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The Wedge Guy: How important is the fairway?

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I know you all expect me to always write about wedges and wedge play, but my lifetime in golf and 40 years in the industry has caused me to think deeply and investigate all areas of playing better golf. So, today I want to share some thinking about your tee shots that might be a bit different.

My premise is simple and verifiable–golfers of all skill levels are much better with their approach shots from the fairway than from the rough.

I know, “chicks dig the long ball”, but paychecks dig the straight ball. Let’s go to the PGA Tour stats to see just how much.

For this illustration, I picked Seamus Power, who is currently 50th in greens in regulation at 69.25 percent—one of the better iron players obviously. But he’s actually better than most from the rough, ranking 13th in proximity to the hole on those shots. But even so, let’s dig deeper to see just how important it is for him to hit the fairway.

Mr. Power’s average distance from the hole on all shots from 125-150 yards is 21.1 feet…but from the rough that average is twice as far–40.4 feet. To put that in perspective, he averages less than that–under 39 feet–on his approaches from 200-225. Let’s assume Mr. Power could hit every fairway if he would only back off on his drives by 25 yards. What would that mean to him?

Well, his fairways hit success is 59 percent, so that would mean he would have 20-25 birdie putts a tournament that are 15- 20-feet shorter than what he’s getting now. If you look at his putting and scrambling stats, that could translate to 4-5 more birdies per tournament and maybe 3 to 4 fewer bogeys–up to two strokes per round.

So, he’s made $209,000 this season, ranking him 181st. His scoring average of 71.264 ranks him 129th. That’s only four strokes per tournament behind Colin Morikawa, who’s made over $3 million this year.

So, back to what this could all mean to you.

We can talk about those few extra yards all we want, but statistics bear out that fairways hit is one of the more important stats, and that applies even more to recreational golfers. No matter where the course, a drive in the fairway lets you play the hole with an advantage. That goes for your second shot on par-5s as well. If you could hit more of your approach shots from the fairway, your scores will go down for sure.

There are a number of ways to prove this to yourself, but my favorite is to play a practice round and hit every approach shot from the fairway. If you hit a drive in the rough, walk it straight out to the fairway and even back 10-15 yards, and hit your approach shot from there. My own informal research is that it makes a huge impact for golfers of all skill levels.

So, now that you’ve learned that, how do you hit more fairways? That takes some time on the range and/or with your professional, but mostly it takes a huge mental adjustment. We all are coached and coerced into thinking that the purpose of the tee shot is to move the ball as far as humanly possible. We are pounded with millions of dollars of advertising and TV talk about the “long ball.” But statistics prove that a ball in the short grass makes any hole play easier.

To me, there are three keys to hitting straighter drives, and most of them will actually improve your average distance as well:

  • Grip the club lightly. If you have a light grip on the club, it prevents you from trying to muscle it too much.
  • Swing at 85-90%. Just back off a bit on your entire swing pace, from start to finish. Feel like you are hitting the driver like you would a controlled 7-iron shot into a green.
  • Aim small, miss small. That’s a favorite line of mine from Mel Gibson’s “The Patriot”, and it applies to golf. Pick out a specific tree, corner of a house, edge of a bunker, etc. and aim your tee shot precisely. Take time to get set up with a dead aim on where you want the ball to go. Too often, we just aim “at the fairway”, and that’s not good enough.

I hope this helps you hit more fairways as you get the most out of the last half of the 2020 golf season!

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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.

8 Comments

8 Comments

  1. Bob Jones

    Aug 1, 2020 at 3:42 pm

    There was a time long ago when the driver was called the play club, because it is what you used to put the ball in play.

  2. Peter

    Aug 1, 2020 at 6:23 am

    Maybe the guy hitting more fairways will also hit more greens? Or the guy on his day of hitting more fairways will also hit more greens…?

  3. Osnola Kinnard

    Jul 30, 2020 at 10:45 am

    TK,

    I would add something that I have found to be true. I got ‘fitted’ on a Trackman that showed near perfect launch and spin rates and dispersion. I was dead on at the 14* launch and 2000-2400 RPM spin range. I think my driver was set up at 9*.

    I got to the course and hit the ball all over the place. I hit a couple of really big bombs…I mean BIG drives…but I lost balls, hit them OB, hit them behind trees, and missed fairways.

    I went to the driving range and pretty much did the same thing, hitting it all over the place. I started adding back loft .5* at a time and finally settled at 10* and my dispersion really tightened up as did my consistency. I was astounded at how much difference one additional degree meant.

    My point being, the ‘best’ numbers don’t always translate to the ‘best result’.

  4. drkviol801

    Jul 30, 2020 at 9:23 am

    Hey wedge guy, what are tomorrow’s lottery numbers? You seem so smart and knowledgeable.

  5. Shawn

    Jul 30, 2020 at 7:21 am

    Thank you for the tip I find my self not making contact with the ball is my undoing However look back at a set up when pros set up thire is a slight lean in the upper club ware grip the club and always faces the target

  6. Gunny

    Jul 29, 2020 at 5:13 pm

    This is 90% true.

    The courses that I and most of us on this site play do not have rough that resembles the PGA tour setups. Many times if I miss the fairway by a few yards it’s no difference because the rough isn’t too thick most days. During our club championship, member guest, etc the rough can get gnarly, but most days the rough isn’t too big of a deal.

    Being out of play or having an obstructed shot is a different deal. And that is where the advice in this article ring very true.

