You’re in the middle of the fairway, 150 yards from the flagstick. Perfect 7-iron, you say to yourself, after which you promptly sail the ball over the pin–and over the green. What happened? Likely, you only gave yourself a fraction of the data you needed to select the right club for the shot at hand.
Producing the correct distance for a given shot on the golf course requires more than a passing glance at the yardage posted on the nearest sprinkler head. Part of playing good golf is knowing how to factor in the pin placement, the lie, elevation changes, course conditions and the wind to select the right club to knock it stiff. Even if conditions are benign, we’re often simply between clubs and, therefore, you need to know either how to add or subtract a few yards to reach the target. Considering all possible factors to control the overall distance of a shot gives you confidence over the ball–and executing shots under pressure is easier when confidence runs high.
One More, One Less
There are other factors that may contribute to your decision to take one less club or choose one more when you’re stuck in the middle. Here’s a list of circumstances that may help push you in one direction or another so you can pull off the shot.
Conditions That Favor Using One Less Club:
-No obstacle to carry in front of the green.
-The flagstick is toward the front of the green.
-You’re downwind, or face other course/weather conditions listed above that require less club.
-You always play with a little power in reserve and can call up a little extra zip when you need it.
-You’re a more skilled golfer, hit the ball solid most of the time and have the ability to shape or curve shots when necessary.
-You’re coming down the stretch in contention with adrenaline pumping.
Conditions That Favor Using One More Club:
-The trouble is short of the green and a shot that flies farther wouldn’t jeopardize a good score as much as one that pulls up short.
-The flagstick is toward the back of the green and the hole layout will accept a shot that comes in low and running.
-You’re hitting into the wind or have other course/weather conditions that require more club.
-You’re a swinger with a smooth, even tempo.
-You’re a lesser-skilled golfer who tends to come up short of the green in many cases.
Trisect The Green
To begin to sharpen your distance control from tee to green, it’s important to establish just how far you hit each of your clubs under normal conditions–or when there’s little or no wind, the course is dry and the lie is good and flat. Golf is an easier game if you know how far, on average, a particular club carries in the air and how far it rolls once it hits the ground. For example, a less-lofted iron (4- or 5-iron) will roll more than a wedge or 9-iron once it hits the green. To determine the carry and roll distance of your clubs, plan to play a practice round during a nonpeak time on the course–early evening is a good time–where you can hit two or three shots with the same club into a green.
Notice where the pitch mark is on the green, then pace off the distance from the pitch mark to the ball and arrive at an average carry and roll. When you get to the next hole, choose a different club and take an average of two or three shots. Once you know how far the ball travels under normal conditions, you can begin to make educated decisions about club selection under whatever conditions the course dishes out. If a practice round of this type isn’t possible, make some notes during your rounds of carry/roll distances with your clubs, or enlist the help of a laser rangefinder.
On all holes, the flagstick location will either be in the front, middle or back portion of the green. The average green is about 30 yards deep, and golf clubs are designed with lofts that produce roughly a 10-yard difference between clubs. That means that there are up to three club possibilities from one position in the fairway, depending on the flagstick location.
The first order of business is to determine the yardage to the flag, not merely to the middle of the green. For example, the sprinkler head right next to your ball indicates you have 150 yards to the middle of the green, but the flagstick is in the back third of the green. If you normally hit a 7-iron a total of 150 yards, then you should choose a 6-iron.
Turn On The Wind Changes
How does the club selection change if you add 30 mph of wind? Playing into the wind is difficult–even for the best players. Tournament scores are always higher on windy days. In order to select the right club in the wind, apply the Ten Miles Per Hour rule. Take one more club (or one less) for each 10 mph of wind speed. For example, if you have 150 yards to the flag (7-iron) and you’re hitting dead into a 30 mph wind, you should use a 4-iron to hit the shot. It’s the correct play because a less-lofted club will help keep the ball low and out of the wind and, because you’re taking plenty of club, you can execute a smooth, controlled swing to produce solid contact and less spin to guard against the ball ballooning up into the wind.
