Saturday, May 14, 2011

Practice Round Thoughts...

With my statistical analysis, I’ve been applying it to my own game and have seen some pleasing results. One of the biggest improvements it has made is to my play inside the Danger Zone (approach shots from 175-225 yards). The bad news about Danger Zone shots is that they punish the golfer severely when they miss the green. The good news is that the golfer’s goal should generally be to ‘only’ hit it solid and find the green from the Danger Zone. It’s funny that even though I understand this, I find myself still forgetting this credo when I’m in the Danger Zone. Then I will have to take a step back, remember ‘just make solid contact and find the green’ and go about executing the plan.

Still, I’ve been thinking about how to use this analysis to better gameplan for golf courses and how to make better use out of practice rounds. Here are some of my current thoughts.


I have 3 different types of tee shots I can hit with my driver. All of them go relatively straight.

- Low Trajectory Driver
- Stock Driver
- High Trajectory Driver

Low Traj. Driver = 1-3 more clubs into the green, more accurate

High Traj. Driver = 1-4 less clubs into the green, less accurate and less precise

In order of most frequently hit and least frequently hit it goes like this:

1. Stock Driver
2. High Traj. Driver
3. Low Traj. Driver

I know a lot of people misinterpreted my statistical analysis for conservative play. That’s COMPLETELY WRONG. My statistical analysis finds that you are BETTER OFF BEING AGGRESSIVE than conservative. But, one those times where you do need to keep the driver in the bag, my statistical analysis helps better gauge that. However, you should be using your driver a lot unless the course is too short for you or it’s a wacky course design or you can’t hit the driver to save your life.

Par-4’s I typically hit Stock Drivers. Because of the correlation between ‘Go For Its’ and Par-5 Scoring Average, I typically try to hit a High Traj. Driver on par-5’s.

Now, with the High Traj. Driver, my misses are usually Pulls and Over-Fades due to the D-Plane. So when using High Traj. Drivers, I need a pretty open hole to drive on. Take a look at #7 at North Shore

It’s pretty wide open. Obviously, I’d love to crush one and hug the water on the right, but a better play is to aim left of center and hit a High Traj. Driver. If I pull or over-fade, I can still wind up find.

However, when scouting the course, it’s important to consider the 2nd and 3rd shots as well. For example, #6 at Eastwood has a huge pond that is in front of the green and a good driver would still require a 250 yard *carry* over the pond. Essentially, I’m laying up there 99% of the time. And because I’m laying up anyway, I should just use my Stock Driver swing.

Here’s a list of things that ‘impede approach shots’ in order of importance

1. Out of Bounds
2. Water
3. Trees/Tall Fescue or Rough
4. Fairway Bunker
5. Deep Rough

My goal is to steer clear of these things. Obviously, cannot always do that, like on #3 at North Shore GC.

I’m better off at aiming towards the fairway bunkers because it means steering clear of the water (unless I take a bad swing). The fairway bunker is reachable, but generally is tough to hit into. It certainly beats the alternative.

As far as the low trajectory driver goes, I probably don’t hit more fairways with it than with my stock driver, but it is better at avoiding those 5 things that impede approach shots because the ball will get on the ground quicker and I don’t have to worry about factors like the wind or the ball curving as much in the air..

Lastly, I want to make sure that the tee shot ‘fits my eye.’ I don’t leave a hole unless I’m comfortable off the tee.

One important part for me is what side of the tee do I tee the ball up on. For me, the rule of thumb is:

Right Side of the Tee = likely to lose the ball left

Left Side of the Tee = likely to lose the ball right

So, on #3 at North Shore, I tee up on the right side of the tee and aim at that fairway bunker (which says 127 yards). That way I’m steered a good amount away from the water and since my tendency is to lose the shot left if I’m on the right side of the tee, it further prevents me from hitting one in the water. However, there are plenty of tees that are aligned certain ways to throw the golfer off and in practice rounds I will figure out where I want to tee up the ball and where I want to aim until I find something that ‘fits my eye.’


