Know Your Distances

By October 28, 2019Tips & Tutorials

One of the most frustrating questions I get asked is;

“How do you get backspin’”

Why is this annoying?

The answer is simple; very few amateur golfers go past the hole with their approach shots, so why would they want to get backspin and leave the ball even shorter than it would be without the additional back spin.

When I get asked this I always move into the importance of knowing your distances.

I recount a story with my father.

My father was a decent ball-striker and had a very good short game, but he had a bogey hole on our home course. A par 3 that required a carry over water to the small back to front sloping green which was about 15-feet above the teeing ground.

We got to the hole in question with my father playing well under his handicap.

He checked the distance to the middle of the green and proceeded to choose his club. He struck it well, but unfortunately for him the ball plopped into the water some 2 yards short of dry land.

My father, angered by this apparent good shot ending up in the water complained that the yardage must be off.

When we had finished, we found out that the triple bogey on the hole had knocked him into second place.

Again he complained the yardage must be out.

To which I asked the following question:

“Dad, how far do you hit your 5-iron?”

The response was “160-yards”

“Ok…is that through the air (carry distance) or total distance?”

“Total” he replied.


Now we are getting somewhere.

The distance to the centre of the green was 160-yards, my father hit in total around 160-yards, but the water is only 10-yards short of the centre of the green.

Because my father always considered the total distance the ball travelled with a 5-iron he assumed that he should be able to get on the green with that club.

What he failed to calculate was that he actually only hit the ball 150-yards through the air with around 10-yards of roll, due to the low ball flight he had.

With this in mind, if my father hit the ball well, he would have absolutely no margin of error, because it was 151-yards to carry the water, it would require a perfect 5-iron (no wind).

Having explained this to my father, he quickly realized that he would need to recalculate all of his distances, with the most important number being the distance which he carried the ball.

It changed his game, and although he found it hard to accept that he needed to take one or even two more clubs to reach the green his game improved.

Learning your carry distances is paramount to improving your scores.

I would put money on the fact that 90% of your good shots come up short of the hole, rather than being pin-high or beyond.

Forget how far the ball travels in its entirety, this will vary depending on the course and the conditions but your carry distance will remain far more consistent. (Humidity, temperature, wind and altitude will affect carry distance, but for most golfers these aspects remain relatively standard)

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