Most players know how far their five iron flies. Fewer players know how far a ¾ -swing pitching wedge flies. Very few players know how far a parallel-to-parallel finesse wedge shot hit with a pitching wedge flies and rolls. Maybe they should.

Why You Should Know Your Distances from Within 100 Yards and Around the Green

Most players hit less-than-full wedge shots (called distance wedges) and short shots around the green (called finesse wedge shots) by feel. They have practiced and learned how far the ball will with any given swing length. Many tour and elite players, however, know exactly how far their distance and finesse wedge shots fly. Why? Even though they are inherently “feel” players, knowing their distances allow them to play more accurate and better shots.

Here’s why: Our minds are very good at processing information. If we provide our minds more information – providing context – we will intuitively perform better. Let’s use putting as an example. If we have a long breaking uphill putt with training and skill development our mind generally knows how far to take the putter back to produce the right ball speed to leave the ball near or in the hole. If we feed to our mind information or context by studying the length of the putt, the amount of uphill and sidehill, the direct of the grain, looking at the putt from behind the hole, etc. – we are likely to be more accurate. Our minds have learned to incorporate this additional information and in turn intuitively know how far the bring the putter blade back. Few would argue that studying the slope and a grain of a green would be anything but helpful for a critical putt.

Developing context for a 40-yard shot is equally important. Say we have practiced our finessed wedge and know that taking the club slightly past parallel with a pitching wedge produces a 27-yard ball flight with 2 yards of roll after landing on the green for a total of 29 yards. If we are faced with what we know to be a 31-yard shot, we have context to hit it the right distance, i.e., a bit more than our 29-yard swing. We may want to add other information including whether the wind is helping or hurting, whether the ball is in the rough which may take away distance, etc. As we prepare for our swing, increasingly we focus on the target and the distance numbers and swing mechanics begin to fade away. We are not thinking number when we hit, but the fact we knew the exact distance and had a benchmark swing to compare it to will, like the long putt, shape our intuitive knowledge of how much far to swing.

This does not mean that we replace our feel entirely with analysis. Rather, we gather information, feed this to our mind, and then right before we hit the shot focus on the target and still play by feel. You can fill your mind with good information. Your mind will subconsciously process that information, helping guide your intuitive feel on how to play the shot.

Having Known Numbers Reduces Uncertainty

Elite players know their exact distance wedge and finesse wedge. For example, my ¾ swing pitching wedge flies 111 yards or when I bring my gap wedge to parallel on a finesse wedge shot the ball will fly 10 yards and roll an additional 4. Knowing your exact distances provides a level of certainty and confident, especially under pressure. This certainty is especially useful if you are in unfamiliar territory. Perhaps you are playing a new course and after hitting a good drive you have what kind of looks like a 70ish yard shot. Uncertainty on the exact distance can creep into our swing, and we hit it poorly. Supposed instead we hit a good drive, know we are 74 yards from the hole, and we know if we hit a sand wedge with a ¾ swing it will go 71 yards. We can still play with feel, but confidence on the yardage is much more likely to produce a more accurate shot. Pros play this way, and you should too.

Likewise, having a baseline distance allows us to easier make adjustment. If we have a 70-ish yard shot that is uphill and into the wind, we may be distracted by this uncertainty as we hit. But if we know that we have a 72-yard shot, with a 3-yard hurting wind and add an additional 3 yards for the uphill, we can think about hitting a 78-yard shot. The distances are now imprinted on our intuitive mind, and we are free to focus on the target and swing freely.

Creating a Distance Chart

Consider creating a distance chart the lists how far you hit your distance and finesse wedges for various clubs. For finesse wedges how far the ball flies and rolls. Be smart about how you play.

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