Monday, August 3, 2015

Sample of How I Use Google Earth to Prepare

I often get questions on how I personally strategize for a golf course. First, when it comes to strategy and golf we should accept the fact that it is fluid in nature. A lot of people go too far with that and use the old boxing adage of “everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.” But by the same token I could say that “those that fail to plan, plan to fail.” I would imagine that great generals of war throughout the history of the world understood that nothing ever quite goes according to plan. But, that was no reason to not plan anyway.

This post will be done for casual rounds of golf. In terms of preparing for an upcoming tournament, I would recommend spending most of your focus on shots around the green. In general, I don’t think strategies off the tee are overly complicated and difficult to determine. One can usually see where they need to hit most tee shots even if it is the first time they have played the course. The more difficult strategy to determine is on the approach shots because you need to know where you can miss and that is often times hard to tell unless you have actually practice hitting those short game shots around the green.

For this post, I’m showing a course that I’ve played before. In a future post I will look at a course that I am going to play for the first time. Here’s how I look at things using Google Earth. The course in question is Orange County National’s Panther Lake course.


For starters, I carry the ball now about 275 yards on a good strike with ‘normal conditions.’ However, we should realize that even Tour players don’t always hit perfect tee shots and have perfect conditions. I typically give myself 20-yards, meaning that I feel comfortable with any shot that I need to carry less than 255 yards off the tee. I’m still trying to play for my ‘average swing’, but I recognize that my average swing may miss the sweet spot by a small amount or may launch lower or higher than I want or there might be some heavier wind in my face, etc.

So when I’m looking at Google Earth overviews, I’m generally looking for where to aim off the tee and how much carry I have to get over certain obstacles like bunkers and water.

Here’s the 1st hole at Panther Lake. You’re probably not going to get much roll off the tee as it slopes uphill.


To carry that first bunker is 233 yards. I know that the left rough can lead to a funky lie, but I would rather be in the left rough than in the right fairway bunker. So the play here is to probably try and hit it straight, maybe with a tiny draw and aim at the left side of the first bunker. I figure that this drive can be hit about 260-280 yards because it’s uphill and would likely leave me with about 180 yards into the middle of the green.

Here’s hole #2, a dogleg left par-5. I wanted to see what it would require to carry the trees on the left in order to take a shortcut to the hole.


It’s about 262 yards to carry that tree. While I should be able to carry that tree, there is little reason to attempt to do so because if I hit it down the center of the fairway, I’m still going to have about 210 to 220 yards to the hole. Obviously, being closer to the hole is generally better, but anytime I know I’m going to have between my 3-wood to 5-iron on my next shot, I want to keep that ball in the fairway because scores dramatically increase when you’re in the rough with a long club than when you’re in the rough with a short club. If this was a par-4 and cutting over the trees could be the difference between a 9-iron or a 6-iron, I would consider it. But with a long club in my hands, I want to keep this in the short grass. Lastly, if I happen to have a good tailwind on this hole, I know what the carry distance is just in case. That is in a nutshell is what it this is all about. It's not about guaranteeing that you'll hit great shots, but it is about being prepared so I can give myself a chance to hit great shots. I can always deal with lack of execution, but not giving myself a chance is a different matter.

From there, there’s not a lot to go over as the holes are fairly simple. I want to be on the left hand side of fairway on #3 if I can do it. I want to be on the right half side of #5 if I can help it. #7 is a little tricky…a par-5 with a large wetland right in front of the green and I might have to lay-up on the second shot:

The tricky part is that the lay-up position is well off to the right and would normally be vague. Typically, I would use Google Earth to figure out where I could put the ball that would give me 70-100 yards to the middle of the green from the fairway. However, there is a 100-yard marker stake on this hole and all I have to do is shoot my rangefinder at the stake and determine what I need to hit if I need to lay-up.

I don’t start to face another critical tee shot until the 9th hole, a 428 yard par-4 that doglegs right with water on the right.

