Right-Size Your Golf Expectations

Twitter Can Make You Smarter

If I were ranking people worth following on Twitter, I’m not sure anyone would beat Lou Stagner.  Also known as Golf Stat Pro, he routinely rewards his followers with world class analysis and visualizations of data related to golf.  Follow Lou HERE.

Consuming Lou’s data about the best golfers in the world is a wonderful way to right-size your own expectations for your game.  The vast majority of players think they should be stuffing every approach to tap-in range and sinking every 15 footer.  In this lesson, I’ve picked out a handful of my favorite stats from Lou to help you get your expectations in line with reality.

This Lesson Is For You If:

You’re frequently disappointed with your golf game

You think you should be scoring better than you are

You watch much golf on TV

Get it Close to Get it Close

Many golfers view all short game shots within 30 yards as being nearly equivalent (and they expect them all to result in kick-ins).  Lou’s data shows that’s not the case.

On Tour, the average leave from 6 yards away in the fairway is just one foot.  Back up just four paces and that leave grows to a knee-knocking 4’2″.  At 20 yards, the average leave is 6’1″.  From 30 and 40 yards, the average leave is 8′ and 9’4″, respectively.

The takeaways here, besides the fact that Tour pros have outstanding short games, is that every yard matters.  You need to hit your approaches closer to the green if you want to chip them in tight.  On the other side of that coin, if you’re not within a couple steps of the green, don’t expect to get it up and down easily.

Approaches from the Rough are Hard

Think that driving it accurately doesn’t matter?  Think again.

From a mere 60 yards away, Tour pros hit their average approach shot 8 feet closer to the pin from the fairway versus the rough.  Take that out to 100 yards and the gap grows to nearly 20 feet!  And at 150 yards, Tour pros are hitting it over twice as far from the hole (approx 25′ vs. 53′) when they’re in the rough.

Another interesting way to look at it is by comparing how far a Tour pro needs to hit their tee shot to gain 0.0 strokes in the fairway versus the rough.  On a 300 yard hole, a pro needs to hit it just 235 yards if they’re in the fairway.  If they’re in the rough, they need to hit it 32 yards farther.  At 400 yards, those numbers are 238 yards and 309 yards, respectively, a difference of 71 yards!

Yes, distance is king, but the ability to find fairways and control your approach is also hugely important.  If you’re hitting most of your approaches from the rough, don’t expect to find the putting surface too often.

The Rough Taxes the Short Game, Too

We just discussed that you need to scale down your expectations when you’re hitting an approach from the rough.  That’s true in the short game, too.

Remember that six yard chip from the fairway that Tour pros hit to one foot?  From the rough, the average leave from six yards is 4’5″.  That kick in just turned into a putt they’re going to have to grind out.  At longer distances, the penalty is harsh, too.  From ten yards, pros’ average leave is 1’9″ longer from the rough versus the fairway.  At twenty yards, it’s 2’9″ worse.

The moral of the story: getting it close is important, but so is keeping the ball in the short grass.

Lag Putting Is Hard

It’s very common for golfers to talk about getting every long putt into a three foot circle.  While this is an excellent goal and a fine tool for visualization, don’t be disappointed when it doesn’t happen.  Lag putting is hard.

On Tour, the best players in the world don’t hit their average 40 foot putt inside the three foot circle.  From 45 feet away, they’re a full 8 inches outside of it.  By the time they get to 60 feet, the average leave is 4’9″.

Bunkers are Very Costly

If you don’t practice your sand game regularly, your focus should be on getting out of the bunker in one shot.  If you’re a better player, perhaps you can raise that to getting on the green, but don’t expect to get up and down without significant practice.

Tour data shows just how costly a bunker can be.  From six yards away in the fairway, the average Tour pro hits it to tap-in range, just one foot away.  Put that same pro six yards away in a bunker, and the average leave swells to six feet!

Do everything you can to avoid bunkers in the first place.  If you can’t avoid them, get out of the as fast as possible rather than trying to hit a miracle shot.

Pros vs. Scratch Players

Scratch golfers are good.  Very, very good.  But they are not Tour pros.  From 100 yards out in the fairway, a scratch player hits it inside 10 feet only 20% of the time.  A Tour Pro accomplishes that nearly 30% of the time.  Tour Pros also hit the green 5% more often from that distance (83% vs 78%).  And the real kicker is that when they miss the green, Tour Pros are still within 33 feet of the flag; scratch players are over 56 feet away.

