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How being honest with yourself can shave 5 strokes off your game



Ask a room full of golf pros to agree on the longest-held misconception most golfers have, and there’s a good chance you would ultimately hear this: how far they truly hit the ball.

Unlike just a few years ago, though, affordable distance-measuring devices now allow many of us pros to back up these age-old claims with cold, hard (and often painful) facts. And while it can be humbling to stand before that Doppler device and be confronted with the truth about your distances (or lack thereof), there are good reasons we have those misconceptions and some game-changing benefits to discovering the truth.

First, the reasons.

  • Ask the average male golfer how far he drives it, and you invariably hear a number north of 220 yards. A 7 iron? “Oh, about 150.” There is a stigma attached to being a short-knocker, especially among men, and this subconsciously conflates our perceptions of how far we actually hit the ball. I’ll give you the true data in a moment, but if we want to improve, most of us need to come to terms with the fact that no one (other than ourselves) is confusing us with an escapee from the Re/Max World Long Drive Circuit.
  • Ask golfers how far they hit a given club, and most incorrectly include roll in that equation. That’s fine for tee shots, but it’s trouble for approach shots. Tour players don’t calculate roll into their approach shots: only how far they carry it. Approach clubs roll between 5 and 15 yards, and if you’re factoring that in you will be consistently short. Golf course architects know this, so consequently, where do you think they place the majority of the hazards? That’s right, short of the green.
  • Most golfers base their yardages with each club on a good shot — likely their best shot. Depending upon your handicap, though, chances are the percentage of time you actually hit that “best shot” are pretty close to the same percentage of chances a snow ball has of surviving you know where. We have a hard time intentionally playing for something less than our best, and better players often get most caught up in this trap because they have the hardest time accepting that they don’t always hit it perfect. Tour players know how far they carry each club on average, not that 1 in 10 outlier, and if you want to save strokes you should too.

Eric Jones, an actual Re/Max World Long Drive Champion, fellow PGA Professional, and friend of mine, has worked with a lot of average golfers using radar to chart how far they carry the ball. He then tested them by having them play rounds using their yardages as shown via radar to determine club selection. The stunning results of his testing is that the average golfer improved by more than 5 strokes per round. The real kicker? His tests were conducted with both men and women, and women suffered far less from the distance misconception. So if you’re the average red-blooded American male, your results will likely be even better. 

Here are the cold-hard facts.

More than 80 percent of male golfers swing the driver slower than 100 mph, and about 60 percent are slower than 95 mph. With optimal launch and spin rates, a drive hit with a 95-mph swing will carry almost 200 yards, quite a bit short of the aforementioned minimum most men admit to. This means that, at the very least, most male golfers out there are either misinformed, or just not being honest with themselves. And I’m being generous here, since we all know plenty of guys who claim to hit it 250, 275, or even 300. 

If you want to shave 5 strokes off your score today, figure out how far you really carry your clubs, on the average. To do that, you may need to pay your local pro a few bucks to spend an hour with you on their radar device. And while that may not sound as sexy as buying the latest and greatest driver on the market, it won’t cost as much, is a bigger game-changer, and you won’t have to spend near as much time explaining it to your wife next month when the club bill comes due. 

Let me know what you think. 

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Mike Dowd is the author of the new novel COMING HOME and the Lessons from the Golf Guru: Wit, Wisdom, Mind-Tricks & Mysticism for Golf and Life series. He has been Head PGA Professional at Oakdale Golf & CC in Oakdale, California since 2001, and is serving his third term on the NCPGA Board of Directors and Chairs the Growth of the Game Committee. Mike has introduced thousands of people to the game and has coached players that have played golf collegiately at the University of Hawaii, San Francisco, U.C. Berkeley, U.C. Davis, University of the Pacific, C.S.U. Sacramento, C.S.U. Stanislaus, C.S.U. Chico, and Missouri Valley State, as men and women on the professional tours. Mike currently lives in Turlock, California with his wife and their two aspiring LPGA stars, where he serves on the Turlock Community Theatre Board, is the past Chairman of the Parks & Recreation Commission and is a member of the Kiwanis Club of Greater Turlock. In his spare time (what's that?) he enjoys playing golf with his girls, writing, music, fishing and following the foibles of the Sacramento Kings, the San Francisco 49ers, the San Francisco Giants, and, of course, the PGA Tour. You can find Mike at



