Course Management Basics – Part 6

Know Your Limits

Tell me if this sounds familiar: you get your yardage for an approach and pull a club.  You make a good swing, hit the ball well…and the ball comes up short.  You’re left wondering, “What just happened?”

The explanation, for most golfers, is very simple: you have no idea how far your irons actually go.  Want to fix that?  Read on.

This Series Is For You If:

You want to shoot lower scores with the swing you have

Get the Data

Trying to learn your distances at the range is a fool’s errand.  The balls have been hit so many times they don’t have dimples, there aren’t enough targets, and you can’t accurately judge where your ball landed and finished.

Instead, find someone with a high quality launch monitor.  There are Foresights, Trackmen, and Flightscopes everywhere these days.  Club fitters, practice facilities, golf shops, and teaching pros have them, and will likely let you use them for a nominal fee.  If you’ve got the extra scratch, you might even invest in a Mevo for yourself.

Bring a box of your regular golf balls and hit ten shots with one club.  Now here’s the key part: write down the average (or median, if you prefer) distance.  Everyone thinks that they should play based on the longest shot they’ve ever hit with each club.  That’s a sure fire recipe for leaving every approach short.

Write It Down & Adjust Your Set

After you’ve worked through your set, write down all those averages and put them somewhere visible.  You could put a strip of masking tape on the shaft and write the number.  You could make a sheet of your yardages, laminate it, and attach it to your bag.  However you do it, make sure that you can easily access it during your round.

Another thing that you can do with that information is adjust your set.  Did you find out that your 4I and 5I go the same distances?  Dump the 4I.  Quick rule of thumb: if it takes more than one sentence to justify why you carry a club, it needs to go.  Carrying fewer clubs is awesome: it makes your bag lighter, makes decisions easier, and it removes the tools that can’t be trusted.

If you have two irons that go the same distance, you might also invest in a spec check.  Have a reliable club builder check the loft and lie of each iron.  If you’ve had the irons for a while, it’s possible that they’ve bent themselves off of their intended numbers.  Getting them back to spec might resolve your gapping issues.

Play the Numbers and Score Better

The hardest part of all is adjusting your behavior on the course.  If you’ve always hit 7I from 150 yards, but learned that your average 7I actually goes 140 yards, pulling 6I is going to be tough at first.  No one likes being the guy who’s hitting more club than everyone else, but I guarantee it’s better than being the guy who is reaching into his wallet to pay off bets at the end of the round.

Matt Saternus
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  1. Matt Meeker

    Great advice Matt S. And once you know your standard distances you can better evaluate the “why” of when balls end up short – or long. I had a buddy who routinely was shocked, and loved to proclaim, his PW went 150 yards. What he failed to recognize or accept was those balls were only getting 20 feet off the ground.

    Matt M

    • Matt Saternus


      Great point. Yardage is critical, but it’s only a start if you want to really master course management. Trajectory is a huge factor.



  2. great work as always Matt. one question is the yards you wrote down carry or total distance?

    • Matt Saternus


      Thank you!

      The numbers in that picture were just made up to show an example, but it’s an excellent question.

      If I could only write one number, I’d write down carry. If there were clubs where there was a big difference between carry and total, I would try to have access to both.



  3. Great article Matt

    I note your advice re using your usual ball vs range balls. I have access to Trackman and range via my club pro. Using one box of gaming balls (TP5) with 10 shots per club suggests lots of retrieval time. How long should it take? Would new range balls be an acceptable alternative? Is the combination of a suitable launch monitor and indoor screen as good as Trackman on an open range?

    Trying to work out how to do this with minimal cost.

    Any suggestions would be gratefully received.



    • Matt Saternus


      Great question.

      My optimal situation would be a launch monitor indoors with your real golf balls. If being indoors isn’t feasible, new range balls are certainly better than launching $4 balls into oblivion. :)

      There’s always going to be some delta between optimal and what we can reasonably do. My advice is not to let great be the enemy of the good. If hitting old range balls is the only way to get on a launch monitor, it’s still better than nothing.



  4. Great advice; knowing your distances is critical for playing well. My question is about the variation of distances shown on launch monitors (indoors) and outdoor distances. I have had the opportunity to swing clubs on a GC Quad, GC2, and trackman and each produces different distances for my clubs. How do I know what to trust when it comes to the results on a launch monitor and how well do launch monitors compare to outdoor results?