Here’s one more way to understand the gap: on average, a Tour pro will hit it closer from 150 yards than a scratch player will from 100 yards.

If you’re only going to take one thing from this lesson, make it this: when it comes to golf, a Tour pro’s game has almost no relation to yours or mine.  Even if you work hard on your game, don’t make yourself miserable on the course by expecting Tour-like results.

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Matt Saternus

Co-Founder, Editor In Chief at PluggedInGolf.com
Matt is a golf instructor, club fitter, and writer living in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. Matt's work has been published in Mulligan Magazine, Chicagoland Golf, South Florida Golf, and other golf media outlets. He's also been a featured speaker in the Online Golf Summit and is a member of Ultimate Golf Advantage's Faculty of Experts.

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9 Comments

  1. Christopher Shively

    I think equally as disappointing as comparing our games to the pros is expecting *this shot to be executed as well as that one time when we hit the ball perfectly and got the exact results we envisioned. Expecting every shot to perform like the best 5 shots we’ve ever hit can be a kick to the ego when the shot doesn’t end up that way. Setting realistic expectations are important and understanding our own numbers are critical. Great article Matt!

  2. Unrealistic expectations almost always lead to decreased happiness. Golf is a microcosm of this idea. Well written, thanks, Matt

  3. Hey Matt. This is a timely article for me. For the longest time, I have been too hard on myself, thinking that I should be doing this and that. When I play and when I fail to meet my expectations, I get mad and frustrated at myself and end up having a bad day on the course. Little did I know that it also affects my buddies because the whole situation becomes awkward.

    Two years ago, I changed the way I think, thanks to my friend who called me out. He said that, hey pros makes mistakes man, we are just weekend golfers, try to enjoy the game. That really gave me a light bulb moment. I Googled tour pro stats, like putting % makes etc. I was so surprised and it was an eye-opener.

    I guess I was just raised as a kid by a very competitive dad who is a very competitive golfer who never actually became really good, like scratch player good. He was late to start the game but all the sports he took up while he was younger, he really excelled. I guess I picked up all his ideas that we should be doing this and that and when we fail, it would be really, really bad. I was putting unnecessary pressure on myself when I should have not.

    Since that light bulb moment, I have been enjoying the game more. I have been happier when playing and to play golf with. As a result, I have steadily lowered my handicap to 7 from a 9. I know it is not much but I have never shot scores in the ’70s in my life this much, since changing the way I think and feel on the course.

  4. Greg Farnham

    Matt, This is a great article that gives a player the opportunity to enjoy the game. Expectations are unforgiving and not necessary for happiness. My take away from this article is to learn how to stay in the moment, enjoy the moment and be the moment. Playing golf is really about enjoying the day, enjoying fellowship and mother nature with an opportunity to try my best at some shot making. Here’s a story that happened to me last year. While I was golfing with a friend in his 80s, we were golfing with two young players. When one of the young players would try to kill the ball, it obviously went far left or far right leaving the player so mad he would swear and smash his club into the ground violently. My 80-year-old partner would sit in the cart and laugh and laugh out loud. When the young player said what is so funny old man, my partner replied with “ your not good enough to get mad “ I laughed out loud so hard I had a stomach ache. Life‘s too short not to have fun. I truly believe we become what we practice . Thank you for your articles I really enjoye them.

  5. NYCGolfNut

    Excellent article.

    Like with most things in life, in golf there is no such thing as success or failure… there are only expectations!

  6. Great article and in particular the chipping and putting stats. I feel better already. I fit the audience for this article perfectly: watch too much golf (I often think I should delete all my golf videos) and get so frustrated I wonder if my golf buddies actually like having me in the group..
    My hc is 22-27.. Can’t really say one figure as I am so inconsistent. I don’t expect to hit it like a pro but it would be nice to play near my hc more often.

  7. Great article as always Matt

    Can you do the inverse? As a 10 handicap what should be my expectations? As a 20?

    I know there have articles about amateur distances, strategy and consistency but what should I be happy about? Only 1 three putt? 30% fairways? Less that 4 chunk/fat shots?

    • Matt Saternus

      Thank you.

      If you want some great stats on amateur golfers, check out Lou Stagner on Twitter and also the free ebooks by Shot Scope.

      Best,

      Matt

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