  1. Pingback: How being honest with yourself can shave 5 strokes off your game

  2. SunkTheBirdie

    Aug 23, 2016 at 7:23 am

    Being honest can shave 5 strokes off your game. But foot wedges, creative counting, generous mulligans, “Finding” the unfindable ball shaves 5-15 strokes !

  3. Dave

    Aug 22, 2016 at 9:49 pm

    Very good Dale you got it . Even the smiz makes more sense than you. No disrespect to you smiz .

  4. Double Mocha Man

    Aug 22, 2016 at 11:06 am

    Knowing the distance you hit any given club is totally a chess game. You can’t determine it on the range… most use limited distance golf balls. If you determine it on the course on August 22nd (and 88 degrees) it will be different than on December 22nd (and the accompanying 38 degrees). Rain will take yardage off a ball. And wind… let’s not even talk about the wind and its variability. And if you determine your yardage with a Pro V1 golf ball but today you’re playing a Callaway Chrome Soft, now what? Binding clothing… that affects your distance. What if your muscles are tight today? So many variables, so few greens to hit.

    • larrybud

      Aug 22, 2016 at 4:39 pm

      You definitely need to chart these things out, but I agree that most golfers have an unrealistic view of their baseline distances. I tested my SS with just a shirt on, vs a jacket, and with driver it moved by as much a 5 mph.

      • Double Mocha Man

        Aug 22, 2016 at 5:11 pm

        Good point. Now try it in a Batman costume.

        • Stylo

          Aug 24, 2016 at 1:17 am

          How about doing it in the buff ?

        • Dead Fish

          Aug 29, 2016 at 2:43 pm

          I get max distance dressed as Pikachu and yelling PIKA during my backswing followed by a load CHUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU! at impact!

  5. matthew

    Aug 21, 2016 at 4:14 pm

    a swing speed of 95mph with optimal launch conditions will result in a carry of over 230 yards, not 200.

    • flint nunnelly

      Sep 7, 2016 at 8:58 pm

      No, no, if you would be honest, you realize 95 mph will never carry 230, my gosh how i wish it would!

  6. Chris

    Aug 21, 2016 at 9:00 am

    Course management is definitely worth a few shots on the card. That’s what we are really talking about. Know your distances, use your scoring clubs to do the damage and avoid your weaknesses.

    I use a range finder to check my distance on every hole. I play 9 and pitching wedge most accurately so I try my best to get in the 120 to 135 meter range whenever I can. this has made a huge difference in my game.

  7. KK

    Aug 20, 2016 at 10:03 pm

    Dead presidents are the best motivation for honesty. When you have cash on the line and the other guy is on the green, you think long and hard about trying to hit a perfect 8 iron on a 145 yd uphill shot. As far as driver, the problem is that most golfers suck with the club and most off-the-rack drivers suck because they are too long and too spinny.

  8. Brent

    Aug 20, 2016 at 7:49 am

    Great article. Not only has the yardage honesty helped my scores but so has not cheating and forgetting to add a penalty every now and again. My scores used to be in the 80’s with cheating, but I realized that was stopping me from actually playing well. When I counted every strike and penalty I was around 105 on average. In one summer I’m back down to the mid to high 80’s, but honestly this time. The other thing that helped was checking out the LPGA stats on length. Those ladies swing around the same speed I do on average (93-95 driver), but of course hit it MUCH better. Many of them hit their 7 or even 6 iron as a 150 club and carry the driver 200-215. They still shoot in the 60’s and 70’s. We should stop being macho and start playing our own game!