The thing about this hole is you can’t just blindly aim left as even if you avoid the trees on the left, the lies are difficult. Unfortunately, you can’t really see it on Google Earth very well. However, I wanted to know what the carry was to the final tree on the left anyway and use it as a landmark of sorts. I know that the distance is 271 yards to that final tree.

Here’s where mental game plays tricks on people and creates bad shots which create bad scores.

Dr. Bhrett McCabe has often talked about asking yourself ‘In an ideal world, what shot would you like to hit?’ The reason for this is that too often golfers (myself included) try to do what I call ‘over-hedge their bets.’ In this situation, aiming at the final tree will likely prevent me from missing the water. But, it will also likely prevent me from putting myself in a good position on the approach. More importantly, aiming at that final tree is creating a mindset where I’m still focused on water and in the end, that’s likely to cause me to make a weak pass at the ball. So, not only can I screw myself over by aiming at that tree and making a good swing, I can really screw myself over by aiming at that tree and making a weak swing because my focus is divided between the water and the tree.

I feel the better play for myself would be to aim inside the left edge of the fairway.

Now, the battle is to get my mind straight so that I find the spot of where I’m aiming and determine the shot I want to hit (small fade). And I focus on that spot and the shot I want to hit and nothing else matters. If I go into the water, that’s just poor execution (and likely still some poor focus) and I can always work on that. As retired Navy SEAL Don Shipley has said, there’s nothing wrong with having fear. Fear of going in the water on this tee shot is a healthy thing. But being scared is another animal. And being so scared that you are going to aim so far left that you make it nearly impossible to hit a good shot is no good either.

This is also a shot that I may want to visualize trying to hit on the driving range before the round as well, so when I step up to the 9th tee, I've already hit this shot countless times before.

Now we get to the 10th hole, a 530 yard par-5 that goes uphill.

What I love about Google Earth overviews is that I can start to better see a theme that the architect is making with the course. Here we can see that, once again, it’s a tee shot where you can either try to cut over a small grouping of trees or play towards the fairway. To the spot I have shown is 282 yards. I should be able to hit it at least that far on a decent swing. That will leave me with 248 yards which means I can reach with a 3-wood. That really takes out any desire to try and cut it over the trees. So, my target is that kidney shaped bunker out in the distance.

This leads us to the 624 yard, par-5 14th hole.

This is another hole where I would not expect much roll as it is usually soft and it does have some uphill slope to it. What’s difficult about this hole as well is that missing right, even just a little, is almost certain death because it is a large hill that slopes into the fairway and will leave you with a bad lie. However, missing left is no good either.

I looked at this hole because I’ve played it on occasion when the wind was blowing very hard into me and I just found the fairway. But, I’ve also increased my distance off the tee considerably since working with Kelvin Miyahira. The point I have this hole marked to is to 280 yards which is comfortably in the fairway. I think trying to lean towards one side of the hole (left or right) is useless because missing left is only slightly better than missing right. The key here is you have to hit a good tee shot. The tee shot also throws an optical illusion at you, so I would just keep mind that I want to aim more towards the left half of that fairway bunker out in the distance and I would probably try to hit a small draw to prevent it from going right.

Finally, I finish with #18, a 570 yard par-5 with a split fairway.

So, which fairway should I choose?

It’s 260 yards to carry that bunker. I think the left fairway is undoubtedly the fairway to aim at because you only have to contend with the bunkers on the right and the rough on the left. There are some trees up in the upper left hand corner, but those really don’t come into play. If they do, I can simply aim well right of them and leave myself with a good approach.

The right fairway I have to contend with the bunkers in the middle and the bunkers on the right. Furthermore, I will actually have a shorter distance to the hole (slightly) if I were to be in the left fairway. So, my aim here at the left edge of those bunkers in the middle and trying to hit a small draw.

Overall, I’m using Google Earth as a guide. I even might be wrong on some of the strategies, but since it is a casual round I have nothing to lose and I can always learn from that the next time I play the course. There’s no reason to over-think this. It’s just something I use to better understand how to play the golf course. The next time I post something on this, I will try and take a look at a golf course that I have never played before and show how I would use Google Earth to come up with a strategy playing a course blind.


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