Higher Greens in Regulation, Lower Handicap

All golfers want to play from a lower handicap. It's the illusive challenge, that is some kind of badge of honor understood only by golfers. It's also what makes the measure of our abilities, and so we should naturally strive to have this metric decreasing as low as we can, even though it make the game that much harder.


People always ask me how to get better faster and how to get that handicap down as quickly as possible. I started thinking about it a long time ago, and I figured that the distance would be directly proportional to the handicap. But that surprisingly isn't the case.


Distance is what most golfers want. They want to be able to hit the ball farther and hit shorter higher lofted clubs into the greens on their approach shots. I have never yet heard someone come into my shop and say that they hit the ball too far or that they are upset that they miss the ball off the back of the green too many times.


So I started watching the best golfers in the world, and I started to look at some statistics to see how close the average player hits it. The results are quite shocking and not at all what the we see on television. Of course, on TV we only see the guys who are hitting the ball to 3 feet for the easy birdy tap ins or the one or two guys throughout the round that sinks a 50+ foot eagle putt. Keep in mind, these are the best ball strikers in the world! Not the average guy/girl.


Let's start with a baseline of the average of all golfers, both male and female. The below numbers are taken from a USGA Survey and represent Short, Average, and Long for both men and women. This is total distance however, so on average you could subtract 20 yards to get the carry distance expected for each gender.



Here's the stats from this week's PGA tournament. These would be pretty consistent throughout the year and depending upon the pin placements. However, the details are below to help us understand how to get better faster and how to start thinking about our training and golf objectives in order to quickly improve our play.


The below charts are taken from the PGA website today as of the last tournament numbers, these are accurate time wise and would be more or less the same regardless of tournament.



I will start with the maximum distance that one would comfortably use an iron on tour. This is roughly a 5 iron for the average tour professional (200 yards). We can see that the average best players in the world are 56 feet away from the pin. There's little chance of making a birdie at that distance. More on the putting make percentages later. Also, at this distance you need an additional skill.


You need to be a great lag putter to avoid a 3 putt.


We can see that as you get just 25 yards closer, the average proximity to the hole goes down by more than half. For most PGA tour professionals, they'd be hitting a 7 or 8 iron into the greens from here. The make percentage of putts goes up significantly from here, even though that is still quite far from the hole.

Oddly enough we don't see the distance from the pin decrease very much from the next 25 yards closer. So there seems to be little to no advantage at having an average pitching wedge into the green versus a 7 or 8 iron.


That means that if are quite proficient with a 7 iron, you wouldn't gain much proximity advantage versus a full wedge shot. And this is what I mean. To make the biggest difference to your handicap and to play better faster, you really need to get very good at a 6 iron. For those of you who have come into my simulator, you'll know how much love I have for the 6 iron.

Again, with a different of 50 yards closer to the hole, we only see approximately 8 feet of difference in proximity. That's 30% percent closer, which was surprising to me. The reason I say this is that the make percentage of a putt from that distance isn't massively different. It also tells me that professionals know that hitting the greens in regulation is the way to ensuring that you have a great score. That my friends is called, playing golf. Boring yes, I know; but effective.


Ahh the wedge game: You know, focus on the wedges and see your scores drop. Yeah, not really. Approaches just from 100 yards is only a 10 foot difference in proximity between a 7 iron and a wedge. Statistically, I don't really see the benefit.


If you're trying to break 90 (Means a bogey a hole) you can clearly see that hitting greens in regulation is the single easiest way to achieve that target. In fact, you can be 30 feet on either side of the hole and the chances of you making a birdie putt don't change that much.


So, why are we pin seeking from 150 yards in. Personally, I think that's a flawed strategy for a beginner and one that I do not at all promote. I also don't promote focusing on your short game, as you should be focusing on your mid iron game and hitting it ANYWHERE on the green in regulation. Yes, anywhere you can putt. Leave the wedge practice until you can break 90 every time and you want to shave 1 or 2 shots from your score.


Right, so given that I've just caused many eyebrows to rise up with my iron play study, let's show how statistically unimportant it is to pin seek and how statistically important it is to learn how to increase your GIR and learn to Lag Putt.



So what do us regular old joes do to improve quickly. Well, we change our strategy as outlined above.


We focus on getting our GIR Numbers as high as possible But how much can we miss on that approach shot?

We some quick searches on line will show you that the average fair green size design is 26 yards width (Side to side) and 31 yards depth (Front to back). That means 78 feet side to side and 93 feet front to back. That's a pretty big target if you aimed at the middle of it.


Once we have achieved our GIR target, our second objective is to lag putt the ball to a distance of 5 feet or less from the pin, that means actually within a 10 foot window (5 feet either side of the pin). So we shouldn't even focus on lining the putt up, we should instead focus on pacing the putt to the 5 feet diameter of the hole. Sounds simple and it is, but we never practice lag putting as golfers.


There is a good reason why gimme's exist. The average putter is 35 inches, that is almost exactly 3 feet. And from 3 feet professionals have a 95% chance of making the putt. You can quite easily get to this make percentage as well if you focus on making 4 footers before you play the round.


So, in brief our training program should look like this:

  • Get the Driver Distance up and with an accuracy of deviation within 45 yards (average size of a medium width golf course)

  • Learn to Aim and Set up to the Widest Part of the Fairways to allow for Maximal Deviation

  • Get your 6 iron carry distance up and deviation down to within 26 yards left or right from target and a consistent carry distance

  • Become and excellent Lag Putter

  • Don't miss the 4 footers

Give it a try and let us know how your score changes.




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