Want to save strokes? Improve your wedge game from the rough

Friday July 28th, 2017
1:09 | Instruction
Pitching from Rough Tricks

Arron Oberholser, PGA Tour winner and Golf Channel commentator, recently asked me a question over Twitter: Per round, how many short-game shots do weekend golfers have within 60 yards of the hole? After I tweeted my answer, a flurry of responses followed. Clearly, players are hungry for information to benchmark and improve their games.

The direct answer to Oberholser's question is 13—that's the number of off-green opportunities per round that a 90-shooter has within 60 yards. But digging deeper into the data reveals something instructive about your game and your scoring.

A bogey golfer can count on taking 13 shots from 0-60 yards around the green each round. Thats one of every seven!
Ian Spanier

The number of strokes you'll gain by sharpening your short game depends on two factors: the quality of your skill set and the number of times you get to use those skills in a typical round. Let's look first at the variety and frequency of shot chances. Of the 13 shots mentioned above, 3.9 of them are from 20 to 60 yards in the rough, 3.3 are from 0 to 20 yards in the rough, 2.6 are from greenside sand, 2.4 are from 20 to 60 yards in the fairway, and 1.1 are from 0 to 20 yards in the fairway. In other words, learning to throw darts from 55 yards, out of a bunker, won’t help your score much if you have only one of those testers every five rounds.

From short distances like these, getting the ball onto the green in one stroke is key, and understanding how your skills in this area stack up against other golfers will motivate you to improve. On all off-green shots within 60 yards of the hole, pros get the ball on the putting surface with one stroke 94 percent of the time, 80-shooters do it 87 percent of time, 90-shooters 80 percent of the time and 100-shooters are at 73 percent. (Naturally, the numbers improve on shots that start closer to the hole and from fairway lies.)

Rory McIlroy hacks out of the rough at the British Open in July.
Getty Images // Dan Mullan

Although weekend golfers struggle more from the sand than from the rough, when I overlap shot-frequency and skill-set stats, it’s clear that 80- or 90-shooters get their biggest scoring bang from (in order of effectiveness): improving from 20 to 60 yards in the rough; from greenside sand; and from 0 to 20 yards in the rough.

Oberholser's interest in the short game isn’t apropos of nothing—he's a paid pitchman for a fancy wedge. But his curiosity should pique your curiosity. How can you improve your scoring? You now have 13 good reasons to use your short-game practice time wisely. It won’t just improve your luck—it'll make you a better player.

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