    • Jimmy

      Jul 29, 2020 at 9:18 pm

      I’ve done a lot of work on this with my own stat tracking (on my game). It’s more nuanced than this article & consistent with your comments. LANDING the ball in the fairway, regardless of whether it stays there, is the most important thing for my score. The reason is that you lose 10-30 yards of distance by landing it in the rough (depending on slope & how deep the rough is). And I’m way better with a 9-iron from the rough than a 6-iron from the fairway so backing off isn’t helpful.

      The reason these tour numbers don’t work for amateurs is that tour rough is a much worse penalty, and tour players are way better with a mid/long iron from the fairway than amateurs are.

      • karsten's ghost

        Jul 30, 2020 at 1:25 am

        Absolutely nailed it, Jimmy. Driver with rollout is the key. Guys trying to hit it super-high and plugging their drives are missing out on whatever perceived advantage there was about height.

        Hit the fairway on the fly, and everything’s gonna work out ok.

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In this episode of TGD brought to you by Titleist, Johnny chats with the one, the only, the legend Steve Elkington.

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The differences between good and bad club fitters—and they’re not what you think

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Club fitting is still a highly debated topic, with many golfers continuing to believe they’re just not good enough to be fit. That couldn’t be further from the truth, but it’s a topic for another day.

Once you have decided to invest in your game and equipment, however, the next step is figuring out where to get fit, and working with a fitter.  You see, unlike professionals in other industries, club fitting “certification” is still a little like the wild west. While there are certification courses and lesson modules from OEMs on how to fit their specific equipment, from company to company, there is still some slight variance in philosophy.

Then there are agnostic fitting facilities that work with a curated equipment matrix from a number of manufacturers. Some have multiple locations all over the country and others might only have a few smaller centralized locations in a particular city. In some cases, you might even be able to find single-person operations.

So how do you separate the good from the bad? This is the million-dollar question for golfers looking to get fit. Unless you have experience going through a fitting before or have a base knowledge about fitting, it can feel like an intimidating process. This guide is built to help you ask the right questions and pay attention to the right things to make sure you are getting the most out of your fitting.

The signs of a great fitter

  • Launch monitor experience: Having some type of launch monitor certification isn’t a requirement but being able to properly understand the interpret parameters is! A good fitter should be able to explain the parameters they are using to help get the right clubs and understand how to tweak specs to help you get optimized. The exact labeling may vary depending on the type of launch monitor but they all mostly provide the same information….Here is an example of what a fitter should be looking for in an iron fitting: “The most important parameter in an iron fitting” 
  • Communication skills: Being able to explain why and how changes are being made is a telltale sign your fitter is knowledgeable—it should feel like you are learning something along the way. Remember, communication is a two-way street so also being a good listener is another sign your working with a good fitter.
  • Transparency: This involves things like talking about price, budgets, any brand preferences from the start. This prevents getting handed something out of your price range and wasting swings during your fit.
  • A focus on better: Whether it be hitting it further and straighter with your driver or hitting more greens, the fitting should be goal-orientated. This means looking at all kinds of variables to make sure what you are getting is actually better than your current clubs. Having a driver you hit 10 yards farther isn’t helpful if you don’t know where it’s going….A great fitter that knows their stuff should quickly be able to narrow down potential options to 4-5 and then work towards optimizing from there.
  • Honesty and respect: These are so obvious, I shouldn’t even have to put it on the list. I want to see these traits from anybody in a sales position when working with customers that are looking to them for knowledge and information…If you as the golfer is only seeing marginal gains from a new product or an upgrade option, you should be told that and given the proper information to make an informed decision. The great fitters, and I’ve worked with a lot of them, will be quick to tell a golfer, “I don’t think we’re going to beat (X) club today, maybe we should look at another part of your bag where you struggle.” This kind of interaction builds trust and in the end results in happy golfers and respected fitters.

The signs of a bad fitter

  • Pushing an agenda: This can come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. Whether it be a particular affinity towards certain brands of clubs or even shafts. If you talk to players that have all been to the same fitter and their swings and skill levels vary yet the clubs or brands of shafts they end up with (from a brand agnostic facility) seem to be eerily similar it might be time to ask questions.
  • Poor communications: As you are going through the fitting process and warming up you should feel like you’re being interviewed as a way to collect data and help solve problems in your game. This process helps create a baseline of information for your fitter. If you are not experiencing that, or your fitter isn’t explaining or answering your questions directly, then there is a serious communication problem, or it could show lack of knowledge depth when it comes to their ability.
  • Lack of transparency: If you feel like you’re not getting answers to straightforward questions or a fitter tells you “not to worry about it” then that is a big no-no from me.
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  • Pressure sales tactics: It exists in every industry, I get it, but if you pay for your fitting you are paying for information, use it to your advantage. You shouldn’t feel pressured to buy, and it’s always OK to seek out a knowledgeable second opinion (knowledgeable being a very key word in that sentence!).  If you are getting the hard sell or any combination of the traits above, there is a good chance you’re not working with the right fitter for you.

Final thoughts

Great fitters with great reputations and proper knowledge have long lists, even waiting lists, of golfers waiting to see them. The biggest sign of a great fitter is a long list of repeat customers.

Golf is a game that can be played for an entire lifetime, and just like with teachers and swing coaches, the good ones are in it for the long haul to help you play better and build a rapport—not just sell you the latest and greatest (although we all like new toys—myself included) because they can make a few bucks.

Trust your gut, and ask questions!

 

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