Knowing your own golf club distances and understanding how to control them is a simple but effective strategy to lower your scores. The first part of this article gives you average golf club distance charts for men, women and senior players.
The second section covers performance benefits, explains how impact factors affect your distance control and covers the swing changes you can use to hit your iron shots closer to the pin. At the end of this article there is a golf club distance calculator and a simple guide to work out your own detailed golf club distances.
Table of golf club distances
|Men’s Average Distance
|Women’s Average Distance
For more information around pitching wedge, gap wedge and sand wedge loft check out this article.
Golf club distance chart for seniors
|Seniors Average Distance
Using a rangefinder to improve your distances control
A rangefinder gives you precise data on of far you have to your target. A rangefinder is by far the best way to get better at controlling the distance of your golf shots and will help you shoot lower scores. Below are two top picks, or you can check out our full review of the best golf rangefinders here and a review of the Golf Buddy Laser Lite here.
Best value range finder
Distance control and scoring
All golfers want to hit more greens, make more birdies and save more pars. A key stat associated with all of the above is proximity to the hole – how close can you hit the ball with your approach shots? Knowing your golf club distances is a really effective way to achieve the above without reinventing your golf swing.
Below is a graphic taken from a Trackman article. It shows the shot distribution from 160 yards for a 15 handicapper. Notice how many shots finish short of the target and short of the green. Many of these attempts finish 80 – 100 feet short! This is a common pattern seen across most amateur players.
In this article Trackman state that by adding an extra 10 yards onto all shots an average mid-handicapper hits, “the percentage of shots that would hit the green increases from 38.5% to 44.0% and the average distance from the target decreases from 71.8 feet to 60.6 feet.”
This indicates that most golfers could lower their scores, with no real swing changes, just a better understanding of their golf club distances.
Unfortunately, this is an area which is rarely discussed and many golfers neglect it, so few golfers know how to work out their golf club distances. In the following sections I will provide all of the information you need to work out and refine your distances. I even have a clever little calculator and novel consistency stat for you serious golfing nerds.
Impact factors that affect your distance control
Now that we know the importance of distance control, let us look at the science underpinning it. I really do think understanding this geeky section is as important as the swing changes we discuss in the following section.
There are three critical launch parameters we’ll discuss – ball speed, launch angle and spin rate. To become a master of distance control you need to be able to replicate the same ball speed, at the same launch angle, with the same spin rate time and time again. Essentially, our aim is to become really boring and repetitive.
Below is list of the top three impact factors to work on. Make sure you master point one, before you begin tinkering with points two and three.
#1 Centredness of strike
Theoretically, you are right to assume that mastering club head speed should be top of this list. But, in reality most golfers variance in ball speed is caused by missing the centre of the club face – see the example below.
Smash factor is a measure of energy transfer between the club head and golf ball. 1.5 is the maximum value when you pinpoint the centre of the club face with a driver (100mph club head speed = 150mph ball speed). As you slightly miss the centre of the club face, this value drops to 1.4, 1.3 and so on. This means the same club head speed of 100mph results in 140 or 130mph ball speed. This is a staggering change in ball speed and distance for just a few millimetres change in club ~ ball contact location.
A key take away – you must consistently hit the centre of the club face to become great at controlling distance. Work on mastering your golfing posture and in-swing balance to refine and improve this factor.
#2 Dynamic loft and spin loft
The next critical factor for improving your distance control is your ball launch angle and its subsequent trajectory after launch. A golf club’s loft is constant, but how much loft you have on the club face at impact is dependent on your impact position. We call the loft you have at impact your ‘dynamic loft’ (red arrow below). Most tour players have their hands ahead of the club head at impact, meaning the club has less dynamic loft than the loft at address, and a ball flight that launches lower than the club loft.
Consistently striking the golf ball with the same loft ensures the same trajectory over and over again, and leads to consistent golf club distances. Many amateur golfers flick at the golf ball, altering their dynamic loft for each shot and destroying their distance control.
To help you improve this, have a read of this article on striking shots like a tour player, and also check out the impact drills on this golf training aids article (I spent many hours practicing these drills when I turned pro aged 19).
While we’re on this topic we must discuss a really important point for golfers who slice and hook – I wish more golfers knew the following:
Why slicing and hooking negatively affects your distance control
Please pay attention if you suffer from a slice or a hook. Hold a 6-iron and slowly rotate the club face open and then closed, and look what happens to the club loft. Quickly, you turn a 6-iron into the loft of a 7, or 5-iron as the face opens and closes. This is the main reason slicing loses you distance, and drawing increases your distance – club loft and ball launch – not some magical spin imparted on your shots.
If you slice/hook your golf shots varying amounts each time you hit a golf ball, it will be because your club face varies each shot and is more open/closed through impact. This also means your club loft will vary with each attempt too.
The take home message is this – if you consistently hit a steady draw or fade, you can become exceptional at controlling your distance, as your club face loft is consistently the same. If you struggle with wild hooks and slices, you will always struggle with your distance control, as your club face loft is constantly varying between shots.
Scroll back up to the picture above – spin loft is the difference between the dynamic loft (red arrow) and angle of attack (blue arrow). The greater the different between these two arrows, the more backspin is imparted onto the golf ball. More backspin will result in golf shots that rise during their fight and subsequently reduce the distance the ball will travel.
This isn’t a concern for most golfers, but as you approach a sub-5 handicap, this is an area to really focus on for all shots you hit from 50 – 150 yards. Ensure you are really consistent with your ball position, weight distribution and release when pitching and hitting wedge shots. Every shot you hit should reproduce the same angle of attack and dynamic loft – you will soon become a master of distance control.
