March 25

Find Your Golf “Big Gain”, part 2

Golf Lessons


In our last post, we talked about how to find your “Big Gain” if you’re looking to break 100.  But what if you’re already there and want to go lower?  Finding your “Big Gain” gets a little harder the more advanced you become.

Fear not, intrepid readers, because all is not lost.  Not while I’m here and my fingers still work.

When your handicap starts to get into the lower teens and single digits, it can become frustrating because your “Big Gains” aren’t readily noticeable.  For a 100+ shooter, they tend to see score changes in chunks.  For 90’s shooters looking to get into the 80’s, their scoring changes will most likely not be as big.

So how do we go about getting into the 80’s?  If you followed the ideals of the first post, I recommend continuing with the scorecard marking.  But we need to get just a little bit deeper.

Discover Minute Improvements

If we’re trying to get into the 80’s, most likely we’re getting better at finding fairways.  If not, we should be at a point where we have the sense to do things to get us onto the green with our next shot (or third, if it’s a par 5).  If you don’t know, some simple tips would be:

  • Club up when the ball’s sitting in the rough.  The rough’s going to slow your clubhead down a little, so clubbing up and swinging smoothly will ensure squared contact while allowing for the decrease in swing speed to still get you on the green.
  • Be on the lookout for “flyer lies”.  A flier lie is when the ball’s sitting up in rough, but the back of the ball’s covered with some grass.  The grass is going to knock off some backspin*, which means the ball will actually fly farther than it normally would, with less “bite” when it does land.  If you’re faced with a flyer lie, take one less club than normal.

But let’s say you’re good with finding fairways in regulation, but you’re still missing greens (<4 around).  Obviously, we need to get that GIR number up, but in the meantime, it’d be a good idea to really get your short game polished.  But what should you look for?

Take the Lesson With You!

Get help with finding your Big Gain- wherever you are with the Essential On-Course Field Guide!

Things To Do When Around The Green

Instead of just hitting and hoping...


You need to consciously work to get the ball closer to the hole.  

First of all, ensure your setup is solid: feet closer together, body (including the shoulders) opened up a little, arms and club forming a lower-case "y".  The whole motion is done with the shoulders, with the ball slightly back in your stance to get a crisp, descending blow on the ball.

Second, utilize the right club.  Some can get away with using one club for all their chip shots, but many of us would be better off using a club that gets the ball on the green soon and run to the hole.  There's a nice matrix for choosing your clubs that I can't find the link to anymore, but it's what I follow when chipping.  You can get it, and more, by downloading my Essential On-Course Field Guide.  

It's a ratio of "flight-to-roll":

8: 1:3

9i: 1:2

PW: 1:1

GW: 2:1

LW: 3:1

You can extrapolate that further, into the mid and long irons.  How you utilize this starts off with the assumption that it's a smart play to land the ball no more than three yards past the fringe while letting the ball rollout the rest of the way.  So, let's say we're 12 yards away from the hole, but if we hit a chip that's 6 yards, that will get us 3 yards onto the green.  That situation calls for a PW (6y to landing spot, 6 yards to hole... a 1:1 ratio).  Now let's say we have 12 yards to the hole, but the landing spot is 9 yards from us.  That's a 3:1 ratio, so we'd want to use a LW.

I also need to state that these aren't absolutes, but guidelines to help ease your club selection process.  YMMV, so practice with this.

Remember these stats from AimPoint Golf:

Average Putting Stats from the US PGA Tour in 2002 ( ed. note: don't fret- it hasn't changed much) for putts from 3 feet to 10 feet:

3' 99%
4' 93%
5' 83%
6' 74%
7' 65%
8' 56%
9' 50%
10' 45%

All is not lost, though!  FastLearners has an in-depth list of putting drills you can do to help improve around the greens.  If you want some help with the fundamentals of putting, why not check out this article from Upbeat Golf?  Give them a look!

But wait- there's more!  Here's an article from Putting for Beginners!  Be sure to check out the Manilla Folder drill!

If you want to see Big Gains, you must get the ball as close to the hole as you can when hitting your short game shots.  The short game and putting go hand-in-hand; work to ensure each phase of your game helps the other out!


So you have an idea with chipping, but what about pitching?  Sorry, but there's no ratio I know of that can make it easier.  Quality of contact, your pitching swing speed, the cover material of the ball, the firmness and/or slope of the green all effect how the ball will behave when it lands.  You can control everything up to that point, however.

What I mean is, practice time.  If your practice time is limited, work on the short game as much as you can.  It's fun to hit driver after driver after driver on the range, but isn't shooting better scores more fun?  The ways to do it include:

  • Improve your pitch motion.  The pitch swing is a mini full swing.  Ensure ball-then-turf contact and swing through the ball.  Too many tend to get indecisive after the pitch swing has been set in motion, and that will kill any attempt at putting backspin on the ball.
  • Set up your own "Wedge Matrix".  Get out all the wedges you carry, and take them to the range (or simulator/launch monitor).  A simple matrix would be full pitch swings and half pitch swings, but you can do three-quarter and one-quarter swings, too.  Hit each type of shot with every wedge in your bag and find the average CARRY distance of each.  You may see some overlap.  That's OK, because that just means you have variety for certain situations.  For instance, if your 1/4 PW swing goes as far as your 1/2 LW swing, you can use the lower PW swing if you need to stay under a hazard (or have it behave more like a chip) while the higher-lofted LW swing would get you over any trouble you might face for that particular distance.
  • Hone your distances.  If you're erratic with pitch swing distances, find a spot where you can practice 20, 30, or even 50 yard pitch swings.  Lay out towels (or, if you're masochistic, little red bricks) in 10 yard intervals.  The object is to land 5 balls in a row on a particular target.  This is basically a version of the Ladder Drill for putting.

Speaking of short-game distances, in the Essential On-Course Field Guide, there are two interactive spreadsheets that will help you calculate your average distance.  One for full-swing iron, hybrid, and wedge shots, the other for short-game shots with your wedges (1/4, 1/2, and 3/4 swings).  To get started, you can get it here.

What About Distance?

What about it?  

Yes, getting an extra 10 or more yards out of your drives is nice.  For some, it is the Big Gain they're looking for.  That's not the majority of us, though.  While golfers love the long ball (and apparently, chicks dig it, too...)

At least, in baseball they do.  

Maybe in golf, as well- but I've never done any studies in that area.  My wife says she loves me for me, though... but I digress.

What we should be focusing on here is tightening up our short games.  

Yes, it'd be nice to hit longer drives, but what good is that if you're stubbing half your chips and forcing yourself to save bogey with >10' putts (at a make percentage of 45% and below for TOUR PROS)?  

RELATED: How to hit crisp iron shots!

Not to say that there aren't ways to hit longer drives, but let's not make that out to be some be-all, end-all way to score better.  

Finding your Big Gain in the short game has a direct correlation to shooting better scores. 

Take the Lesson With You!

Get help with finding your Big Gain- wherever you are with the Essential On-Course Field Guide!

About the author 

Justin Blair

Justin Blair is the founder of Green Lantern Golf. When he isn't bringing his 10+ years of excellent craftsmanship experience to golf club fitting, building, and repair, he's geeking out about Star Wars (he's watched them all about 8,437 times!) and things like the MCU and LOTR, he's drinking mead and craft brews. If you wanna know more, check out my About Page!

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