Let’s discuss some strategies to improve your scoring. We will describe a strategy as the plan you decide to use to overcome situations in the game. I had the fortunate opportunity from 2002-2009 to teach under Golf Digest Top 5 teacher, Chuck Cook at his Academy. Chuck has not only taught multiple Major Championship winners, but also was a staff instructor with Golf Digest Schools many years before.

Chuck had already accumulated a great deal of strategy data over his long tenure and we collected more at the Chuck Cook Golf Academy. I continue to carry on much of the same player data collection for developing playing strategies at the Barton Creek Golf Academy and the statistics haven’t really changed. His early research broke down the game in four different situations: 1. Tee shots on par 4 and par 5s; 2. Advancement shots (shots that can’t reach the green); 3. Target shot (shots expected to reach the green); and 4. Short game shots.

The tee shot testing was to determine what club was hit in the fairway with each handicap group over 50% of the time. Each club was tested with 20 shots each, which were the driver, 3 wood, 5 wood, and next longest iron. This was also done for advancement shots hitting 20 balls with the 3 wood, 5 wood, and next longest club. To pass advancement shots they needed to get it airborne and keep it in the fairway over 50% of the time. The way the target shots were tested was to hit 20 shots from different distances starting at 50 yards and move back out in 25-yard increments. We also tested all short game skills, short putts, long putts, chips, pitches, and bunker play. Over the years our Academy we have tested many players men and women in our golf schools and private coaching in our initial player assessment. This testing is very valuable to help build a long-term development program for improvement. These days we have radars, such as Trackman and Flightscope and other technologies which make it easier to test. The results have been quite interesting. The data discussed here is male players, but the female numbers are not that different.

In tee shots the data shows that players over a 14 handicap have a very hard time hitting the driver in play (fairway) 50% of the time. So, this means that unless you’re under a 14 handicap you need to think twice about teeing off with your Driver especially if you want to hit the fairway. The findings also showed that a handicap of 29 or higher could not pass the fairway test with a driver or a 3 wood. So basically, if you are over a 29 handicap you should think of using a 5 wood or less to hit more fairways on your tee shots. One of the main reasons for this is due to the slower clubhead speed of the higher handicap golfer generally. In many cases slower clubhead speed golfers hit the 3 wood not only higher, but also straighter. This is because the more loft a club creates more backspin, and this can help hit it straighter.

On advancement shots the research showed that players with a handicap of 15 or higher could not pass the test with a 3 wood. 28 handicaps could not pass it with a 3 wood or 5 wood. The main factor for this is that when the ball is played off the ground with a 3 wood this is very little room for error based on the amount of loft the club need to catch the ball perfectly below the equator which is needed to hit a good shot in the air. 5 woods are quite a bit easier to get airborne and hit straighter, yet still difficult for the higher handicap.
On target shots the research showed that players with a handicap of 8 or higher could not hit the green over half the time from 150 yards. If the players handicap was 15 or higher, they struggled hitting the green over half the time from 125 yards. And the 30+ handicappers could not hit the green over half the time from 75 yards.

Our short game skills testing is very in depth with the study, and basically and obviously the lower the handicap the better the short game most every time. The details of this research can be for another time.

So, what does all the mean? Well it means that there is a strategy of tactics you can use based on your handicap to help you lower your scores on the course. Players with handicap levels of 36 or more should generally tee off with no more than a 5 wood. Then the longest club that should played from the ground for consistency would be a five iron or hybrid to the advance the ball in the fairway. Until you are within 50 yards of the green you should play towards the safe part of the green. If you miss the green from there, use your sand wedge (one club) for short game shots and putt from the fringe and green. Players with handicaps of 15-35 should use no more than a 3 wood off the tee, then use nothing longer than a 5-wood from the ground. Then play towards the center of the green until inside 100 yards. Around the greens add the low running chip for longer short game shots and the sand wedge for higher shots. For handicaps under 15 there certainly becomes more customization to the game.

To summarize, obviously there are exceptions to the rule in all these cases. This is not to say, you should not take advantage of the Driver and the great technology these days. But, through the extensive research, I think this a good starting point of strategy based on handicap to help your scoring while playing. Everyone wants to go out and swing away and “bomb” the driver. It can be fun and certainly distance has become a premium at the highest level of the game. But, give this more conservative strategy a try for a while and you will start to see lower scores. Also, get with a good coach and start of game plan of improvement based on your practice and play schedule. You need to become more proficient with all the different clubs and shots in the practice area first. There is so much to learn in the game. Good luck

By Brech Spradley, PGA
Director of Instruction Barton Creek Golf Academy

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