Last week’s post started this dialog about carefully examining your set make-up to see if you are really carrying the right mix of clubs to give you the best chances of optimizing your scoring. Now let’s take that analysis to the next level to see if it won’t help you assess the team you’ve put together.
At each end of the set, we have the driver and putter, so we’ll leave those out of the mix for team building. Everyone needs them, so that leaves 12 players to fill in the roster. I like to divide those 12 players into 3 distinct groups:
Distance clubs. These are the fairways and maybe your longest hybrid or two, or even your longest iron. Their most common purpose is to move the ball down the fairway, or position it off the tee when a driver isn’t the best choice. Distance control isn’t that critical with these shots – even 50-60 feet long or short is usually fine. With these, we want the ball to remain in play to keep us “in the hole.” Even when you use these clubs for a long approach shot, as long as they keep us around the green somewhere safe, we’re looking pretty good. The distance clubs typically are those with less than 22-24 degrees of loft. If you are playing the correct tees for your distance, you’ll use these clubs 5-8 times per round at most. Few golfers really need more than 2-3 of these.
Positioning clubs. These are the clubs with which slightly over half of our approach shots will be played. This group includes irons and/or hybrids, with lofts of 22-24 degrees up to 36-37*; that covers the 4/5 iron or hybrid up through the 8 iron. When we play a shot with these clubs, we have a little tighter expectation of how close we will end up to the hole, but generally, here too, a shot that ends up within 35-50 feet of the hole is a good one, even at the short end of this range – it certainly is at the long end. If you are playing the right tees for your distance and skill level, you shouldn’t be using these clubs for more than 2/3 of your approach shots.
Scoring clubs. These are the tools with which you will likely determine your score for the day, the ones with over 37-38 degrees of loft. When you put one of these in your hands, it’s because you are in prime scoring range, whether it is for a short approach or a recovery shot. These are the clubs that should allow you to “take it to the course”, giving you putts for birdies and saving pars. They require—and you should expect—pinpoint distance accuracy, as these shots are more often missed long and short than right/left. You should have one of these clubs in your hands on each of the par fives, at least 3-4 short par fours and maybe a par three, and all your shots after missing greens. They are your ‘money clubs’, allowing you to score well when the distance and positioning clubs are ‘behaving’, and save scores when they are not.
Because of the different demands and expectations we have for these three groups of clubs, it makes sense that we would have progressively tighter distance differentials–or gaps–between clubs in each group.
Distance clubs that deliver club-to-club differentials of 15-20 yards are fine–you can cut the distance differential down by about half by simply gripping down on the longer club by one half to three-quarters of an inch.
Positioning clubs that should deliver distance differentials of 15-17 yards. Again, when more precision when needed, you can cut each gap in half by simply gripping down, which should give you distance accuracy of 20-25 feet.
Between your scoring clubs is where you want the gaps to be the tightest, because a shot that is 20-25 feet long or short from only 80-125 yards is not fine. In this range, you need to be able to “dial in” your shots to no more than 5- to 7-yard increments with consistency, regardless of your handicap. And the only way to do that consistently is to have your club arsenal arranged to give you tighter gaps “mechanically”, rather than to rely on your feel and ability to throttle down to dissect a 15-20 yard gap with precision.
In summary, this basic principle of “building your team” is actually quite simple. The closer you get to the green, the tighter your expectations should be, and the better your performance should be. Building your team with balance and the proper assignments will help you achieve that goal.
The Gear Dive: TrackMan’s Tour Operations Manager Lance Vinson Part 1 of 2
In this episode of The Gear Dive brought to you by Titleist, Johnny chats with TrackMans Lance Vinson on an all things TrackMan and its presence on Tour. It’s such a deep dive that they needed two shows to cover it all.
Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below.
An open letter to golf
I know it has been some time since we last spoke, but I need you to know I miss you, and I can’t wait to see you again.
It was just a few months ago I walked crowded isles, stood shoulder to shoulder, and talked endlessly with likeminded individuals about you and your promising future in 2020 at the PGA Show. At that time, the biggest concern in my life was whether I had packed the perfect dress-to-casual pant ratio and enough polos to get through the mayhem of six days in Orlando. Oh, how the times have changed.
