When you watch the PGA Tour, do you ever admire how their amazing distance control on approach shots?
While it’s easy to applaud the long drives and cool flop shots, those are more for show than anything else. When it comes to consistently scoring below par, one of the biggest factors for them is their amazing ability to control their distances.
Simply put, their approach shots don’t miss by much. And when they do miss, it’s not by more than a few yards. Scratch or better golfers know how far each club goes which allows them to hit more greens and if they do miss, it’s almost always in the right spots.
Controlling your distance is a matter of learning your own game and dialing in each club. In this post, we’ll show you why distance control is so important and the best strategies to help you create your own secret weapon like the pros.
Knowing the distance you hit each club, especially from 100 yards and in is crucial to consistently shoot lower scores. When you know how far each club goes, you can…
- Hit more greens.
- Give yourself closer putts.
- Miss the greens in the right spots (which means fewer pitches over bunkers and hopefully fewer lost balls in the hazards).
Overall, understanding how far you hit each club on a regular basis will give you more scoring opportunities than ever before. Here’s exactly how you can improve your distance control.
One of the reasons the pros are so good with distance control is that they have a caddy. But one thing pros don’t get that you do during the round is a rangefinder.
If you’re not using a rangefinder, I’m confident you’re throwing away a few shots (or more) each round. In today’s tech world, fewer carts come with GPS devices and finding a marked sprinkler head is nearly impossible. Not to mention, if you do find a sprinkler head, the distance is only to the middle of the green.
Having a rangefinder will give you an exact distance to the flag and help you see where the pin is located on the green. Once you know where the pin is, then you can get strategic with your approach shot. Otherwise, it’s just taking an educated guess.
Make sure to check out our review of the best golf rangefinders to find the one that fits your game and budget. Or if you prefer a GPS, head over to our review of GPS watches or our review of handheld GPS units.
Once you begin to use a rangefinder, you can start to play smarter golf with your approach shots. One of the biggest mistakes amateur golfers make is always going at the flag. If pro’s don’t use this approach, why are you?
Knowing where to miss the green is vital to shooting lower scores. Not every shot is one that you should attack the flag, even if you are swinging well.
By understanding your distances, you can begin to play towards the widest part of the green and avoid the tough, short sided miss.
A good rule of thumb for most amateur golfers: don’t go flag hunting unless it’s with a wedge.
Aim for the widest part of the green. This will give you the best chance to make more pars and shoot lower scores!
While a rangefinder and pre-shot routine are helpful, you need to put in the time on the range and the short game area to learn your distances. In a perfect world, you should have a distance for each club.
For example, you should know that in your normal weather conditions your 7-iron goes X distance, wedge goes Y distance. Give or take, the distance should be within 3-5 yards. You know that you can step on one to make it go further or choke up an inch to take a few yards off.
One exception is the wedges.
To master distance control, you want to have at least two stock distances for each wedge.
For example, here’s a breakout of my two stock wedge distances. One is a full swing (although, you should never really have a full swing with a wedge) and one is choking up an inch for a more knockdown shot.
- Lob wedge: 90 yards; knockdown 78 yards
- Sand wedge; 108 yards; knockdown 100 yards
- Gap wedge; 120 yards; knockdown 110 yards
- Pitching wedge; 135 yards; knockdown 118 yards
When you’re practicing, try out different strategies to hit your wedges different distances. This might mean choking up an inch, playing the ball in different parts of your stance or taking a ¾ swing.
Figure out what works best for you, every golfer has a different and preferred method to hit wedges different distances!
Another way to help you practice sessions is to use a golf gadget like Game Golf or Arccos Caddie Smart Sensors. This a great way to help you track distances on each club you hit. It offers GP real-time automatic shot tracking.
All you do is add the attachment to each grip and sync the course to the app on your smartphone. From there, you can watch your shots, track your distances, and learn where you can improve the most on their app.
For a massive improvement to your practice routine, go out and pick up an affordable golf launch monitor. You can thank me later! Practicing with a launch monitor will make you a master of distance control.
Another important and easy tip to help you get better with distance control is to check your tempo. Mastering a smooth tempo is key to hitting quality shots that travel the yardage you want them to consistently.
With the short shots and wedges, you want to make sure that you are always accelerating through impact and not decelerating. While we’ve talked more about tempo in this post, we can’t stress the importance of it for the wedges.
To help, make sure you’re always taking it back slower than you might think. You want to have a smooth takeaway and transition that leads to accelerating through impact. If you slow down and decelerate, you’re almost always going to pull the shot long and miss big.
When all else is failing in your game, make sure you video your swing and check your tempo.
Along with tempo, don’t forget to check your grip pressure for your full shots and especially with your wedges. PGA Tour pros usually aim to have a grip pressure of about 3-4 out of 10 for their short game and wedge shots.
When you have less tension in your arms from a soft grip, it makes it easier to swing smooth and accelerate through the ball at impact.
Lastly, don’t forget to evaluate your playing conditions when selecting your club and perfect approach shot. The weather has a huge impact on how far the ball travels. Here’s a quick cheat sheet to help:
- Cold conditions – The air is heavier and the ball will travel 1-2 clubs less than normal.
- Muggy (Wet) conditions – The air is also heavier and the ball will travel 1-2 club less than normal.
- Hot and dry conditions – The ball will go 1-2 clubs farther than normal.
- Altitude – The higher you go, the thinner the air which means the ball will travel farther.
Now that you have the strategies to master your distances, here are some of the best distance control drills to help you during practice.
As I’m sure you know, the length of your swing has a huge impact on how far the ball travels. The goal with this drill is to see how each swing changes your distance.
You want to try to match your swing length to a specific yardage whether it’s a cone, short game area or a flag at the range. Learning to follow-through is key to successfully hitting a pitch shot. As I mentioned, deceleration kills distance control!
So many amateur golfers create a huge backswing and decelerate through impact with minimal follow-through. Instead, try to do the opposite. Shorter back and farther on the way through to make sure you’re accelerating at impact.
- To start, grab a sand wedge on the range or short-game practice area. You want to think of your swing in relation to the hour positions on a standard clock.
- For example, if you swing your arms to a 9 o’clock backswing position, follow through to at least a 3 o’clock position. Then, determine how far the ball travels with a backswing position of 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11 o’clock positions.
- Make sure you are swinging with a constant tempo and follow-through.
The more you know how far each wedge goes, the more dangerous you will be around the greens. This drill is one of Dave Pelz’s favorites and a great way to hone your scoring shots.
Nailing your distance control is all about practicing to small targets. Remember, aim small, miss small!
- At the short game area, set targets at different locations (using alignment rods or cones)
- Practice hitting shots to different distances. For example, start with a sand wedge and hit shots from 60 yards to your full distance with cones at 10-yard intervals.
- Start by hitting to the closest target and work your way backwards. Notate how every 10-yard shot feels different and how your backswing feels for each shot.
- Do this on a regular basis to develop feel and understand how you can hit each wedge multiple distances.
Distance control is often overlooked by so many golfers but it’s one thing that can drastically help you improve your scores. The more greens you can hit, the more likely you’re going to have easier pars and maybe sneak in a few birdies.
The biggest thing to remember with distance control is to first learn how far each club goes on a regular basis. Once you have baseline numbers, then you can use the other items in this checklist to stay consistent.
Remember, having a rangefinder is so important to calculate your distances and pull off the shots you need. Lastly, don’t forget to practice with the drills and mentioned and always calculate the shot based on current weather conditions.