This is important because of the super strong correlation between going for a green in two and par-5 scoring average. Remember, PGA Tour considers a ‘go for it’ when a golfer’s ball winds up within 30 yards of the edge of the green after the 2nd shot. So it’s not all about having the power to get to the green, but having the power to get within 30 yards off the green. For example, if I have 280 yards to the green, I won’t get there with a 3-wood. But if I hit it 255 yards, that would be considered a ‘go for it.’

Obviously, you want to be reasonable in your assessment of ‘going for it.’ However, I think the correlation between going for it and par-5 scoring average tells me that laying up so a golfer can have a specific distance so they can have a full swing is usually a BAD strategic move.

I think the cut off point is probably about 50 yards. Let’s say I feel comfortable with a full swing SW from 100 yards. And if I get a time where I can hit a 3-wood to 40 yards of the green or ‘lay back’ and hit a 3-iron to 100 yards, I would be better off hitting the 3-wood. Even though it’s not a full swing, the 60 yards of difference is just too much to ignore. Now, if I’m Zach Johnson at the Masters and I don’t like my odds of hitting it over the water on #15 at Augusta….so I’m laying up anyway and the difference between trying to lay up, but get close to the water is 70 yards or hitting a lay up shot to ‘my distance’ of 100 yards, I think the latter (100 yards) is the smarter play because the discrepancy in distance is not long enough.

Again, I want to play aggressive and fearless golf while taking calculated risks. I don’t want to play conservative golf or just make silly gambles. Thus in the practice round I’m trying to figure out the odds of me being able to go for it in two and the danger surrounding going for it in two.


I want to know the length of the green so I can calculate the distance to the front and the back part of the green. If there’s a bunker and it’s a good spot to tuck the pin behind, then I want to know the distance to clear the bunker.

3Jack Top 50 Instructor, Brian Manzella, has a good video on this,28224,2070536,00.html

Where I find this the most important is on the Danger Zone approach shots. For the most part, the Danger Zone is on par-3’s and then usually 1 or 2 par-4’s a round. It really doesn’t apply to par-5’s unless you hit a poor driver or poor second shot. It should also be noted, since most greens are designed with ‘form follows function’ in mind…that par-5’s tend to have smaller and more difficult greens to hit into because usually the 3rd shot is less than 100 yards away. Thus, for par-5’s, I consider the Danger Zone to be closer about 150-200 yards from the green. Still not very likely for me to get in that range on the 3rd shot on a par-5, but it’s important to note that the level of difficulty is different on a par-5 than a par-3 or par-4.

Anyway, my main goal on Danger Zone approaches is to ‘just make solid contact and find the green.’ Meaning, I am more than content with hitting the green and 2-putting and walking away with my par on a Danger Zone approach.

The FIRST thing I want to do is to determine what would happen if I missed LONG or SHORT of the green. I want to know what type of trouble is long or short and where the easiest up and down is long or short.


It’s obvious that Danger Zone approaches are hard. I think they are harder to control the distance, harder to control the initial direction of the ball flight and harder to control the curvature of the ball flight than if you were hitting a shorter approach shot.

However, out of those three factors I believe we can have the most control over distance simply by the amount of club we use. If there’s trouble short, favor a club that will get you to the back edge of the green. If there’s trouble long, favor a club that will get you to the front edge of the green.

Where it gets complicated is when there’s trouble on one side, but that side is also easier to get up and down. Let’s say there’s water in front of the green, but a shot that goes long will leave the golfer with a difficult up and down. IMO, the golfer is better favoring going long because at a distance of 175-225 yards, there are too many variables that can force a decent swing to still wind up with a bad result. And a big part of scoring well is about avoiding double and triple bogeys as much as it is about making birdies.

The other difficulty of Danger Zone shots is that it is not always easy to play for the back edge of the green on a Danger Zone shot. Let’s say I’m in the Danger Zone and there’s trouble short. If I have a 4-iron to the middle of the green, I may opt for a 3-iron that would reach the back edge. But, I still have to hit the 3-iron decent. If I hit it awful, it will go short an into the trouble in front of the green.

#17 at North Shore is a good example of a tricky Danger Zone Shot

Remember, the goal is to ‘just make solid contact and find the green.’ This means that I’m pretty much aiming for the middle of the green.