On a professional level, what started with the LPGA Tour a few weeks prior progressed quickly at The Players Championship, when you ground to a complete halt within days. As much as it was a tough decision, it was the right decision, and I admire the judgment made by your leaders. Soon after, outside of the professional ranks followed suit and courses everywhere began shutting doors and asked golfers to keep away.
This is the right decision. For now and for the foreseeable future, as much as I don’t like it, I understand how important it is we let experienced health medical professionals make choices and craft policies for the wellbeing of people everywhere. Although, judging by the indoor short game trickery I have witnessed over the last 10 days, handicaps could be dropping when you finally return.
As a game, you are over 200 years old. You have survived pandemics, wars, depression, drought, and everything else that has been thrown at you. Much like the human spirit, you will continue on thanks to the stories and experiences others passed down and enjoyed.
I know you will survive because I also plan on surviving. As long as there are people willing to tend to your grounds and maintain your existence, I will also exist ready to take on your challenge.
When you are able to return in full, I will be here.
Ryan Barath (on behalf of golfers everywhere)
The Wedge Guy: Improving your short iron and wedge impact
One of my most appreciated aspects of this nearly 40 years in the golf equipment industry is the practically endless stream of “ah ha” moments that I have experienced. One that I want to share with you today will–I hope–give you a similar “ah ha moment” and help you improve your ball striking with your high lofted short irons and wedges.
As I was growing up, we always heard the phrase, “thin to win” anytime we hit an iron shot a little on the skinny side (not a complete skull, mind you). When you caught that short iron or wedge shot a bit thin, it seemed you always got added distance, a lower trajectory and plenty of spin. It was in a testing session back in the early 2000s when this observation met with some prior learning, hence the “ah ha moment” for me.
I was in Fredericksburg, Virginia, testing some wedge prototypes with a fitter there who was one of the first to have a TrackMan to measure shot data. I had hit about two dozen full pitching wedges for him to get a base of data for me to work from. The average distance was 114 yards, with my typical higher ball flight than I like, generating an average of about 7,000 rpms of spin. What I noticed, however, was those few shots that I hit thin were launching noticeably lower, flying further and had considerably more spin. Hmmm.
So, I then started to intentionally try to pick the ball off the turf, my swing thought being to actually try to almost “blade” the shot. As I began to somewhat “perfect” this, I saw trajectories come down to where I’d really like them, distance increased to 118-120 and spin rates actually increased to about 8,000 rpms! I was taking no divot, or just brushing the grass after impact, but producing outstanding spin. On my very best couple of swings, distance with my pitching wedge was 120-122 with almost 10,000 rpms of spin! And a great trajectory.
So, I began to put two and two together, drawing on the lessons about gear effect that I had learned back in the 1980s when working with Joe Powell in the marketing of his awesome persimmon drivers. You all know that gear effect is what makes a heel hit curve/fade back toward the centerline, and a heel hit curves/draws back as well. The “ah ha” moment was realizing that this gear effect also worked vertically, so shots hit that low on the face “had no choice” but to fly lower, and take on more spin.
I had always noticed that tour players’ and better amateurs’ face wear pattern was much lower on the face than that of recreational golfers I had observed, so this helped explain the quality of ball flight and spin these elite players get with their wedges and short irons.
I share this with you because I know we all often misinterpret the snippets of advice we get from friends and other instructional content that is out there. To me, one of the most damaging is “hit down on the ball”. That is a relative truth, of course, but in my observation it has too many golfers attacking the ball with their short irons and wedges with a very steep angle of attack and gouging huge divots. The facts are that if the club is moving only slightly downward at impact, you will get the spin you want, and if the clubhead is moving on a rather shallow path, you will get a more direct blow to the back of the ball, better trajectory, more distance and improved spin. Besides, shallow divots are easier on the hands and joints.
If this is interesting to you, I suggest you go to the range and actually try to blade some wedge shots until you somewhat groove this shallower path through impact and a lower impact point on your clubface. As you learn to do this, you will be able to zero in on the proper impact that produces a very shallow divot, and a great looking shot.
[TIP: If you will focus on the front edge of the ball – the side closest to the target – it will help you achieve this kind of impact.]
It will take some time, but I believe this little “experiment” will give the same kind of “ah ha moment” it gave me.
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