    • mike dowd

      Aug 20, 2016 at 12:10 pm

      Glad you liked it and great comments. Even guys at the top end of the yardage spectrum can benefit from this perspective. I’ve spent a lot of time with really good players on launch monitors and one thing I can tell all of you who think this is exclusively an average players’ or an old man’s problem is that it’s not. A lot of times it’s the testosterone-fueled egos of those who hit it the farthest who are the most self-deluded. The real point is that finding out how far you truly hit the ball can be a game-changer, and with the availability of so much affordable distance measuring technology out there today (much of which has been mentioned) there is no good reason we can’t. Unless of course we don’t really want to. 🙂

      • James

        May 13, 2018 at 9:27 pm

        This is an old thread that I stumbled across, but I do want to point out that you seem to have made either a mathematical or typographical error.

        You said:

        “With optimal launch and spin rates, a drive hit with a 95-mph swing will carry almost 200 yards…”

        According to Trackman’s optimizer numbers, optimal launch/spin with a 95mph swing will net a carry of 230 yards. Flightscope’s online trajectory optimizer yields a similar result. I am guessing you made a typo and meant to say “85” instead of “95”?

  9. Troy Vayanos

    Aug 20, 2016 at 3:05 am

    Great post Mike,

    Yes so true, I regularly play with guys that use clubs that they simply cannot reach the green with purely because of ego. If they would just put that aside and use the club they actually need I’m sure they would reduce their scores.


  10. Dave

    Aug 19, 2016 at 9:13 pm

    Sean you are the example of honesty . How many of us can say they were long on a hole not very many.

  11. Dave

    Aug 19, 2016 at 9:07 pm

    Hey there youngster my index is 4.5 I’m 66 years old and all the old guys I play with are better or the same and I bet you every one of us old guys could kick your ass every day of the week. We all learnt over the years how far we hit it that’s why we play to what we play to. All you young guys have no idea how far 255 yards of carry is ????????????????????????

    • Dale Doback

      Aug 21, 2016 at 10:23 pm

      Sure we do, a 255 yard carry is 255 yards which is probably 200 yards further than you can still see your ball in the air.

      • Stylo

        Aug 24, 2016 at 1:19 am

        Come on, get your hand out of your pocket and stop feeling cocky.

        I have money on old mate Dave.

  12. Sean

    Aug 19, 2016 at 7:30 pm

    I have the opposite problem. I am very realistic about how far I hit each club and have a tendency to over club. Today for example, over clubbing cost me six strokes.

    • Scooter McGavin

      Aug 19, 2016 at 10:40 pm

      Was it 5 or 6 strokes, Sean? Get your story straight…

    • KK

      Aug 20, 2016 at 9:41 pm

      LOL. Not being honest about being too honest.

  13. Sean

    Aug 19, 2016 at 7:24 pm

    I have the opposite problem. I am very realistic about the distances I hit each club. I have a tendency to over club, where in many cases it is much better to be short than long. Today, for example, I did it three times and it cost me five strokes.

  14. Jim H

    Aug 19, 2016 at 7:10 pm

    I’ve played this great game for better than 50 years. Getting older and a health issue requiring surgery brought about my sudden inability to find the sweet spot on my Mizuno blades. So I shifted to a set of Game-Improvement Titleist AP1 irons. But even sadder, I found that my 150-yard club was no longer my trusted 7-iron, but a well-struck, firm 6-iron. Then I bought a set of Game Golf tags for my clubs and was shocked at what I was finding. My perceived distances, the ones I have relied on for over 20 years, were severely inflated. According to Game Golf, my drives average 218, instead of the 240 I was certain was my current average. Yes, I still clock one every once in awhile (273 two weeks ago, 279 last season) but I routinely realize I’m an old goat hitting 220-yard drives with a 83 MPH driver swing speed. I still play from the blues as I usually play with younger players, and have a short game that still allows me to score well. But I now hit 6-iron and sometimes even a 5-iron from 150. Instead of the sweet spot, I’m also hitting the club off the toe routinely, something I’ve never done before, and losing distance because of it. But I’m being honest with myself, and now hitting clubs that will get me there, regardless of the number on the bottom.

