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The Wedge Guy: What’s your short game handicap?

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Well, that was a U.S. Open for the ages, in my book. Hallowed Pebble Beach held its own against the best players in the world and proved that small greens can really give these guys fits. Kudos and congratulations to Gary Woodland for putting on quite a show and outlasting all the others. And to Brooks Koepka for giving us reason to believe a three-peat could really happen.

To me, of course, what stands out is how Woodland elevated his short game for this event. Coming in he was ranked something like 165th on tour in greenside saves but went 16-for-20 last week. Of course, that also means he hit 52 of those small greens in regulation, which certainly outdistanced most of the field. Justin Rose was putting on a scrambling clinic for three days, but his inability to hit fairways and greens finally did him in. So that brings me to today’s topic – an honest assessment of your own “short game handicap.” Regardless of skill level, I have long believed that the key to better scoring is the same for us as for these tour-elite players – improving your ability to get up-and-down.

Almost all reasonably serious golfers have a handicap, just to allow us to keep track of our overall improvement with our golf games. But wouldn’t it be more useful if that handicap was such that it told us where we could improve the most? Unfortunately, that’s not the purpose of the USGA handicap program, so I’ve devised my own “Short Game Handicap” calculation to help golfers understand that this is where they are most likely going to improve their scoring.

The premise of my short game handicapping formula is the notion that once we get inside short iron range, the physical differences between golfers is increasingly neutralized. For most of us, our physical skills and abilities will never let us hit drives and longer approach shots like the best players. But I believe anyone can learn to execute good quality chips and pitches, and even full swing wedge and short iron shots. It really doesn’t matter whether your full-swing 9-iron goes 140 or 105, if you can execute shots from there on into the green, you can score better than you do now.

So, the starting point is to know exactly where you stand in relation to “par” when you are inside scoring range…regardless of how many strokes it took you to get there. Once your ball is inside that range where you can reach the flag with a comfortable full-swing 9-iron or less, you should be able to get up and down in 3 strokes or fewer almost all the time. In fact, I think it is a realistic goal for any golfer to get down in two strokes more often than it takes more than three, regardless of your skill level.

So, let’s start with understanding what this kind of scoring range skill set can do for your average score. I created this exercise as a starting point, so I’m encouraging you guys and ladies to chime in with your feedback.

What was your last (or typical) 18 hole score? ______

_____ Number of times you missed a green with a 9-iron or less
_____ Number of times you got up and down afterward
_____ Number of other holes where you hit a chip or pitch that ended up more than 10’ from the cup

Subtract #2 from #1, then add 1/2 of #3. That total ______ is your short game handicap under this formula. [NOTE: The logic of #3 is that you can learn to make roughly 1/2 of your putts under 10 feet, so improving your ability to hit chips and pitches inside that range will also translate to lower scores.]

I believe this notion of a short game handicap is an indication of how many shots can potentially come off your average scores if you give your short game and scoring clubs the attention they deserve.

I would like to ask all of you readers to do this simple calculation and share with the rest of us what you find out.

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Terry Koehler is a fourth generation Texan, a native of a small South Texas town and a graduate of Texas A&M University. He has had a most interesting 40-year career in the golf industry. He has created five start-up companies, ranging from advertising agencies to golf equipment companies. You might remember Reid Lockhart, EIDOLON, SCOR, or his leadership of the reintroduction of Ben Hogan to the golf equipment industry in 2014. For almost 25 years, his wedge designs have stimulated other companies to slightly raise the CG and improve wedge performance. He has just announced the formation of Edison Golf Company and the new Edison Forged wedges, which have been robotically proven to significantly raise the bar for wedge performance. Terry serves as Chairman and Director of Innovation for Edison Golf, which can be seen at www.EdisonWedges.com. Terry has been a prolific equipment designer of over 100 putters and several irons, but many know Koehler as simply “The Wedge Guy”, as he authored over 700 articles on his blog by that name from 2003-2010.

17 Comments

17 Comments

  1. Ron

    Jun 20, 2019 at 8:55 am

    You hit the nail on the head here. This is one area of the game where physical strength requirement becomes negligible.

