A question I'll bet you've never been asked: On average, how many shots per round does a Tour pro take from 60 to 100 yards from the hole? Four? Six? Ten?
The answer might surprise you. It's just 1.5! Why so few? On par 3s, pros rarely leave themselves a second shot from 60-100 yards. It's also unlikely to happen on par 4s, unless the hole is quite short—or quite long and the player hits a poor tee shot. And on par 5s, pros only occasionally lay up to the 60-to-100-yard range. This adds up to an average of 1.5 shots per round from this length.
With the pros hitting so few 60-to-100-yard shots, it's hard for them to gain ground on the field. It's also hard to be sharp on these shots when they do occur. The best in the business from that distance—by a wide margin—is Steve Stricker, who has gained nearly a quarter of a shot per round on the field in the past ten years. In 2014, Stricker led the PGA Tour, gaining 0.34 strokes per round on the field:
Stricker's gain doesn't seem like much, but compare it to Jason Day, who ranks fifth and picks up a measly 0.15 strokes on the field.
These 60-to-100 yarders (which are often less than full wedge shots) matter much more to recreational players. Guys like you and me average 3.2 of these shots per round, about double the pros' number. Yes, this distance range is less important for scoring than shots closer to the green, because pros and everyday players take three to four times as many shots from just off the green than they do from 60 to 100 yards. Still, that doesn't mean you shouldn't practice from No Man's Land. This column is called "Every Shot Counts" for a reason.
Not surprisingly, weekend warriors aren't very accurate or consistent with shots from this distance compared to Tour pros. Consider: On an 80-yard shot from the fairway, Steve Stricker leaves half of his efforts within 11 feet of the hole, and a typical Tour pro knocks it to 13 feet. For 80-shooters, half of their shots finish within 23 feet of the hole, while 90-shooters leave half within 31 feet. Why does this matter? Well, 90-shooters could save a half stroke per round if they improved to the level of 80-shooters from this range. (I admit, a half stroke doesn't sound like much, but these swings are worthy of attention. Bonus: You look like a real stick when you knock a three-quarter wedge to tap-in range!)
Rather than trying to knock down the flag with these shots, though, I'd suggest you focus on a simpler goal: Just get the ball on the green. Pros find the dance floor about 90 percent of the time on fairway shots from 60 to 100 yards out. For 80-shooters, it's 78 percent. Ninety-shooters only hold the green 65 percent of the time.
To measure how your game stacks up from this range, here's a drill: Hit five shots from the fairway, one each from 60, 70, 80, 90 and 100 yards (in that order). Your objective is to end up with at least four of the five balls on the green. Next, measure the distance of your middle shot, ignoring the two closest and two farthest from the hole. Remember, Steve Stricker's average distance is 11 feet, but a good goal for recreational players is 25 feet or less.
To sharpen your swing from this distance, here are some tips from veteran instructor Terry Rowles, who has taught several PGA Tour pros, including Mike Weir and Ben Crane.
"Recreational players tend to make inconsistent contact using their wedges, which leads to distance errors. Quality impact is the key to success on these short shots.
"The first step is to take a solid setup, with your weight slightly forward, your hands a little ahead of the ball, and a slightly open stance. A too-flat swing plane leads to mishits. Your flat-swing fix? Imagine that your shaft is filled with water, and that you want to let the liquid trickle out the butt end of the the shaft as soon as possible in your backswing. To do so, feel as though the club is almost standing on end as you take it back. A good setup and a more vertical swing plane will have you flag-hunting in no time."
Terry Rowles was named one of Golf Magazine's "Innovators of the Year" in 2013.