Friday’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’s gotta have 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 hybrids, and maybe the longest iron or two. Their 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 important with these clubs – 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 if used 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 at the most.
- Positioning clubs. These are the clubs with which most of our approach shots will be played. I include the irons and hybrids, with lofts of 22-24 degrees up to 40*; that covers the 5-6 iron up to the 8. 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 10-12 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 40 degrees of loft. When you put one of these in your hands, it’s because you are in prime scoring range, whether 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 the par fives, at least 3-4 short par fours, 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 20-25 yards are fine – you can cut each distance down by about half by simply gripping down on the longer club by one half to three quarters of an inch.
Positioning clubs that deliver distance differentials of 15-20 yards are also fine. For more precision when needed, you can cut each gap in half by simply gripping down, which should give you distance accuracy of 25-30 feet.
But 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 5-7 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.
The point is actually pretty simple. The closer you get to the green, the tighter your expectations should be, and the better your performance should be. I’m going to wrap this up on Friday with some tips on how to tweak your set to give you a stronger team to take to the course with you.