Range Performance Better than On-Course?

The ball 6 degrees above your feet

by Bob Duncan, PGA Teaching Professional

Bob-Duncan-4cMany players – including Tiger – are complaining that they can’t take their range game to the course.  Welcome to the club!  Almost everybody hits the ball better on the range than on the course.  But, why?

In short, conditions.  Almost every lie you get on the course is worse than every lie you get on the range.  The slope is always changing and the grass is always different.  These two factors mean you will hit the ball differently on the course.  “Worse”, according to most players.  The fact is that with most lies on the course, you can’t hit them as well as you can on the range.

What are the changing conditions on the course, and what should you do about them?

When the ball is above your feet your swing should be flatter, or more around your body.  When the ball is below your feet your swing should be more upright, or more vertical.

The ball 6 degrees above your feet
The ball 6 degrees above your feet

A lie with the ball above your feet should pull, draw, or even hook.  A lie with the ball below your feet should push, fade, or even slice!  Just a 4 degree side slope on a sand wedge equals a loss of direction of at least 30 feet.  So did you pull that shot or did the slope do it for you?

A lie on an upslope will make your ball go higher and conventional wisdom says shorter, but not always.  A slight upslope can constitute a ‘launching pad’ and it can actually carry farther!  Upon landing, the ball will probably land at a steeper angle, and stop more quickly.

A lie on a downslope will make your ball go lower, and can carry farther on slight downslopes, but on slightly steeper downslopes it can fly shorter.  It will usually land at a more ‘shallow’ angle making it more difficult to stop upon landing.

Now add in grass conditions and you’ve multiplied your issues – adding to more inconsistencies!  ‘Tight’ lies usually lower trajectories, reduce carry distance, and more likely favor or add to fades and slices.  ‘Fluffy’ lies, sometimes called ‘flyers’, usually raise trajectories, increase carry distance, and more likely favor straight to draw shots.  Deep rough grabs your club and shuts it down creating low-left pulls.

The ball 7 degrees below your feet
The ball 7 degrees below your feet

Chances are the problem is not that you have an inability to make a consistent swing…but that you’re probably making that consistent swing on highly variable lie conditions – instead of adapting to and playing for the conditions to affect your shots.

What’s the answer?  Perhaps it’s time to take a lesson on the course to work out what to do in many of these cases.  It’s a mistake to think that a perfect range swing will overcome the conditions you face on the course.

Suppose one day you ‘pulled’ quite a few shots, not realizing that you had the ball 4 degrees or more above your feet in each case?  Then you take a lesson, complaining of pulling a lot of shots.  Based on this the pro teaches from a ‘prevent the pulls’ standpoint.  The next day you go out and ‘push’ or ‘fade’ several shots, not realizing that you had the ball 4 degrees below your feet for these shots.  Then the pro worries about preventing the pushes and the fades.

If the conditions of each lie are not a consideration, then the player can often fail and not understand why!

It’s ok to play golf without considering the variables involved.  But, even for many beginners, if on a given lie the pro knows that your best range-generated swing will fail, what should he/she do?  Should he/she send players to play without some knowledge that on the course almost everything changes?

As a teaching pro, if I never see you play on the course then I don’t really know how effective my instruction is.  Your swing is important, and it will get you around the course to some degree.  Knowing what will most likely happen on the changing conditions can improve your performance a great deal.  As one of my players puts it, “Knowing conditions means my cone of variability is greatly reduced!”

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