    • kolfpro

      Aug 20, 2016 at 2:04 am

      Nothing wrong with that! Sometimes we forget the game is about getting the ball in the hole with the least amount of strokes. You don’t put what club you hit on the scorecard. BTW, you could gain distance if you went to a lighter shaft.

    • flint nunnelly

      Sep 7, 2016 at 9:07 pm

      an 83 mph swing speed giving you 220 yard drives means you play on concrete. your carry isnt over 190 unless you live in colorado or something. I dont mean to be an ass but math doesent lie. neither do the launch moniters. to achieve 216 carry with my 95 mph swing, i had to grease the clubhead slightly.

  15. Philip

    Aug 19, 2016 at 3:10 pm

    So to recap – know your yardages based on average real course results … however, the group that needs to read this article will likely be the only group who does not, or reads it and assume it applies to everyone but themselves – then again, a lot of us do not live the dream so golf happens to be one of those areas one can indulge in fantasy. So why are you trying to take away people’s happiness :o) ???? They are not hurting anyone … let them dream!

  16. ben

    Aug 19, 2016 at 2:24 pm

    so i’m a 4.0 index, and everytime i’ve hit drivers or irons indoors on launch monitors, i’ve found those #s to be inflated. perhaps its b/c my home course is somewhat windy with inconsistent roll, but i find the launch monitors to be inflating, but that’s just me. that may because i swing more freely.

    for those of us that do swing 100+ mph w/ the driver (according to my launch monitor stats im in the 102-104 range, i hit a good drive downwind 285 and a good one into the wind about 260), how does this apply? i’ve been using the golfshot app to track fairways (and missing left vs right), greens, putts etc as well as for GPS w/ its programmed club recommendations, but as a digital data manager, i’m always thinking of more ways to improve my game.

    • Carl

      Aug 19, 2016 at 6:03 pm

      Ben, Wind is always going to make a difference that you will never get on a launch monitor. I think you need to look at your “carry” distance and not your overall distance which would include carry and roll. If you try and do this on the course you would need to know where the ball hits the fairway not where it ends up. Hope this helps.

      • Jack

        Aug 29, 2016 at 2:46 am

        Well you can always adjust the wind factor. But it’s not like when you are out on the real course you can measure the mph of the wind.

  17. kolfpro

    Aug 19, 2016 at 12:21 pm

    The ego is the main thing that keeps male golfers from improving. Most make the mistake thinking golf is a distance game. Unfortunately for most this will never change.

  18. Egor

    Aug 19, 2016 at 12:05 pm

    My opinion – radar is one thing, real course experience is another. When I’m on radar/trackman I swing for the fences knowing there is no penalty for a wild shot. That’s where I think on-course game recorders like Arccos and GameGolf are so useful because they track real situation distances and give you more information about your game than you’d ever care to have.

    I started using Arccos in October 2015 as a 13.5hdcp. I’ve logged >50 rounds- 18 and 9s – in Arccos since then and the information provided as well as some practice helped me reduce my hdcp to 11.2.

    Arccos gives me a “smart distance” and “smart range” on all my clubs – D = 220-254, 8i = 138-153. What helped the most was the Handicap breakdown which shows me that my driving and approach need work while my chipping (inside 50yds), sand, and putting are good or where they should be.

    I know it sounds like a sales pitch – I have no relationship with Arccos other than a customer service issue that they resolved 150% and even sent a strip of CR2032 batteries.

    • kolfpro

      Aug 19, 2016 at 12:30 pm

      I agree! This why I think range practice or indoor practice bays don’t give you your course distance. After you warm up with 20 or 30 ball your confidence, range of motion etc. has improved. Ultimately you want to bring this confidence to the course.

