My analysis of millions of golf shots reveals a consistent finding: Approach shots account for the biggest scoring advantage between golfers of every skill level. The best golfers also gain strokes with their driving, short game and putting games, but approach shots are the greatest difference-maker. “Approach” is a broad category. It includes all shots starting outside 100 yards from the hole, excluding tee shots on par-4 and par-5 holes. Within this category, shots from 150 to 200 yards are a prime separator of the best Tour pros from average Tour pros. It’s a range that the weekend golfer can learn something from, too.
From 150 to 200 yards out, starting from the fairway or tee, Tour players hit the green 71 percent of the time. Sticking it to within 25 feet is an especially good outcome. Who among all Tour pros since 2003 (the start of the ShotLink era) holds the longest streak of knocking it that close from that distance? Tim Clark, with an amazing 24 in a row, in 2012. The tenacious South African learned that great approach shots alone aren’t enough to win tournaments. During his streak of throwing darts, Clark shot rounds of 66, 67, 67 and 68, and finished T4 at the Travelers.
Not surprisingly, most weekend golfers struggle dramatically in that same 150- to 200-yard range. From that distance in the fairway, 15-handicappers will land only 22 of 100 balls on the putting surface, and their misses—principally caused by poor contact—are remarkably consistent: short and off target. (To help you better visualize the problem pattern, the yellow ellipse in the illustration at left shows where the shots are centered.) Of course, improving your line on every shot helps, but reaching the hole is what’s critical.
In that regard, the weekend golfer who’s looking for more approach-shot consistency would do well to play smarter in three key ways. (1) Be the authority on your distances—you should be well acquainted with what your 5-iron, for example, will do. (2) Play meteorologist and topographer. Both wind conditions and the lay of the land (steeply uphill? gently downhill?) critically impact how far your shots travel. (3) Consider these factors, then choose the stick that gives you the best chance to hit the middle of the green. That extra 10 or 20 yards— the difference between coming up short and finding the center of the dance floor—could be keeping you from a clubhouse trophy.
Here are a few approach-shot-accuracy streaks from the Tour— the good, the bad and the ugly:
The longest 2015 streak of hitting the ball to within 25 feet of the hole from 150 to 200 yards out (from the tee or a fairway): 15, BROOKS KOEPKA
The longest 2015 streak of leaving the ball outside 25 feet from the hole from 150 to 200 yards out (from the tee or a fairway): 24, GARY WOODLAND
The longest streak since 2003 of hitting the green from 200 to 250 yards out (from the tee or a fairway): 22, BOO WEEKLEY, in 2008
The longest streak since 2003 of missing the green from 200 to 250 yards out (from the tee or a fairway): 20, LOREN ROBERTS, in 2004