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  • Stephen Arnold

Using your numbers to pick a club

The more data you start to collect between practice and on course play, the better we can formulate a game plan that helps us to shoot lower scores. A game plan, based off of realistic expectations, can be the foundation to better golf and may also take out some of the stress as we play. Whether you’re trying to break 100,90,80,70 or compete professionally, we can only play within the parameters of our skills. I believe that when we try and go outside of our current skill level too often, players will make bigger errors and ruin their rounds. This isn’t to say we shouldn’t strive to hit great shots; it is just that we must play within our skills to get the best results. Work towards better shots in practice, and as the skills evolve, you can adjust your game plan.

To shoot lower scores, the first thing I look at is “trimming the fat.” Which to me, means eliminating penalty shots to the best of our ability. Part of a game plan is based around target and club selection for approach shots into the green. If we pick bad clubs, we are far more apt to wind up in spots we don’t want to be, even with average shots and this is where your data really comes into play.

When I talk about how far shots go, I always talk about them in ranges, as there is always some variance from shot to shot, even with the same club. Knowing your ranges is what leads to better decisions and targets. The other part is the width of our dispersion. Without Trackman it is hard to measure, but if you hit your 7-iron on the range 10 times see if you can determine how far the separation is between the most left and most right shot. That will give you an idea of your width.

In this example I took a shot pattern for a student of mine with their 7 iron. With 5 shots he averaged 133 yards carry. His shortest shot was 122 yards and longest was 148 yards. His dispersion width was 14 yards from left to right. I took this data and looked at the approach shot into the 5th hole on the Blue Nine at Longboat Key Club, a hole that gives most members fits because of the forced carries and all of water. The major goal on the approach shot for most players is to get the ball over the water and keep it on land, the green is a bonus.

For too many players, I find they choose clubs based on what their best shot is. They do not think of the range the ball may go. In the visual of the green, each vertical line represents the range of shots this player would hit if he was trying to hit his 7 iron at a flag that was 148 yards away (his best shot). In the case of the front pin (line A), his best shot would be close to the hole, however, most of his normal shots would be in the water. If you hit an average shot, and the result leaves you in a penalty area, then it was the wrong decision. We should not be playing to our best, but more to our normal, whenever it is possible.

For this player, the more important thing to know is how far is it to the front edge of the green. If the low end of his average does not cover that number, then he needs more club. As you keep track of your carry distances on the course you can start to compile a range of distances each club goes. The best thing most players can look at isn’t the pin, but the front and back yardages of the green. If you can find a club where most of the shots will wind up on the surface, then you’ve made a good decision. As you get better with your dispersion patterns, you can look more closely at the hole, but in the beginning when you are trying to trim the fat, getting it on the green and avoiding penalties is a quick way to save some strokes.

I hope you find this helpful in your next round and it lets you think more about the decisions on the course. The more you learn your numbers and think through the decisions, the better your results should be. If you have any questions or feedback feel free to email me any time. You’re welcome to share and I hope you enjoy.

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