Why iron play is so important for scoring potential

Posted by on December 09, 2020  /   Posted in golf tips

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If you are a golfer looking to get his lowest scores, you will find many answers in your iron game. Successful approach shots require careful planning, correct information and, of course, skillful hitting.

In this article, I'm going to share:

Why approach shots are so important
Data from millions of approach shots courtesy of Shot Scope (how far golfers hit each iron, proximity and GIR)
The one statistic that ranks above all in terms of your score potential

Let's see!

Approach Shots Are the Biggest Key to Scoring

For a long time we did not fully understand why certain golfers scored better than others. Fortunately, Mark Broadie, a professor at Columbia University, cleared that up for all of us. After examining millions of shots using his revolutionary stats on shot obtained (a measure of relative performance), he came to the following conclusion:

My analysis of millions of golf shots reveals a consistent finding: Approach shots are responsible for the greatest scoring advantage among golfers of any skill level. The best golfers also get strokes with their driving, short game and putting games, but approach shots make the biggest difference.

To be clear, approach shots include all shots outside 100 yards that are not tee shots on a Par 4 or Par 5. As you know, that's a large percentage of your shots on the course, especially with your irons . For more information, I highly recommend reading Every Shot Counts


How far golfers hit their irons

Ask any golfer how far they hit their 7 iron, and they will probably tell you how far think they can hit versus how far they actually hit . . When someone says 165 yards, that's usually how far they can hit their 7 iron when they flush it. But what about more normal shots?

Shot Scope, a popular shot tracking company, analyzed millions of real shots among their users (you can read my review of their system here). The following graph shows how far golfers with different handicap levels hit their irons on average:

As you can see, most golfers hit their 7-iron on average between 147 and 159 meters. And as you would expect, the distance increases as the handicap level goes down.

If you are interested in tee shot statistics you can read this article which was extremely popular a few months ago.

How close do most golfers hit the hole with their irons?

Another element of scoring that Mark Broadie proved (and which many of us suspected) is that golf is a game of proximity . If everything is equal, and with a few exceptions, the closer you are to the hole your chance of a lower score increases .

Here are aggregated approximations among golfers by club:

As I mentioned earlier, this is one of the most underestimated difficulties in the game. No one on the planet can put their golf ball wherever they want. As such, you need to plan accordingly (hint: don't be so aggressive with goals).

Now let's look at the proximity numbers for a "middle of the pack" player on the PGA Tour from different approach distances in 2020:

175 – 200 yards: 33 feet

150 – 175 yards: 28 feet

125 – 150 yards: 23 feet

100 – 125 yards: 19.5 feet

As you might expect, these numbers are considerably better. But they usually surprise most golfers. As good as PGA Tour players are, they don't hit the ball next to the pin. What you see on TV is usually a highlight roll.

The most important skill for professional golfers is to keep the ball around the hole enough to make routine pars and some birdies. Above all, avoid bogey or worse.

Most golfers put far too much pressure on themselves and are generally unrealistic with proximity. Hopefully those numbers can adjust your expectations.

This brings me to my next point …

Green In Regulation is the gold standard for scoring

Traditional golf statistics such as fairways hits or putts per round can be misleading. That said, greens in regulation are still an essential metric. When someone asks me what they can do to get lower scores, I usually say, "focus on more greens per round and work backwards from there."

But what does that mean? Well it's a combination of advice:

Looking at greens in regulations at club and handicap level, a number of trends emerge:

To start, if you want to give yourself a better chance of hitting a green with your approach shot, you need to be closer to the hole. This is why it is worthwhile to find ways to increase your distance from the tee if you want to lower your handicap.

Not surprisingly, as the disability level falls, GIR rises. There are very few exceptions to this rule in golf, but of course having a great short game can counteract this trend. But if you want to give yourself the best chance of improving, you can't ignore this metric.


Understanding how golfers distinguish themselves is an important topic. Many players assume that working on certain parts of the game will yield greater results than they do. I can tell you without a doubt that if you want to improve, your iron game must be an important part of your plan.

A more efficient way to accomplish this process is to keep more detailed statistics, which shot tracking systems such as Shot Scope can help. Sometimes you can correct your proximity and GIR numbers by having a better understanding of your real iron distances and where you miss your shots. Minor fixes, such as goal adjustment and club selection, can yield big results in scoring.

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