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Opinion & Analysis

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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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: What you CAN learn from tour pros

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I have frequently noted how the game the PGA Tour players play is, in most ways, a whole different game than we “mere mortal” recreational golfers play. They hit their drivers miles it seems. Their short games are borderline miraculous. And they get to play from perfect bunkers and putt on perfect greens every single week. And it lets them beat most courses into submission with scores of 20-plus under par.

The rest of us do not have their strength, of course, nor do we have the time to develop short game skills even close to theirs. And our greens are not the perfect surfaces they enjoy, nor do we have caddies, green-reading books, etc. So, we battle mightily to shoot our best scores, whether that be in the 70s, 90s, or higher.

There is no question that most PGA Tour players are high-level athletes, who train daily for both body strength and flexibility, as well as the specific skills to make a golf ball do what they intend it to. But even with all that, it is amazing how bad they can hit it sometimes and how mediocre (for them) the majority of their shots really are — or at least they were this week.

Watching the Wells Fargo event this weekend, you could really see how their games are – relatively speaking – very much like ours on a week-to-week basis.

What really stood out for me as I watched some of this event was so few shots that were awe-inspiring and so many that were really terrible. Rory even put his win in jeopardy with a horrible drive on the 18th, but a very smart decision and a functional recovery saved him. (The advantage of being able to muscle an 8-iron 195 yards out of deep rough and a tough lie is not to be slighted).

Of course, every one of these guys knocks the flag down with approach shots occasionally, if not frequently, but on a longer and tougher golf course, relative mediocrity was good enough to win.

If we can set these guys’ power differences aside, I think we all can learn from watching and seeing that even these players hit “big uglies” with amazing frequency. And that the “meat” of their tee-to-green games is keeping it in play when they face the occasional really tough golf course like Quail Hollow. Do you realize less than 20 of the best players in the world beat par for those 72 holes?

It has long been said that golf is a game of misses, and the player who “misses best” is likely to be “in the hunt” more often than not, and will win his or her share. That old idiom is as true for those of us trying to break 100 or 90 or 80 as it is for the guys trying to win on the PGA Tour each week.

Our “big numbers” happen for the same reasons as theirs do – a simply terrible shot or two at the wrong time. But because we do not have anywhere near their short game and recovery skills, we just do not “get away with” our big misses as frequently as they do.

So, what can you take away from that observation? I suggest this.

Play within your own reliable strength profile and skill set. Play for your average or typical shot, not your very best, whether that is a drive, approach shot, or short game recovery. And don’t expect a great shot to follow a bad one.
If, no, when you hit the “big miss,” accept that this hole can get away from you and turn into a double or worse, regroup, and stop the bleeding, so you can go on to the next hole.

We can be pretty darn sure Rory McIlroy was not thinking bogey on the 18th tee but changed his objective on the hole once he saw the lie his poor drive had found. It only took a bogey to secure his win, so that became a very acceptable outcome.

There’s a lesson for all of us in that.

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Opinion & Analysis

Ways to Win: Horses for Courses – Rory McIlroy rides the Rors to another Quail Hollow win

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Tell me if you’ve heard this before: Rory McIlroy wins at Quail Hollow. The new father broke his winless streak at a familiar course on Mother’s Day. McIlroy has been pretty vocal about how he is able to feed off the crowd and plays his best golf with an audience. Last week provided a familiar setting in a venue he has won twice before and a strong crowd, giving McIlroy just what he needed to break through and win again. A phenomenal feat given that, not long ago, he seemed completely lost, chasing distance based on Bryson DeChambeau’s unorthodox-but-effective progress. McIlroy is typically a player who separates himself from the field as a premier driver of the golf ball, however this week it was his consistency across all areas that won the tournament.

Using the Strokes Gained Stacked view from V1 Game shows that Rory actually gained the most strokes for the week in putting. Not typically known as a phenomenal putter, something about those Quail Hollow greens speaks to McIlroy where he finished the week third in strokes gained: putting (red above). He also hit his irons fairly well, gaining more than 3.6 strokes for the week on a typical PGA Tour field. Probably the most surprising category for McIlroy was actually driving, where he gained just 1.3 strokes for the week and finished 18th in the field. While McIlroy is typically more accurate with the driver, in this case, he sprayed the ball. Strokes gained: driving takes into account distance, accuracy, and the lie into which you hit the ball. McIlroy’s driving distance was still elite, finishing second in the field and averaging more than 325 yards as measured . However, when he missed, he missed in bad spots. McIlroy drove into recovery situations multiple times, causing lay-ups and punch-outs. He also drove into several bunkers causing difficult mid-range bunker shots. So, while driving distance is a quick way to add strokes gained, you have to avoid poor lies to take advantage and, unfortunately, McIlroy hurt himself there. This was particularly apparent on the 72nd hole where he pull-hooked a 3-wood into the hazard and almost cost himself the tournament.

It’s rare that a player wins a tour event without a truly standout category, but McIlroy won this week by being proficient in each category with a consistent performance. From a strokes gained perspective, he leaned on his putting, but even then, he had four three-putts on the week and left some room for improvement. He gained strokes from most distances but struggled on the long ones and from 16-20 feet. Overall, we saw good progress for McIlroy to putt as well as he did on the week.

McIlroy also had a good week with his irons, routinely giving himself opportunities to convert birdies where he tied for seventh-most in the field. When he did miss with his irons, he tended to miss short from most distances. His proximity to the hole was quite good, averaging below 30 feet from most distance buckets. That is surely a recipe to win.

When you add it all up, McIlroy showed little weakness last week. He was proficient in each category and relied on solid decision-making and routine pars while others made mistakes on the weekend. Sometimes, there is no need to be flashy, even for the best in the world. It was good to see McIlroy rejoin the winner’s circle and hopefully pull himself out from what has been a bit of a slump. Golf is better when McIlroy is winning.

If you want to build a consistent game like Rors, V1 Game can help you understand your weaknesses and get started on a journey to better golf. Download in the app store for free today.

 

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Club Junkie

Club Junkie: Fujikura MC Putter shaft review and cheap Amazon grips!

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Fujikura’s new MC Putter shafts are PACKED with technology that you wouldn’t expect in a putter shaft. Graphite, metal, and rubber are fused together for an extremely consistent and great feeling putter shaft. Three models to fit any putter stroke out there!

Grips are in short supply right now, and there are some very cheap options on Amazon. I bought some with Prime delivery, and they aren’t as good as you would think.

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