If you’re downwind with this shot, use a pitching wedge and trust the wind to carry it farther without trying to swing harder. A crosswind doesn’t affect your club selection as much. Simply play the wind to your advantage by hitting the ball into the wind and letting it work back to the target.
Common sense dictates that an uphill shot requires more club and a downhill shot requires less club. The problem is that sometimes we tend to forget to take a change in elevation into account–especially if it isn’t dramatic or we don’t have a benchmark as to how elevation influences club selection.
As a general rule, select one more (or one less) club for every 10 feet of elevation change. For example, if you’ve got 150 yards to the flag (7-iron), and you estimate the target is about 10 feet below where you’re standing, use an 8-iron for the shot._Ê
Weather & Course Conditions
Again, this may seem like common sense, but the weather and the condition of the course also affect the carry and roll of your golf shots. In addition to being downwind, the ball flies farther than normal from level terrain if: 1) you’re playing well above sea level (starting about 5,000 feet); 2) the temperature is hot; 3) the air is dry; and 4) the ground is hard.
The ball won’t travel as far as normal when: 1) the grass is wet and the ground is soft; 2) the humidity is high; and 3) it’s either cold or raining.
Experienced golfers have a gut feeling for how much the course and weather conditions affect their shots and whether the conditions require a half or a whole club difference.
The Truth About Lies
The lie of your ball should also be considered as you prepare to hit a shot. In general, the lies that will require you to take at least one more club are the following:
-The ball is halfway or more down in the rough.
-The ball is in a divot.
-The lie is uphill (this lie tends to add loft).
-The ball is below your feet (this one tends to fade, so you’ll need to aim little left and play the left-to-right shot).
The lies that require at least one less club are the following:
-The ball is on top of the rough (a flyer lie that produces less-than-normal ball spin and more roll).
-The ball is on a downhill lie (this lie tends to reduce the effective loft of the club).
-The ball is above your feet (the ball tends to fly to the left, and a hooking ball travels farther than a straight or fading one).
No Man’s Land
Using the guidelines above for club selection is all well and good, but you may still arrive at a yardage that puts you right in the middle of two clubs. For example, your tee shot puts you 150 yards from the flag. You have a 10 mph wind in your face (plus one club) and the shot is slightly downhill (minus 5 yards), which gives you a total of 155 yards to the target. The 155-yard distance puts you right in the middle of your 7-iron (which you hit a solid 150 yards) and your 6-iron (which travels 160 yards on average). Welcome to the tweener.
Now, you have a decision to make. Do you hit the 7-iron in a fashion that will produce a few extra yards, or do you make some adjustments to hit the 6-iron a few yards less? In order to handle a situation that puts you in the middle of two clubs, you need to know how to gear down to hit a particular club five yards less, and also how to take the more lofted club and squeeze an extra five yards out of it.
Getting An Extra 5-10 Yds
There are a few setup and swing adjustments that are required if you need to squeeze extra yardage out of a particular club. To set up for more distance, take a slightly wider stance than you would normally to provide the solid base that’s required to make a bigger, more powerful golf swing. The ball position should be one inch back of standard, which will move your hand position well in front of the golf ball. Not only does this create a more descending blow, but moving the ball back in your stance changes the effective loft of your 7-iron into that of a 6-iron. All that’s left to do is to add a little extra speed to your swing.
To get the clubhead traveling a little faster, you need to create a longer backswing with an increase in the amount of arm swing and body turn. Not only must the swing be a little longer, but you need to pick up the pace of your swing to increase clubhead speed as well. The pace of the forwardswing should be slightly faster than normal. Most experienced golfers, and certainly the pros, have a little power in reserve when hitting their normal golf shots, so stepping up the speed a notch is no problem for them.
