Jack Nicklaus has been concerned about it for a longtime. Gary Player has weighed in, as has virtually every golf pundit. We’re talking about the power game today and how modern professionals hit the ball over 300 yards with regularity.
It’s not just the professionals and pundits who are interested in power, but also the average amateur. Those who work as club fitters and use launch monitor technology like TrackMan, FlightScope and GC Quad can all tell you tales of customers coming in to their stores and ranges who boast of distances that the monitors say they are not capable of. It’s almost comical, but also sad in a way, because golfers who are unrealistic about the distance they hit the ball are almost sure to come up short time after time.
We would be more than justified in telling our students, “No, you do not hit your driver 300 yards…or 250…or 200 (or whatever distance they’re claiming), and no, you do not hit your 7-iron 150.” Any teacher who has worked with a launch monitor is familiar with such unrealistic students. Why do some of our pupils believe they hit the ball distances that they clearly are not capable of hitting?
Much of it deals with ego. Besides ego, many golfers goby their maximum distance they’ve achieved with each club. They remember hitting a 5-iron 170yards, oblivious to the fact that the ball carried 145, hit a hard spot in front of the green and had a tailwind, to boot.
Many of us would like to think that we are hitting the ball farther than we actually do. We hear television commentators telling us the pros are hitting the ball 320 with their driver and it seems impossible that we are 100 or more yards behind that, refusing to believe that we are that weak. Some of the skepticism, though, is warranted, as television often exaggerates the distances players are capable of hitting.
At the PGA Championship a couple of years ago, Golf Channel had a shot tracer on Rory McIlroy as he warmed up for a practice round. On one drive, the tracer showed McIlroy carrying – repeat, carrying – the ball 365yards. This is completely absurd. Long-drive competitors with swing speeds of 140 mph carry the ball that far. McIlroy’s swing speed is an impressive 122 mph, but that’s nowhere in the ballpark of what a long-drive competitor can do. It doesn’t help our cause as teachers when television creates fictional numbers in order to create some sort of “wow” factor.
Older players have long been guilty of overestimating their distances. As age has robbed them of their strength and quickness, they seem to be denying reality and hope against hope that they can still hit their 7-ironthe 150 yards they did 20 years ago, only to see the ball time after time coming up short of the green. So, instead of adjusting for how far they now hit the ball, they rush to there tail store and buy the latest and greatest new irons with flexible faces and jacked-uplofts, complete with low tungsten weighting and lightweight graphite shafts. Now, don’t get us wrong – many players should be taking advantage of all the modern technology out there. But modern technology can only makeup for so much lost distance, and may result in a disappointed consumer.
How can we teach golf in today’s power era when most golfers are unrealistic about their distances or their expectations? We must emphasize that unless they’re going to compete at the highest levels on 7,400-yard courses, the first thing they should be doing is playing from the appropriate set of tees. If the average tour pro’s drive is 292 (at the time of this writing for the 2018-19 season) and our student’s average is 210, that comes out to 72 percent of the average tour pro, meaning our student should be playing from 5,328 yards to have an equivalent experience. Since most male golfers aren’t going to play from that distance, at the very least they should be playing no longer than 6,000 yards.
Another step we need to take is getting our students to have a realistic idea of how far they can actually carry the ball. We hear all the time that “I hit my 7-iron 150 yards,” when in reality it flies 135 and then rolls out another15 because they are using a low-spin ball. That 15-yard roll also represents a best-case scenario, usually when the ball hits a firm part of the course. There’s also a definite difference between a 150-yard distance to the hole when the pin is either up front or in the back. Knowing the carry distance to a reason able margin of error is important in these situations.
We can also ask our students to chart their rounds and keep track of one simple stat onpar-4s and par-5s: their scoring average when their drive found the fairway vs. when it didn’t. Most average golfers should see a difference of a full stroke. Charting this information should give them pause to consider whether distance or accuracy is more important to their personal game.
However, let’s suppose we have a student who insists on gaining distance. There are three ways to do this: through equipment, technique, or physical fitness. The first is easy enough and the second is realistic. But the third? That requires a real commitment that, frankly, most of our students are unwilling to undertake. And yet, it may be the most critical element in gaining distance.
Teaching golf in today’s power era requires a different skill set than in previous generations. If we can convince our students that they can still enjoy the game and play to a high level without hitting 300-, or even 250-yard drives, then it can be considered a job well done.