  19. Young golfer

    Aug 19, 2016 at 11:54 am

    I am tired of these articles catering to OLD men. I get it, golf is mostly played by OLD men but as someone who just turned 30, I PROMISE you I carry my driver well over 200 yards. Mishits probably carry 225 and good shots carry as much as 255. And I play with guys my age all the time that are LONGER off the tee than me as I don’t consider myself long.

    With that said and I play a lot of single golf too and get paired up with guys in their 50s and yes by the end of the round, I feel LONG off the tee. And I can definitely see that they think they hit it farther than they really do.

    My point is, this article needs a disclaimer : “if your older, you might not hit it as far as you think and could shave 5 strokes by being realistic about your yardages”

    • kolfpro

      Aug 19, 2016 at 12:47 pm

      I have seen many under 30 golfers with the same problem but I do agree it is more of an older than 30 problem. Slow swing speed can be from bad mechanics, flexibility, reflex, nervousness, tension or many other things that could span across many age groups. I would take the title of the article personally. If it doesn’t fit you then move on to the next article.

    • Nath

      Aug 19, 2016 at 1:00 pm

      Yea, those 80% of golfers targeted in this article are having their afternnon nap, they not like s m and sizzle who are here day and night

  20. Tom

    Aug 19, 2016 at 11:36 am

    The second to last paragraph of this article is either purposefully wrong or someone made a mistake with the data. You say, “With optimal launch and spin rates, a drive hit with a 95-mph swing will carry almost 200 yards,” but facts don’t agree with this. Optimal launch conditions at 95-mph club head speed are 142.5 ball speed (based on a 1.5 smash factor), 2,772 RPM of backspin (from Trackman website assuming zero degree angle of attack), and 13.6 degrees launch angle (again from Trackman website assuming zero degree angle of attack). Entering those values in the Flightscope Trajectory Optimizer gives a carry of 238.4 yards, definitely better than “almost 200 yards.”

    • Mat

      Aug 19, 2016 at 5:40 pm

      Pffft. Facts. So truthy.

      I mean, why be honest about it. It’s just a wee article asking golfers to be honest with themselves…

    • Justin

      Aug 19, 2016 at 6:18 pm

      I was thinking the same thing myself…. if a “perfect” 95 MPH swing doesn’t even get you 200 yards of carry, then we are all doomed. There is no reason that a man from teens to even 60s (that isn’t physically limited) should be able to carry the ball at least 200 yards. While most people assume they just don’t have the strength required to hit the ball further, it’s really swing mechanics that play the biggest role in distance. If you are coming over the top with an outside to in swing path and hit the ball with an open face… sure, that shot is playable but you are losing tons of yardage that is eaten up by the shape and spin of the slice. I’ve said it time and again, and while I don’t have cold hard facts, I would bet at least 75% of golfers suffer from coming over the top at least slightly and most don’t even realize it. If you picture the back swing being mostly vertical and the downswing being mostly horizontal, you should have the right frame of mind to make a proper swing. I believe most people think of the downswing with more of a vertical element and that’s the exact wrong thing to concentrate on. In fact, the perfect downswing simply lets the hands drop into position while horizontal rotation does most of the work. A golf swing is a full body effort and most people focus way too much on the hands for full swing shots.

    • John

      Aug 19, 2016 at 9:35 pm

      Yes, I was curious about that myself, mostly because that IS my ss with a driver: 95mph. I figure my carry average is around 220, which, more or less, matches your optimal data. That’s not ego inflated bs, if anything I am the opposite. I hit my 7 iron, for instance, 140-145. So, I am thinking maybe it was supposed to read 85mph?

      • Jack

        Aug 29, 2016 at 2:52 am

        Carry average of 220 is actually very good. Factor in roll your drives are averaging near 250 and for most amateurs that is more than enough.

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