Another factor in getting yardage above normal is related to the type of spin created by the type of shot you hit. The sidespin created by drawing the golf ball–a shot that curves from right to left–will generally have a more boring trajectory and will land a little hotter than normal, running a few extra yards after it lands.
Drawing the golf ball is best accomplished by altering your setup and simply making your normal golf swing. Place the ball slightly back of normal at address, aiming the clubface where you want the ball to end up while you align your body to the right–or the direction the ball should start. This closed stance sets up the required in-to-out path, and if the clubface is aimed at the target correctly, it will be closed relative to the path. The grip pressure in both hands should remain light to encourage the clubface to close a little sooner through the hitting area to impart drawspin on the golf ball.
Taking Off 5-10 Yds
There are times when taking a little extra club and learning to control the distance so the golf ball won’t travel quite as far makes a lot of sense. In fact, this may be the best option for a lesser-skilled player until ballstriking becomes a little more consistent. Taking more club is a good idea for higher-handicapped players because these golfers tend to bank on hitting their shots more solidly than they generally do, so consequently, they often don’t take enough club even for normal shots.
To hit the ball a little shorter than you typically do, grip down one to two inches on the handle and make the length of the backswing and the forwardswing feel about three-quarters. The pace and tempo of the whole swing–hands, arms and body–should be slightly slower than normal. The swing should feel very smooth, but guard against deceleration or quitting on the shot. Teeing the ball up a little higher on tee shots will make the trajectory of the shot higher, fly a little shorter and land softer with less roll.
Just as drawing the golf ball will allow for a few added yards, hitting a fade–a shot that curves from left to right–will subtract a few yards. A fade imparts sidespin much like an undercut tennis shot that drops over the net and stops dead.
To set up to hit a fade, position the ball slightly forward in your stance. With the clubface aimed in the direction the ball should finish, align your body left of the target line or in the direction the ball should start. This open stance will encourage the desired out-to-in path necessary to fade the golf ball, and the clubface will be open relative to your body alignments. Firm up the grip pressure a little in both hands to keep the clubface from closing too soon through the hitting area.
Are You A Hitter Or A Swinger?
For a tweener shot, Greg Norman would take one less club. Ernie Els would take one more. Greg hits it hard, is generally an aggressive player and can easily manufacture five to 10 more yards out of a particular club when necessary. Ernie Els, on the other hand, has a slower tempo and is a swinger of the golf club. He’d do better at making some adjustments to reduce the regular yardage produced with a certain club to hit it five to 10 yards less.
Examine which type of golfer you are and decide what strategy best suits your particular style of play. You may find that this ingredient will sway you in one direction or another when you land between clubs.
Remember, it’s not important what type of golfer you are. What matters is the quality of your shots. If you learn which factors influence distance and direction, the quality of your shots will skyrocket.
Distance Control Drill
Practice distance control by hitting three clubs the same distance on the practice range. Choose a flag on the range with a yardage that corresponds to the distance you normally hit one of your middle irons.
Say you’ve chosen a 150-yard target, which is a perfect 7-iron distance. Hit five 7-irons to the flag. Then choose a 6-iron, making the appropriate setup and swing adjustments, and hit five shots to the same 150-yard target.
Finally, try hitting an 8-iron to the same target, using the setup and swing techniques necessary to get a little more distance than normal. Make note of your success with each series of balls. One approach or the other will best suit your style of golf and afford the best opportunity to hit the ball next to the flagstick.
Senior Instruction Editor and 1999 PGA Teacher of the Year Mike McGetrick owns and operates the McGetrick Golf Academy, located outside Denver, Colo. Mike coaches golfers of all levels, including players on the PGA and LPGA Tours who have a combined total of 40 worldwide wins and 9 Major Championships. Mike is proud to have coached five players on the victorious 12-member 2002 Solheim Cup team. LPGA Class A member and author Lana Ortega is a lead instructor at the Academy (www.mcgetrickgolf.com).