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Golfers constantly fight against themselves – it is mainly about perception versus reality. A lot of frustration and anger occur because many players have difficulty understanding what reasonable results are for their skill level. One of my goals is to help you all to set more realistic expectations about the course so that you can have more fun and make smarter decisions.
In this article I have performed a very interesting test that I believe will open your eyes and possibly surprise many of you.
My goal was to find out what my spread tendencies are with different clubs in the bag. I have made 20 photos with my Sand Wedge, 8-iron, 5-iron and Driver. The results show what I am capable of without any pressure – I hit a perfect lie on a mat and was able to get into a groove with every club. In this session I would say that I hit the ball particularly well. My handicap is currently just above zero, and I consider myself an above-average ball shooter (nice little humble creator there).
All tests were done indoors using my SkyTrak launch monitor. You can view my full review here, but this is a great product that delivers accurate ball flight measurements for a test like this.
On my SkyTrak I was looking for different things. I put down a relatively simple green to hit with my irons that were 45 x 35 yards to see how often I could land the ball on or around my shuttle goal.
A look at the size of the green that I have selected on SkyTrak
With the driver, I have set up a generous 40-meter wide channel. The most important thing was that I was looking for my distribution patterns. With my irons I was concerned with my distribution from left to right and from short to long.
I will show a few visual photos of what my general recording patterns looked like, including my dispersion statistics, GIR and also some PGA Tour statistics of similar distances.
Let's look at the results of each club, and then I'll do an analysis.
I consider myself a pretty good wedge player, so giving myself a full swing with my Sand Wedge to a target of 105 yards is what they call a "green light special" for golf broadcasts. You (and I) could expect that I could land the ball completely over the pin without pressure.
Not the case!
Here is a look at my general hail spread:
A majority of the shots were on the pin or just left. But you can see that about 5 shots on the right go away from me. I generally beat the green 80% of the time, which I expected.
However, my spread was a bit larger than I thought it would be. Due to a number of erroneous shots on the right, my overall spread of from left to right was 47 yards. Looking at remote control, my shortest shot was 97 yards and the longest was 117 yards for dispersion of 20 yards . Hardly any pin hunting!
With the most relevant PGA Tour stat of the last few years, the median distance to the hole of 100-125 yards is approximately 20 feet . So even tour players don't exactly place the ball next to the pin.
With my 8-iron, I chose the same green size and a target at 160 meters. These are my shot results:
I hit my 8-iron about as well as I can. Most of the photos were on the target and you can see that they are clustered just to the left of the pin. I turned green 75% of the time.
My spread from left to right was 24.3 yards which was actually much better than my SW (chalk it to no really errant swings). My shortest shot landed 148 meters and the longest was 171 for dispersion of 23 yards . For a target of 160 yards this is very good in my opinion.
The most relevant stat on the PGA Tour is the proximity of the hole to approaches of 150-175 yards. In recent years, the median was approximately 28 feet .
With my 5-iron, I chose a target of 195 yards. These are my results:
I would say that this also represents the absolute best that I can hit a 5-iron. I hit the green 70% of the time, which is much higher than I would expect on the golf course.
Looking at my distribution numbers, my total of from left to right was 31 meters . My shortest shot landed 178 yards and my longest was 201 yards, for a total of 23 yards . In general I thought it was a very good spreading cluster.
The most relevant stat on the PGA Tour is the proximity of the hole on the access roads from 175-200 yards. In recent years, the median was approximately 34 feet .
For my driver, I have set up a fairly broad 40-yard channel, which is probably a bit generous given my skill level. The USGA considers fairways of 32 yards a good width for a scratch golfer to hit them regularly (which is also about the average width of fairways on the PGA Tour). Here is a visual look at my shot dispersion:
This was a pretty good show with my driver – I could hit the fairway 70% of the time. I was mainly concerned with my left to right spread, which was 68.6 yards . That number falls within the range of 65-70 yards, which Scott Fawcett of DECADE usually sees with scratch or better golfers.
What does all this mean?
Hopefully my spreading patterns have opened your eyes a bit. Many people assume that a scratch golfer can place the ball wherever they want under zero pressure. I often joke that I could play professionally if I could take my photos within reach. I believe this test shows you that this is hardly the case.
The proximity data of the PGA Tour also show a few things. Those guys are absolutely amazing ball catchers – but I think most golfers overestimate how close they can land the ball to the pin. With a sand wedge in their hands, a typical round player lands the ball 20 feet from the hole. Relativizing things like that when the weekend warrior gets angry with himself because he didn't bring the pin down from that distance!
What are good takeaways?
First of all, no golfer on this planet has complete control of their ball. As the skill level increases, the density of dispersion patterns certainly decreases, but better players hardly hit the mark every time. Stop expecting so much from yourself on the course.
Second, smart target choices take into account the randomness of your shot pattern. You saw how large my spreading circle was with a sand wedge. Imagine that I was aiming for a pin on the left side of the green with difficulty around it. Or what if I and my driver grew up a corner in a green, but that exposed me to danger? When you are on the course, start thinking about those larger circles and evaluate which parts of the course come into play based on your target. The heroic shot will result in more double bogeys than little birds – trust me.
We have no control, and that's OK
I would like to insert this with a positive note. The majority of this article illustrated how little control we have over our shot pattern (relatively speaking of course). However, I do not want to discourage you.
I think that the goal of every golfer is to tighten their spreading patterns in general, that is what a better ball racer is all about. But at the same time, the strategic side of the game requires that you weigh the risk and reward of each target selection. No matter how competent you become, this will always be an important part of scoring.
Many golfers do not know what their typical golf shots look like. I would encourage you to find out by working on a launch monitor or even using a shot-tracking device while you play. Once you begin to understand your tendencies and abilities, it can make your decision making possible, and yes, lower your scores.
In the end, golf is a challenging game because of everything I have discussed in this article. The best thing we can do is accept that at a certain level and free yourself from too demanding expectations.