It is very easy to pick Tiger Woods as an example for any iron-play analysis, however I feel Francesco Molinari is just exceptional at controlling his impact position, resulting in great distance control.
#3 Club head speed
Let us discuss club head speed. If all else stays equal, an increased club head speed leads to increased ball speed and increased distance. Most players’ club head speed only varies 1.5 – 3mph between shots. The subsequent effect is a 2 – 5mph change in ball speed. This is important, but is diminished by the variance most players experience due to strike and dynamic loft.
In the following section we discuss club head speed further, particularly when looking at golf swing tweaks you can use to scale up and down your distance control. For now, be aware of your club head speed – try to play most iron shots at 75 – 85% of max to better control your club head speed. Over this threshold all players will begin to see greater variance in club head control. Inside 160 yards elite pros rarely select a club they need to hit over 85% of its full distance, I suggest you copy their approach.
How to adjust your golf club distances
Now we know the science, let us look at how you can control these factors and improve your distance control. You will often find yourself in a position between clubs, you hit a 7-iron 150 yards, an 8-iron 140 yards, but you’ve foolishly left yourself 145 yard to the pin.
How to reduce your golf club distance
The first option is to take grab the longer club and to take some distance off. The common approach is to make no technical alterations, just to think ‘swing gentler at the golf ball’. This can work, but often results in a less committed golf swing and some wayward shots. Below are a couple of more advanced options for you:
Grip down the club 1-2 inches
Shortening the length of the club and making the same golf swing results in a reduced club head speed. This small tweak means you can still make a positive, committed swing with no additional changes. Most golfers also experience improved striking with shorter golf clubs, resulting in better control of the distance and reduced lateral error.
Open the club face 1-2 degrees
A second way to reduce your shot distance is to open your club face before you grip the golf club – no fancy in-swing changes needed. As we learned above, this simple change will increase the dynamic loft, launch angle and spin, reducing your shot distance. Just aim 2 – 3 yards further left to allow for a small fade.
I can’t tell you how useful this is if you tend to over-draw the golf ball with your short irons – it was a breakthrough for me as a young, aspiring pro. However if your bad shots are a fade, you may be best sticking to gripping down the golf club and keeping the club face square to your target.
How to increase your golf club distance
The other approach is to grab the shorter club and attempt to hit it further. This may sound just as easy, but as we will discuss below there are a couple of issues with trying to increase the distance you hit a given club.
If you have a sound golf grip and set-up, you will only have 1/4 of an inch free at the top of the grip, so there is little to be gained from holding further up the grip. Also, as you try to swing harder you are likely to lose balance, miss the centre of the club face and in turn decrease your ball speed and distance.
Below is my preferred option for increasing the distance you hit a golf club.
Close the club face and put the ball back in your stance
My personal preference for increasing distance is to place the golf ball 1 – 2 inches back in my stance and close the club face 1 – 2 degrees before gripping the golf club. Both of these factors reduce the dynamic loft, ball launch and should increase distance.
Why both? Well, as you place the ball further back, you also steepen your angle of attack and impart more backspin onto the golf ball – the increased backspin will have a negative affect on distance, so I feel you need both adjustments to overcome the increased spin rate.
Please have a play around on the golf range to find your optimal solution. There are no perfect solutions, but I hope the information above gives you some great ways to think about improving your distance control.
How to improve your distance control
So how do you take this information and use it to become a better golfer? Practice is the answer, and this can be done on the golf range or golf course.
On the golf range, pick at target, grab 10 balls and try to pitch each shot the perfect distance. If you are long or short, use the information above on strike and ball launch to tweak your approach. You are aiming for every shot you hit to feel the same, sound the same and launch on the same trajectory.
When I’m getting ready for competitions I love to have 75, 100 and 125 yards dialled in during practice. These are distances I aim to leave myself into par 4’s, and 5’s.
If you are a fan of practicing on the golf course, then find a quiet time to play 9 holes and hit 3 – 4 balls from your key yardages. When you approach the green, take time to see the spread of your shots; short and long on the flag.
A rangefinder is a key tool to help with your distance control on the range and golf course. You can read a full rangefinder review here, or check out the TecTecTec for a great value option and the Bushnell for my personal favourite.
Once every 4 – 6 months I suggest you go through your full bag and take note of the average distance you hit each club. The process is detailed in the next section.
Golf club distance calculator
The easy and effective way to work out your golf club distances is to book an hour on a launch monitor, hit 10 balls with each club and grab a printout or fill in the downloadable excel sheet below. We still use TrackMan for biomechanics research at our university, but in the coming weeks I will be testing out this more affordable launch monitor for you.
If you can’t get access to a launch monitor, you can still get a good idea by hitting 5 – 10 shots on a practice ground, or on a quiet golf course with each club and use a rangefinder to calculate the distance of each shot.
Once you have the data, fill in the downloadable sheet below (it will work on excel or google docs). Add in your 10 attempts and the sheet will calculate your average distance, range and a ‘consistency’ value.
The consistency value is the added dimension I would like golfers to utilise. It is the standard error of your 10 attempts (a normalised standard deviation) – the lower the value, the more consistent your distance control is with that club and the better you will be as a player. The great news is that this value is normalised across all of your clubs so you can pinpoint clubs in your bag that need refinement (have a high standard error).
Click the button below to download – it looks a bit rustic, but it provides good data.
Golf club distances – summary
Knowing your golf club distances is a critical component in being able to perform on the golf course. In this article we’ve covered the science and golfing technique behind controlling your distances.
I suggest you invest time on the practice ground or range getting really consistent with your strike, ball flight and distance control. Once every 4 – 6 months work out your distances for every club in your bag – it will really make a difference to your course management and scoring.
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Happy golfing – Will @ Golf Insider UK
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