  2. Mike

    Jun 19, 2019 at 2:47 pm

    3,3,0. best part of my game.

  3. Harry Steele

    Jun 19, 2019 at 6:08 am

    I will start today 6/19/19

  4. Jason W

    Jun 19, 2019 at 5:30 am

    This note actually had nothing to do with the post… which is a good post by the way.

    It’s just a personal thanks to Terry Koehler for reviving the Ben Hogan brand. I have Scor, Ft Worth 15s (the first in Australia I believe) and now Ptx. All are ground breaking in their own right….. especially the Ft. Worth 15s. Which I love the most even if they are a little better than I am… hence the PTX in the bag now.

    But thanks Terry. No other manufacturers clubs have given me so much enjoyment.

  5. VF

    Jun 19, 2019 at 4:32 am

    “Once your ball is inside that range where you can reach the flag with a comfortable full-swing 9-iron or less, you should be able to get up and down in 3 strokes or fewer almost all the time. In fact, I think it is a realistic goal for any golfer to get down in two strokes more often than it takes more than three, regardless of your skill level.”

    This part is super misleading and also uninformed. From 100 yards a tour pro averages approximately 2.8 shots. You are saying that everyone REGARDLESS of skill level should expect to perform to basically that level – with even further out with a 9-iron as well!

    Knowledge is power, and realizing what a realistic expectation is can help a lot on the course with the mental side – pressuring everyone to expect playing like a tour pro is a bit extreme for my taste and also why I despise articles like these because you are only further misinforming the masses.

    • Terry Koehler

      Jun 24, 2019 at 3:54 pm

      Sorry for taking so long to reply to this, VF, but I apparently did not make my point very clear — my apologies. What I was trying to communicate is that from 100 yards and in, physical strength is pretty much neutralized, and most golfers can improve in that area with some instruction and practice. And that is where scores can really be improved. I don’t expect any recreational golfer to achieve tour pro stats, but I do believe it is realistic to not average much over 3 shots, regardless of handicap . . . again, with some instruction and practice. Realize that to average 2.8 strokes requires a pro to get down in two one out of five times (allowing never taking more than 3). For a recreational golfer to average 3.1, he could rarely get down in 2, but take more than three shots from that range not more often than 1 out of ten. I think that is attainable for most . . . again, with some instruction and practice.

  6. Conor

    Jun 19, 2019 at 1:13 am

    Subtract #2 from #1, then add 1/2 of #3. What is #1, your Score on 18 holes? I shot 89, my other numbers were 3, 1 and 2. So my shortgame hcp is 87?

    • Terry Koehler

      Jun 19, 2019 at 11:49 am

      That score question is just for reference. Based on your numbers, your short game handicap would be 3-1+1=3. Just a guide . . .

      • Conor

        Jun 21, 2019 at 3:41 am

        My short game is terrible, no way I have a 3 Hcp

    • Sahil

      Jun 20, 2019 at 5:49 am

      ja, its unclear. @wedgeguy give us an example please. my math ain’t so good.

  7. Michael R Lederle

    Jun 18, 2019 at 10:16 pm

    Use strokes gained greenside and putting, there are spreadsheets and apps. It is a pain to measure every shot but is exactly comparable to the average tour pro.

  8. Bond

    Jun 18, 2019 at 1:36 pm

    Pros make 50% from 8 feet. 50% Mkes drop to 6-7 feet for good amateurs. So I would revise factor #3.

  9. Kool-Aid Man

    Jun 18, 2019 at 11:14 am

    My short game handicap no matter how you calculate it is most assuredly higher than my USGA HC. I know I need to work on the short game as probably most of us do. Knowing something and actually doing it are two vastly different things. However, TakeMyMoney club manufacturer just came out with a new XCFDGHE grind with a variable bounce wedge in a murdered color scheme that is going to cure all my ills!

  10. Alex

    Jun 18, 2019 at 11:04 am

    Handicap right around 0 short game handicap of 2 which is dead on because I make up the difference on par 5s. Only thing that throws it off is I play on big greens with pretty severe breaks so I’d like to see how the 3 Jack impacts it. Probably brings it up another half stroke. Hitting greens is really important on small greens…hitting the right spot on greens or missing in an ok spot it’s more important on big greens.

