was I felt a certain amount of peace as if I would have been okay with the shot, if it had hit that target that was well within reach.  I was okay with the outcome and it led to well played shots.

It’s not easy to pick a target that is so within reach.  Certainly part of me wanted to bomb it as I am capable of doing.  When you start hitting it well, it’s easy to get greedy.  When you’re not hitting it well, it’s easy to try the miracle shot to get back on track.  It’s easy to start going for more than is smart.  But those last few hole sure remind me how easy the can be.  I want to spend more time playing like that!

Taking Pressure Off

I think maybe one of the ways to be less ball bound is to find ways to take pressure off.  Under pressure, the body automatically does what it’s trained to do, even if that is not the best thing to do.  It becomes difficult to change highly ingrained bad habits if we put a lot of pressure on ourselves.  In a fantastic book by Raymond Floyd, “The Art of Scoring”, he starts out by saying to play comfortable.  He would watch Jack Nicklaus, take a smooth swing off the first tee with a fairway wood or an iron.  He would end up behind the other players.  Then he would take a smooth iron to the fat part of the green, then he would lag his putt to tap in range, and tap in for par.  Jack would continue to play like that.  He said that it gave Nicklaus some additional freedom.  Jack Nicklaus could score really well playing conservatively like that, but because he could do that, he would be able to turn it on and get more aggressive when he needed to.

If I can take the pressure off, then I end up playing much better.  Today I played and I started off with some bad holes.  I had put pressure early on to score well because I felt like I’ve been making some good progress, maybe I can pull off a really good round.  After missing a bunch of fairways from holes 2 to 5, I realized I needed to do something about this.  I needed to find a shot I could get in the fairway consistently even if it meant giving up distance.  This would allow me to take some pressure off.

The thing I do when I need to hit it straighter is that I swing so that it feels like I have no wristcock. The swing becomes a bit more compact, and I will find the sweet spot if I’m out of sync.  It’s not the prettiest swing, and I give up about 10% distance but I know where the shots are going to go.

For the remaining holes I used this on every shot except putting and I ended up turning the round around.  Although I shot a 43 for the front 9, I followed it up with a 37 on the back nine for an 80. I didn’t have a great putting day, and my chipping was mediocre, but I ended up with a good score after all. So that is one way that I take pressure off.

I would like to find some additional ways to the pressure off when chipping/pitching.