Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Thoughts On Better Danger Zone Performance...

A few blog readers over the weekend asked me more about ‘The Danger Zone’ (175-225 yard approach shots) and how to get better at it.

As you may recall, The Danger Zone is a term I coined for the part of the game that typically has the biggest influence on a PGA Tour golfer’s success. Now, don’t get it wrong…some things like driving, putting, short game, etc. have an impact on a golfer’s success. But, the Danger Zone is statistically the biggest influence on a PGA Tour golfer’s success and it’s my assertion that many of the fringe PGA Tour players are typically not mainstays on the PGA Tour because of their performance in The Danger Zone.

First, let’s further breakdown the Danger Zone into two 25 yard increments, 175-200 yards and 200-225 yards.

200-225 YARDS

I’ll breakdown the larger increment of the two, first.

I believe this increment has the largest impact per shot of any yardage increment on the PGA Tour.

In other words, let’s say that a group of 150 golfers each hits 100 shots from this range. The player who finishes first in proximity to the cup and the player who finished 75th will have the largest discrepancy. If I were to do the same test from 100-125 yards, the discrepancy wouldn’t be nearly as much.

175-200 YARDS

Despite the 200-225 yard increment having the largest impact per shot, from the grand scheme of things, it has about an equal correlation to a PGA Tour player’s success.

The reason being is that 175-200 yard range has a slightly lesser impact per shot than the 200-225 yard range. But, there are a lot more shots hit from 175-200 yards in a round of golf than from 200-225 yards.

What I have been finding is that the average PGA Tour golfer hits about 1.5 to 1.7 shots per round from the 200-225 yard range and about 2.7-3.0 shots per round from the 175-200 yard range.

Thus, we are seeing PGA Tour pros having to hit about 6 shots per tournament from 200-225 yards and 11-12 shots per tournament from 175-200 yards.

But think about that for a second. These are all approach shots into the green. Technically, the golfer is supposed to get the ball into the cup in 3 shots from that distance. Let’s say Kevin Streelman has 18 total shots from the Danger Zone, if he hits 3 of them mediocre, he could easily lose 3 shots or 6 shots or even 9 shots if he hits them badly enough and he gets some bad bounces.


Here’s a list of the leaders in proximity to the cup from 175-200 yards over the past 5 seasons.

2010 – Joe Durant (30.9 feet average)
2009 – Patrick Sheehan (31.7 feet average)
2008 – Chez Reavie (31.6 feet average)
2007 – Tiger Woods (28.8 feet average)
2006 – Tiger Woods (28.5 feet average)


2010 – Kenny Perry (35.2 feet average)
2009 – Sergio Garcia (35.6 feet average)
2008 – Heath Slocum (37.7 feet average)
2007 – Ernie Els (36.7 feet average)
2006 – Padraig Harrington (33.9 feet average)


2010 – Rory McIlroy (34.4 feet average)
2009 – Jason Bohn (34.8 feet average)
2008 – Heath Slocum (34.2 feet average)
2007 – Ernie Els (34.7 feet average)
2006 – Tiger Woods (31.6 feet average)

As you can see, the *leader* in proximity to the cup from 175-200 yards away still averaged about 30 feet away from the cup per shot. From 200-225, it was more like 36 feet. And in total from the Danger Zone it was about 35 feet for the *leader*. The Tour average from the Danger Zone over the years was about 40 feet or so.


Ever hear the old saying that ‘the difference between the PGA Tour players and the rest is in their bad shots.’ Meaning that while a good player who is not on the PGA Tour can hit some good shots that are just as good as anybody on Tour, the main difference is in the quality of their bad shots. PGA Tour players hit bad shots, but their bad shots are still better than the other golfers bad shots.

Recently I read Tom Watson’s answer on how he plays long approach shots. I’m paraphrasing, but Watson’s reply was ‘I just try to make solid contact and put the ball on the green.’