    • Matt Saternus


      It’s very interesting to hear about the inconsistency in results. What kind of difference are you seeing?

      My experience has been the opposite: I’ve gotten accurate results from most of the high-end machines that I’ve been on. I think a lot has to do with how the machine is set up, particularly in the case of radar units. If you’re indoor with radar, you should be dotting the balls and aligning them a particular way before you hit for maximum accuracy (at least that’s what’s been explained to me).



      • I would tend to lean toward your thought on unit setup. On the gcquad I had club face stickers. No dots on the balls on any system. Between the systems was seeing 10-15 yard variations in my irons.

        This is fine for club fitting since I am comparing performance of multiple clubs on the same launch monitor. But when I am doing what is suggested in the article I want to be within a couple of yards of my outdoor performance.

        My question would be how do I verify the setup of the launch monitor to get consistent results?

        • Matt Saternus


          I could see two options.
          Ideally, you would be hitting on a range where you could see that a ball that the LM says carried 150 yards landed on the 150 yard flag (or at least pretty close).
          If that’s not an option, I would try to “zero in” one club, let’s say an 8I. Go to a fairly flat hole, hit a few balls off the tee with the 8I, and, using a rangefinder, figure out how far they actually went. Then get on the launch monitor, hit that 8I, and see what numbers you’re getting. If it’s not dead on, at least you’ll have an adjustment, for example, “The LM is telling me my irons go 5 yards farther than what I saw on the course.”

          Thanks for the great questions.



  5. I couldn’t agree more with this article. “Knowledge is Power” and if you want to consider yourself a legitimate golfer, than you better know the yardages of every one of your clubs.
    Two points I’d like to make.
    1) seek out someone with a launch monitor and do exactly what Matt suggested, bring your own balls, and hit shots. I have a local business with two simulators, and I have hit hundreds of shots with my clubs, and my balls, and I keep a “cheat sheet” of sorts with me, every time I golf.
    2) Matt’s last paragraph touches on something that I feel is a huge problem with golf today. Men and their pride. It’s pathetic. No one cares if you need a 7iron to hit a ball 120 yards, it’s wayyy better than you posting a SNOWMAN, (holding up the group behind you) because your PW came up short, and hit your simple approach shot into the water.

  6. Matt, great call, I have this planned for my clubs. I have done it using a laser , for pitching using a clock work swing for 53, 50, pitch and 9i. The winter calibration was 30% less than the summer one.

  7. Great article, really useful…just like GameGolf! Been using this for a while and so I have all my distances from actual gameplay. Can now take the correct club and my GIR is going up and up.
    Great work Matt, keep it going.

  8. Hi. Great tips.
    Do you count mishits when calculating your average distance? Perhaps average the cleanest 5 shots of the ten instead?
    Or average the whole 10 so inconsistencies are included, which more replicates a round of golf?
    Does the distance include roll out, or just carry?

    • Matt Saternus


      How much do your shots roll out after landing? If it’s a lot, I would want to know both carry and total. If they generally land and stick, you just need carry.
      With regard to mishits, it’s a matter of degree. Counting the ball that you lay the sod over isn’t going to be helpful, but if you discount everything that isn’t pure you’re not being realistic. I would count everything that isn’t a total aberration.



  9. Matt, do you find that any of the other LM parameters give you a good indication of consistency? I want to hit enough balls to give a reliable average–but no more than that. A tight group might indicate fewer balls, whereas a wide dispersion would indicate more shots. Yes? Do you double check on different days to validate your figures? Thanks.

    • Matt Saternus


      If you want an accurate picture of something, more data (shots) is always better, assuming you can maintain focus.
      If I’m reading your question accurately, it leads toward something akin to confirmation bias: “Hmmm, these numbers are not ‘consistent’ in the way I think they should be, this must be a bad day, I will discard this data” or “These three shots tell me what I want to hear, this is enough of a sample size.” I would suggest going to the launch monitor, hitting five focused shots, and moving on to another club. You can absolutely repeat on another day to get validation.
      Were I to re-write this article, I might favor using shot tracking data from Shot Scope or the like rather than launch monitor data. Both are good, and I still think LMs are very valuable, but if you play 5-10 rounds and Shot Scope shows that your 7I goes 145 yards, there’s no arguing with that – it’s what happened on the course.
      I hope that helps.



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