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July 9th, 2012

The USGA and PGA of America initiated a new program last year and have carried it into 2012. Named “Tee it Forward,” this relatively new “program” is really no program at all. It’s common sense. And it requires virtually no math skills or imagination to implement. As the name suggests, the idea is to encourage most golfers to start playing a course that is more suited to the distances they actually hit the ball and the skill level they possess by teeing off from a set of tees forward from those they customarily use. The object is to shorten courses to a more realistic level of playability for the average golfer. The only hard thing about this idea is tossing aside your ego.



We all know the guys who insist on playing from the tips, no matter the slope or course rating. I know those guys. I used to be one of them. The Tee it Forward concept suggests that most of us have no business playing from the same set of tee blocks the pros play. The PGA and USGA tell us that playing a 7200 or 7300 yard course is equivalent to a professional playing from 8100 yards, or so. The pros don’t do that and neither should we. Most of us simply don’t hit the ball as far and certainly not as consistently as professionals.


Advances in technology have given those among us who played our youthful golf in the age of persimmon--Paleolithic Age, to be historically accurate--a nice ego boost by allowing us to hit the ball distances similar to those we achieved 30 years ago. Those same technological advances exponentially increase the distances that today’s young athletic golfers can move it.


Last year, while testing my drivers (yeah, that’s plural—as in 3) to see why none of them seemed to behave, I got on a swing monitor and was pleased to see that my swing speed was consistently at 110 mph. That’s not bad for a 52 year old chubby guy who’s main form of exercise involves taking out the garbage (those weekly reps are brutal). Dustin Johnson, acknowledged by his peers as one of the best athletes on Tour, generates club head speed of around 124 mph. So if, as they say, for each 1 mph increase in club head speed we generate an additional 3 yards off the tee, then DJ is hitting it 42 yards past me.


And that doesn’t take into consideration the fact that we amateurs are much less consistent with our ball striking (a 110 mph heel is just a reasonably quick bad drive) and that even on our good shots we don’t compress the ball as do the pros. Add to the speed mix the fact that our equipment is often not tailored to optimize launch angle and spin rate as it should be, and that 42 yards is more like 50-60…or more. Are you depressed yet? Well you shouldn’t be. There’s no reason to be bummed by the fact that we’re not as good, as strong, as flexible or as athletic as the professional golfers we try to emulate. Would you be shocked to learn that if I were good enough, and, you know, had access to the Fountain of Youth, I would be playing professional golf and not writing a blog?


No, the depressing thing is how we lie about our golf games. We lie to our spouses, who don’t care; we lie to our friends, who don’t believe us; and we lie to ourselves who then embrace those lies. For instance, I lied to you about my swing speed. While I did swing at 110 mph, I did not do so “consistently” as I claimed above. In fact, my swing speed varied between 105 on the low end to 112…alright 110 on the high end. And the crazy thing is that when I first wrote that, I didn’t even realize that I was stretching the truth. I simply remembered achieving 110 on a number of swings, so in my mind I had a 110 mph swing speed. The reality is that 110 was my max, so my real or effective driver swing speed is something less than 110. It’s not so much that I lied but more that I deluded myself, which leads to my point.


We delude ourselves about how far we hit the ball. If I were to play a round of golf with you today and you happened to catch one flush on, say, the 450 yard par 4 fifth hole leaving you with 160 to the green, you’d correctly calculate that to be a 290 yard drive. If someone were to then ask you later in the week how far you hit your driver, guess what you’d reply? You can’t lie to me. You know you’d tell them you hit your driver 290, even though that was the best drive you hit all day; even though it was down wind and the course was firm; and even though that was your longest drive on that hole all year. Why would you say this? Because you proved that you can hit it 290, so when we hear that question, we think of the optimal distance we can drive it, not our average drive, or even our reasonably good drive. We think in terms of how potentially long we are, not how consistently long.


It’s for this same reason that amateurs like us almost uniformly under club on our approach shots. “Let’s see, now. I have 145 to the middle pin. If I hit it solid, I can muscle an 8 iron, which I can hit 150 on occasion.” Never mind that the last occasion on which you hit an 8 iron 150 yards was during the Clinton impeachment, or that the last time you hit over a green was when you mistook your 6 for your 9 iron. No, no, no. You wouldn’t want to risk being long of the hole! You’d rather rely on perfection to get you close. Dumb. We all do it, or at least many of us do, and if you see yourself reflected in this description, then listen up. Can the ego and start playing smarter. That might begin with playing a course you can manage.


I’ve included a convenient chart that shows, in fairly specific terms, what length course we should be playing based on average driving distance. You will note that the highest average driving distance shown on the chart is 275 yards. There are two reasons for this. First, 275 is a very healthy driving average for an amateur, so that represents a fair outside limit at which to begin scaling back the course. Second, if you average over 275 off the tee, then you don’t need to move up. Go ahead and play the tips…and enjoy it while it lasts.


By the way, there’s no reason you have to play uniformly from the same set of tees. I’ve been going on a golf trip to Arizona with the same group of guys for the last 12 years. Everyone has a single digit handicap, so when we began years ago we played everywhere from the tips. As we got older, we discovered that we were stupid. 36 holes a day during which 420 yard par fours were the short ones just became too much. So we moved up one set on the par 4s, but continued to play par 3s and 5s from the tips. On some courses where the 3s were relentlessly long, we might move up a set on all or some by agreement. Everyone has more fun, particularly a certain chubby guy who suffers frequent bouts of driver yips.


So try moving up on some or all your holes. You’ll have more fun.



This chart is a guideline to help golfers align their average driving distance with the course length best suited to their abilities.


Driver Distance

Recommended 18-Hole Yardages





















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