  11. Scooter

    Jun 18, 2019 at 10:17 am

    2 handicap according to my GHIN. And according to the formula above and averaging the calculation over my last 6 rounds, I have a short game handicap of 4. Which I actually think is spot on. Just further solidifying I need to get to the chipping and putting green more often.

    Next step; how to practice most efficiently?

    • Dave Lawrence

      Jun 18, 2019 at 1:41 pm

      I think your situation might be similar to someone that needs to elevate their putting-from-distance numbers: learning to read the greens and the breaks, figuring out your target (where to land the ball), and learning to execute that shot. Knowing when to flop the ball to the hole, vs. bumping and running and using the green and speed to get next to the hole is where I’m figuring out my game. I’ve been making “landing zone” hoops on the practice green with neon tees. I’ll survey the green, figure out where the ball needs to land in order to get to the hole, and then try to land all my chips in that target zone. If you’re nailing the zone, but missing the hole, then the read/assessment of the green is off. If you’re consistently missing the zone and rolling out/staying short, then it’s the execution, not the analysis that needs work. Just my two cents on how I’m trying to get better here.

    • Jimmy

      Jun 18, 2019 at 11:33 pm

      Play by yourself when it’s not busy. Any pitch or chip that’s not inside three feet, hit it two or three more times. Consider different approaches/clubs, type of strike, etc. Then move on. By the fourth or fifth try, your brain has turned off and you’re just banging balls. Do this for the whole round. Breeze through putting – keep your focus on the short game. Do this just a handful of rounds and you’ll find you magically get much better.

      I’m a 2 who is a generally poor ball-striker and wild driver for my handicap. 100mph swing speed with driver, 7-iron only 150 because I play older forged clubs with shafts that are “too stiff” for my swing speed because my top priority is distance control. The best way to gain strokes in the short game is to not miss in the spot that screws you. As you gain confidence with short pitches, you’ll find yourself favoring the “good side” of the hole more & shooting lower scores even if you miss the green more often. Short up-and-downs from the short side are often easier than 60-foot two-putts.

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Opinion & Analysis

A road trip to St. Andrews

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In 2017, my son Brian and his wife Lauren, proposed a family trip to Scotland. Both of them have traveled a surprising amount for a couple barely 30 years old, but for us it would be a huge trip. We couldn’t get it scheduled for 2018 but everything lined up for October, 2019, a trip that might even include playing the Old Course in St. Andrews, if we got lucky. The amazing Lauren made all the arrangements, beginning with multiple email exchanges with the staff at the Old Course, who were extremely gracious and encouraging in their communications.

Unlike most other courses, in order to play the Old Course, you have three options: One is to book a very expensive trip through a travel broker who will guarantee a tee time. This is the only way to make your arrangements in advance, but you’re paying thousands for the package, which would include at least three other days of golf. Sounds great but above our budget. Secondly, you can take a real gamble and just show up at the starter’s window the day you are hoping to play, and get in line as early as 3 a.m., put your name on the list and then wait, maybe all day, maybe hopelessly. It’s no way to budget an entire day on your vacation. The third way is to use what is called the “ballot system,” submitting your request for a tee time via email to standrews.com, 48 hours ahead and hopefully getting a spot.

Now, it’s not as grim a prospect as it may sound for planning to play golf in St. Andrews. The above only applies to getting onto the Old Course. We were able to make a tee time for the Jubilee Course, one of six other courses (Jubilee, Castle, New Course, Eden, Strathtyrum, and Balgove), all part of the St. Andrews Links complex, “The Home of Golf” as their brochure proclaims. Since we were scheduling our trip for the tail-end of the golf season, the gentleman from St. Andrews wrote that he was cautiously optimistic we would be successful using the ballot system.

This wasn’t just a golfing vacation, the five us had an outstanding time touring the west coast of Scotland, including the Oban Whisky distillery, the Harry Potter train in Glencoe, Ben Nevis—the highest peak in the UK, Fort William, and the spectacular Highlands, the town of St. Andrews, and finally the marvelous city of Edinburgh. We ended up spending one night in St. Andrews, at The Saint, a lovely four-room hotel, a 10-minute walk from the Old Course. That evening, walking down cobblestone streets, with the R&A clubhouse coming into view, was like walking in a dream.