The yardage book says the green is 39 yards long. So to the front edge is about 180 yards and to the back edge is about 220 yards.

We know that in front of the green is hazard which extends out to the right of the green. Long is safe for the most part, although there are some mounds you may have to hit over if you hit it too long. So for me, I’m eliminating going short even if it’s an easier up and down (as long as I miss the hazard) because the hazard is too big of a penalty for me to risk.

Now, even though the yardage book says to the edge of the green is about 220 yards, I would not play it that way because the green is designed on an angle. That 220 yards is to the back right edge and since my goal is to ‘just make solid contact and find the green’, I’m aiming for the middle of the green. I’m better off measuring the back edge of the green from the middle section of the green which is about 210 yards.

So, if the pin is cut in front, 185 yards, I’m better off hitting the club that can get me to about 210 yards…hitting it solid and finding the green and 2-putting for par (or possibly making a bomb for birdie). But if the flag is in the back right of the green, I’m better off hitting the club that can get me to about 210 yards…hitting it solid and finding the green and 2-putting for par (or possibly making a bomb for birdie).

With the shots that are not in the Danger Zone, I become more interested in the green slope and where is my best chance to get up and down if I miss the green. #4 at North Shore is a good example

While there is a greenside bunker on the left side of the green, a golfer is better off being left of the flag putting or chipping because the green slopes pretty severely to the left. So when playing a practice round, I want to figure out the general slope of the green. On the approach shots, I want to determine the distance to carry the bunker if the pin is cut behind the bunker. And I also want to practice on hitting shots to the middle of the green if the pin is cut to the right so I can avoid missing right of the pin which is a very difficult up and down.


Here I can get a better view of where to miss. #4 at North Shore is pretty obvious just by looking at the slope of the green from the fairway because the slope is so severe. But where the slope is not so noticeable from the approach shot, looking around the green gives a better idea of where to miss.

And again, this is where I want to pay close attention to the holes I have a Danger Zone shot on. #17 is a good example. I’m going to play for the back edge of the green (middle part of the green). If I hit it too far, I have a difficult, but not impossible, up and down over some mounds. I think it would be good to practice this shot. And because it’s a long shot and I could mis-hit it, I also want to practice some chips from in front of the green just in case I leave myself with a shot there.

I also want to test out the sand. I want to hit some normal distance sand shots and some long distance greenside bunker shots. I want to see how my wedges react to the sand when I have the clubface open or squared.


Ideally I would love to get a pin sheet or have somebody tell me about where they typically place the flag in tournaments. Here is also where I try to notice little things as well. For instance, #8 at Windermere the left side of the green the grass does not grow nearly as much as it does on the rest of the green and a golfer can see it pretty easily. So when they have the pin on the left side of the green, the tendency is for golfers to hit putts with way too much speed, only because of the lack of growth in the grass. So I would hit putts to about where I think the cup would be and try to get a feel of that putt being faster than any other putt on the course. Then I would make a note to the effect ‘feel like you are trying to hit 10 inches in front of cup on pin cut on left part of green.’

After that I would try to use my knowledge of AimPoint and determine:

- the stimp of the greens
- the high and low anchor points
- % of slope for sections of the green

Here’s a good example from John Graham (

Here’s a blog post by John further discussing how to create your own Green Chart


Most of my time should be used on the Danger Zone shots and the green. The Danger Zone shots are more important because that’s where the most shots are lost or gained against the field. The green is obviously a big factor as well, but it just takes more time to draw an accurate yardage book of the green. One can use Google Earth to get the shape of the green and then take the measurements of the green.

Of course, when playing a practice round there’s a conflict in two different mantras…’Those who fail to prepare are preparing to fail’ vs. ‘everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.’

I am more of a believer in the former than the latter. I know the PGA Tour pros go into each tournament with a plan of attack for each hole and each shot they make. But, things are still going to get in the way like weather or an errant shot. The key is to have a plan and be able to plan for any adjustments that need to made along the way.

I also feel that if I use this process on practice rounds, I don’t have to worry about ‘shooting a score’ in a practice round because I will be too busy coming up with a strategy and a yardage book for the course.


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