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How Good Do Your Approach Shots Need To Be?

It is one thing to know you’re not good enough at a skill, it’s another to know exactly what your targets should be. Many golfers struggle with their approach shots into the greens, but few know what they should aim for.

In this article, we’re going to look at approach play data from the best players on the PGA Tour before we share data trends from club golfers. A big thanks to ShotScope for letting us share their insights.

The aim is to help you understand what golfers’ approach play looks like and to help you understand what your goals should be at your current level.

PGA Tour Approach Play

Let’s start by looking at the best in the world when it comes to approach play. Below are some snapshots of data from the PGA Tour last year (so we have a full season’s data).

100-125 yards

When we turn on the TV we’re used to seeing players pepper the pin with their wedges, however we’ve got to remember we are watching the outliers that week, the winners.

On average PGA Tour Pros hit 75.4% of greens from 100 to 125 yards away from the fairway. To put this another way, they miss 1 in 4 greens from the fairway with a wedge in hand.

The best last season was Nicolai Hojgaaerd with an average proximity of just inside 16ft. The Tour average was 20ft. That means for every wedge shot they hit to 10ft they would hit one to 30ft.

Data from pgatour.com

125-150 yards

From 125 to 150 yards PGA Tour players average 69.3% GIR, hitting less than 7 out of 10 greens from the fairway. Some may see this as impressive others seeing this for the first time might be surprised by these figures.

As expected, the average distance from the hole also goes up to 23ft. However, check out the right-hand column with ‘relative to par’. This shows just how impressive PGA players’ putting and short games are. They average -1 under par for every 4 attempts from the fairway between 125 and 150 yards.

For me as a coach, this highlights that many amateurs underestimate just how good pros short game and putting are. Most club golfers would be considerably over par from the same set of approach shots.

Data from pgatour.com

150-175 yards

As we back up to 150-175 yards we see PGA Tour players still average an impressive 64% GIR, this is partly due to their accuracy, but also because they are hitting much shorter irons from this distance compared to most club players.

The average proximity to the hole is a shade under 30ft, so next time you find the middle of the green from this distance, pat yourself on the back, you’ve pretty much hit the PGA Tour average.

Data from pgatour.com

Takeaways from Tour data

If this is your first time looking into this data you might be surprised with these numbers, PGA pros can often look like golfing robots on TV. Hopefully, it gives you more compassion for the bad shots you hit and helps you celebrate the good shots you hit that find the green.

One insight I’d like to share is that after a few years of working with players of this level, you’d be amazed at how infrequently they aim directly at the flag.

The best players in the world are often aiming at the middle of the green, or between the flag and the middle of the green to ensure they are on the putting surface. If you are less skilled than a tour player I’d suggest you do the same.

Despite all the new fancy golf stats, greens in regulation is still one of the best predictors of golfing performance across all handicap levels.

Club players approach data

We don’t have the exact same metrics to compare from ShotScope, but here I wanted to share what average looks like for club players using ShotScopes tracking apps.

On the lefthand side below we have the average proximity by club across all club golfers. We don’t have the distance these shots were hit from, but it starts to give you an insight into the difference in proximity from tour average proximity from 100-175 yards (20 to 28ft) and the average proximity we see from average club golfers.

On the right-hand side, we have the average greens in regulation (GIR) by handicap. Pay attention to this graphic, it shows the jump you should look to make if you do have a handicap goal. You can also dig deeper into these trends here on our stats by handicap dashboard.

This greens in regulation data shows that if you stood on the 1st tee aiming to hit 7 to 8 greens in regulation you would be playing to a single-figure standard, 10 greens in regulation you’d be scratch standard and would not be a million miles away from Tour standard (66.3% average in 2023, Scotty Scheffler led with a crazy 74.4%).

One final stat below, here is ShotScope’s data on GIR by club for club golfers. Most club golfers will miss the greens more times than they will hit it with a 9-iron, they will miss two-thirds of greens with a 7-iron, and only hit a green 1 out of 10 attempts with a 4-iron.

Don’t beat yourself up next time you hit a poor shot with a mid or long iron, those are very tricky to hit well for all amateur golfers.

Some useful insights to finish

Hopefully, this piece has been interesting so far, I wanted to end with something you can take away to improve your own performance.

Below we have dispersion data from TrackMan for an Average Male Amateur (AMA) hitting shots from 160 yards away.

Data from TrackMan Golf

The green dots hit the green, the red dots missed. Just take note of how few shots are long of the green (6 in total) and how short most shots finish (the vast majority 40 to 100ft short).

The takeaway here is that most golfers would improve their scores considerably if they took 1-2 clubs more for every single shot they hit.

Golfers have a strong basis for remembering shots that miss long, and blame all shots that finish short of the green on poor execution. However, the data shows that golfers would be far closer to the hole and would shoot lower scores if they just shifted their entire distribution up 1 to 2 clubs.

Summary

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little trip through some data on approach play. A big thanks to PGA Tour, ShotScope & TrackMan for sharing their data.

Next time you play, reset your expectations, pick targets closer to the middle of the green and make sure you take enough club!

Happy golfing – Will @ Golf Insider

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Will Shaw, PhD, MSc, PGA Pro

Will is a PGA golf professional, with a PhD in Biomedical Science and MSc in Sports Biomechanics & Psychology. He spent 10 years lecturing part-time at Leeds Beckett University and the University of Leeds in Biomechanics and Motor Control before becoming the Head of Golf for the University of Exeter. He currently runs Golf Insider UK, Sport Science Insider around wider consulting and academic roles in sport performance and motor control.

3 thoughts on “How Good Do Your Approach Shots Need To Be?”

  1. Hi Will

    that’s a really interesting set of stats for club golfers. As a matter of interest I play off 7.3 (8) and over the 2023 season hit on average 7.5 GIR and am averaging 8 in the few rounds I have played this year. So this is in pretty good agreement with the stats you quoted.

    Mike

    Reply
  2. Hi Will,
    I am a 79 year old 24 handicapper and want to get back to 20 (age would be nice). I find these sort of articles very helpful in this endeavour. I tend to view each hole as one shot more for par so 5 for par 4’s etc. if I could achieve that over the round that would be 6 under.
    I would be interested to know what advice you would give to someone in my position. My home course I would describe as a big hitter’s course with most par 4’s out of reach for me to consider green in regulation. That means shots from about 100 yards in are common for me to hit greens in 3 (par 4).
    Terry

    Reply
    • Hi Terry,

      That is a good question. I’d say the simple advice would be to practice the shots you have frequently. By the sounds of things these are the shots you have from 120-80 yards. On to of that, I’m yet to meet a golfer over a 5 handicap who wouldn’t benefit from practicing their putting inside 6-feet and from 10 to 20 feet. The same can be said for simple chip shots around the green.

      However, the big question is, is it possible or worth it to try to hit it further. I would suggest finding a local pro or conditioning coach to help, but for most golfers they can gain 2-10mph in club head speed just by trying to swing quicker 2-3 times a week. The Stack System is about the best thing on the market if you want to get more serious about it, and if you do, I would suggest a little GDPR launch monitor for feedback is really important.

      To give you some insight 1mph in club head speed results in 2.5 yards extra distance on drives, so a 10mph gain would be ~25 yards. This is before considering the extra distance on the second shots. Not easy, but for many golfers hitting it further is beneficial if they can keep it in play.

      I hope that gives you some food for thought.

      Kind regards,

      Will

      Reply

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