Our day started out by driving directly to the new Links Clubhouse, which has wonderful views of the courses from the restaurant. We had lunch, and I must admit to being a bit nervous over my chicken bacon mayo sandwich. We’d parked our bags in the locker room down below, it’s just what you’d expect in terms of world-class accommodations and feel. I could just imagine the pros suiting up there as they prepare to play in The Open.

Our day of golf at the Jubilee Course was spectacular, although it got off to a rainy start, but the weather cleared by the fourth hole. Mary, Jill, and Lauren formed our gallery as we teed off, then they went for a walk around the lovely town. I parred the first hole and told Brian that made my entire trip to Scotland. I was on fire, shooting 42 on the front nine but hitting only three fairways and two greens in regulation. Brian shot 45. We’d decided on match play, and I was up by three on the 11th hole. Brian then said the fateful words, “You haven’t hit into a pot bunker all day!” Which I promptly did. My game immediately tanked while he proceeded to make a total of nine pars, shooting 42 on the back, and won the match 2 & 1. Our gallery re-appeared on the 17th hole, the sun was shining, and we were in golf heaven! We ended the day with a pint at the famous Dunvegan Pub by the R&A clubhouse.

Earlier in the day, Brian had received an email from St. Andrews, unfortunately stating that we had not been selected for the ballot to play on the Old Course the next day. He resubmitted our request for the following day with fingers crossed. We headed to our next stop, Edinburgh, looking forward to exploring this ancient yet cosmopolitan city. During our walking tour, Brian received the email notification that we’d scored an 11 a.m. tee time on the Old Course for Friday. He and I would be making a road trip back north while the ladies spent the day in Edinburgh.

It was about an hour ride back to St. Andrews but traffic was quite manageable and we arrived at 9:30, plenty of time for breakfast at the Links Clubhouse. I felt that anticipatory excitement I always have right before marshaling at a big event, like a U.S. Open, where the atmosphere of the place is nearly overwhelming. Not really nervousness, but we were about to play the Old Course! Isn’t that every golfer’s dream? To say Brian was wound up tight would be an understatement, he could barely choke down half a scone. The walk over toward the starters shack, where we would meet our caddies, with the R&A clubhouse right there at the first tee was unreal.

The clerk was so gracious, taking our 130 Scottish pounds green fee (about $160), and handing us a very nice valuables pouch complete with an amazingly detailed yardage book, tees, pencils, divot tool, and scorecard. We were then approached by our two caddies, who between them had nearly 30 years of caddying experience. I got John, whose personality was perfect for me, quiet, calm, not too chatty, yet personable. Brian’s guy, Steve was just right for him as well, right from central casting with a thick Scottish brogue. He instantly bonded with Brian to become his playing partner/coach, which was just what he needed to get over the first tee jitters.

The starter, Richard, approached us as we made our way over to the first tee, greeting us much like you see them do at the start of the Open Championship. He made our presence there seem extra special, despite the fact he’d probably done the same routine 10 thousand times. He even took our picture. We were then introduced to our two other playing partners, both former members of the course, so they didn’t need caddies to show them the way. These guys were hilarious, self-deprecating, with brogues so thick I could understand maybe one word in three, not the best golfers by any stretch, which was somehow quite reassuring and certainly less intimidating. Brian proved to be the best golfer in our foursome by far although he had a rough start, hitting his drive into the Swilcan Burn.

I was really calm on the tee, it helped that there were very few spectators as it was drizzling and maybe 50 degrees. John told me where to aim, (“at that gorse bush off in the distance”) and I was able to do exactly that. As we walked off the first tee Steve said “now you can all breathe again!” I found having a caddy to be such a wonderful added dimension to this whole experience—not just as a guide to point out where in the world I should be aiming on this alien golf layout, but also to set an expectation for me on each shot which I then tried my best to fulfill. The greens weren’t too scary as I felt used to the speeds having played Jubilee, but having John read the subtle breaks and provide aiming points was terrific.