This is probably a good credo to live by when in the Danger Zone. Don’t concentrate so much about flagging a shot. But if you can make solid contact more consistently and not curve the ball too much, even if you’re offline, the shot is still likely to find the green and you’ll have a 30-50 footer for birdie. That sure beats trying to get up and down. Or just as bad, going at the flag, hitting it really well, but just enough off line where you miss the green, but had you aimed more towards the middle of the green, you would be putting


While hitting a GIR in the Danger Zone is nice, one thing that should be noted is that PGATour.com’s ShotLink data measures anything on or around the green. The beauty of that is if a golfer misses the green but is just on the fringe with a 15 foot putt, that actually counts.

But it’s not just about shots on the fringe. The PGATour.com ShotLink data states that shots ‘around the green’ are anything that winds up within 30 yards from the green.

The point being is that it’s not always about hitting the green or even the fringe. I can leave myself with a 40 foot putt and be much worse off than if I had a 60 foot pitch with plenty of green to work with and an uphill slope.

On average, I think you’re better off hitting the green, but I believe it’s ultra important to leave one’s self with makeable up and downs when they do miss the green. And remember, golfers tend to make uphill putts the most.


I’m just as guilty of this myself, but I don’t practice enough longer irons. Typically I start off with a wedge to warm up, then move to a 7-iron or so for awhile, then maybe a few 5-irons and then to driver and then back to 7-irons.

3Jack Top 50 Instructor, John Erickson (www.advancedballstriking.com), preaches to his students that they should practice with 2-irons quite a bit because ‘if you can you hit a 2-iron, you can certainly hit a 7-iron.’ I find that to be very true. But to take it one step further, if you can hit a 2-iron, you should be able to hit the clubs you need while in the Danger Zone.

I started theorizing on the Danger Zone and its importance about 2 months ago. My typical clubs I used from 175-225 yards are 3-iron thru 6-iron and now I make sure to practice with at least one of those clubs each time I hit the range.


I recommend this with any type of practice. I tend to see two types of golfers on the range. First and foremost, the golfer that is just getting up there and hitting the ball with no thought of where they are aiming. The other is the golfer who does make sure to aim at a target, but they are hitting ball after ball at that same target.

While some think that the latter is fine, I believe it doesn’t allow the golfer to get the most out of their practice because it’s an illegitimate way to practice. When you’re on the golf course, you wind up aiming at different targets throughout the round. One shot you may be aiming at a flagstick that is 20* to your left. The next hole you could be aiming at a flat that is 40* to your right.

Once I feel like I’m warmed up, I will aim one shot at a target and then the next shot aim at a different target, then aim at another target and so on and so forth. And what I like to do is eventually use a different club after each shot, using a driver aimed 20* left on one shot, then a 6-iron aimed 30* right on the next shot, Then a PW aimed dead straight ahead on the next shot and so on and so forth.


I find that the times a golfer really needs to work the ball is usually with the driver or the 3-wood. One thing you will notice is that the PGA Tour pros typically do not work the ball a ton. That’s because the architects usually only try to influence the golfer to work the ball off the tee with the driver and the PGA Tour player usually feels more confident that they can find the fairway hitting their stock draw rather than adjust their swing to hit a fade.

In fact, Kenny Perry has said that he considers a 1-yard draw to be a cut for him because he always hits a draw or a hook.

Most architects are typically fair in their designs. This is often call ‘form follows function.’ For instance, you usually see bigger greens on a 200 yard par-3 than you would on a 120 yard par-3. This is because the architect knows that it’s much tougher to hold the green with a 200 yard shot than a 120 yard shot and thus, they need to design something where ‘form follows function.’

So typically on the PGA Tour there’s not a lot of golf holes where the approach will likely be in the danger zone and the design demands the golfer to work the ball. The architect usually understands that hitting a 190 yard approach shot is difficult enough, so there’s no need to force the golfer to hit one with a big bend to it. However, they may reward the golfer who is good enough and daring enough to work the ball. Still though, the risk would be high.

My feeling is that from the Danger Zone, you’re better off learning to control the trajectory on command instead of the curve. Having to work it left to right or right to left probably won’t happen too often and like I mentioned earlier, getting it on the green is more than sufficient.

However, you’re much more likely to have to hit a 4-iron high to get the ball to land softly or even more importantly (IMO), be able to hit something hard and low into the wind so you can control your distance and not have the wind knock the ball offline.


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