I played bogey golf through the first 12 holes but the rain only intensified and despite John’s best effort to keep things dry, the final 6 holes were a mess. Brian was one up on our match at the turn, then went on to win decisively at 5 up, with a total for the day of 5 pars and a birdie, including par on 17, the famous Road Hole. As the day went on, we found ourselves saying over and over to each other, what a wonderful experience this was despite the conditions. Steve took the traditional picture of us on the Swilcan Bridge, on our way to finishing on 18, which Brian almost parred. He later said he had such a tremendous feeling of accomplishment, having conquered the Old Course.

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TG2: Brooks and Peter Kostis rip Patrick Reed

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Brooks Koepka and Peter Kostis both talk about Patrick Reed and his cheating allegations. Brooks was on SiriusXM and Kostis on No Laying Up don’t hold back their feelings on cheating. Kostis also has some PGA Tour beef, saying that they don’t care about the television broadcast.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below. 

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Opinion & Analysis

Watch for players lofting up at altitude at the WGC-Mexico Championship

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This week, at the PGA Tour’s WGC-Mexico Championship, we are going to watch some of the best and longest players on the planet play what will effectively be one of the shortest courses on tour.

Now, 7,341 yards is by no means a cakewalk, and there are shorter courses from a pure yardage perspective played on tour—Harbour Town, as an example, only plays at 7,099 yards from the very back. The difference is Harbour Town is played at sea level while Club de Golf Chapultepec is at over 7,500 feet of elevation, and when you factor in the altitude difference between the two courses, they play very differently—more on the math in a moment.

The altitude will also factor in how some players will be setting up their equipment and we could see some adjustments. The most obvious is lofting up the driver or fairways woods to increase carry, which is something Tiger Woods specifically mentioned last year.

The biggest misconception when talking about playing golf at altitude is that the ball doesn’t spin the same in thinner air and players “loft up” to maintain spin. Let’s get into the physics to bust this “spinning less” myth and simplify the science behind playing at altitude,

The golf ball is an inanimate object, and it has no idea it’s at altitude; the air will not have an impact on how much the ball will actually spin. Yes, increasing loft should, by almost every imaginable measure, increase spin but the air it travels through will not change the spin rate.

However, playing at altitude has an effect, Let’s break down what happens

  • Thinner air exerts less drag force (resistance/friction) on the ball. The ball moves more easily through this less dense air and won’t decelerate as quickly as it flies. But note that the faster an object moves the more drag force will occur
  • Less resistance also means that it is harder to shape shots. So you when you see Shot Tracer, the pros are going to be hitting it even straighter (this makes Tiger’s fairway bunker shot last year even more unbelievable)
  • Less force = less lift, the ball will fly lower and on a flatter trajectory

Time for some math from Steve Aoyama, a Principal Scientist at Titleist Golf Ball R&D (full piece here: The Effect of Altitude on Golf Ball Performance)

“You can calculate the distance gain you will experience (compared to sea level) by multiplying the elevation (in feet) by .00116. For example, if you’re playing in Reno, at 1 mile elevation (5,280 ft.) the increase is about 6% (5,280 x .00116 = 6.1248). If you normally drive the ball 250 yards at sea level, you will likely drive it 265 yards in Reno.”

Not every player will be making changes to their bag, and some will instead focus on the types of shots they are hitting instead. When speaking to Adam Scott earlier this week, I was able to ask if he planned on making any changes heading into Mexico the week after his win at the Genesis Invitational.

“It’s very rare for me to make club changes week-to-week beyond playing in the Open Championship and adding a longer iron. The one thing I focus on when playing at altitude is avoiding partial shots where I’m trying to reduce the spin because as spin goes down the ball doesn’t want to stay in the air. I’ve experienced partial shots with longer clubs that end up 25 yards short, and because of that I want to hit as many full shots as possible”

With Club de Golf Chapultepec sitting just over 7,800 feet above sea level, we’re looking at 9.048 or an increase of just over 9 percent. That makes this 7,341-yard course play 6,677 yards (+/- where the tees are placed).

 

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