Do you often find yourself stuck “between clubs” in the fairway, with a decision to make between a club that you hit farther than the required distance and another that flies shorter than what you need? Of course you do – it's the nature of the game.
However, if your set is properly assembled, you'll face fewer of these situations. And when you are between clubs, the difference between the longer club and the shorter one will be narrower and easier to handle.
“Gap management,” as it's called, means putting together your set to minimize the distance gaps from one club to the next. Most golfers have a gap of 10-15 yards between each iron. (For example, they hit the 9-iron 130 yards and the 8-iron 140.) Looked at another way, the loft difference between irons is generally 4°, which equals 10-15 yards for the average player.
The typical golfer's set includes nine core clubs: a driver, 3-wood, irons 5 through 9, pitching wedge and putter. The gaps between these clubs are pretty standard, provided your equipment specs (lengths, clubface lofts, shaft flex) are consistent throughout.
Gap management is most critical in the five “wild-cards” that fill out your 14-club set (the maximum allowed under USGA rules). The wedges make up one group, with hybrids, fairway woods and long irons in the other.
A typical pitching wedge has 46° to 49° loft, and most golfers choose to carry a sand wedge of about 55° as well. That leaves a gap of 6° to 9°, which can translate to a difference of more than 30 yards. Unless you're extremely adept at varying your shot distances, you should consider adding a “gap wedge” to your bag. With a loft of 50° to 53°, a gap wedge will enable to you make more full swings and hit fewer of those delicate half- and three-quarter shots.
You should also explore the option of carrying a lob or “L” wedge. These are primarily used for shots very close to the green, so the gap between the sand and lob wedges isn't as crucial. Lob wedges feature 60° to 64° of loft.
Now for the longer clubs. With the advent of hybrid clubs, few golfers carry irons in the 2-4 range these days. As a basic rule, aim for gaps of about 15 yards between your hybrids and/or fairway woods, with no large gap between your shortest hybrid/wood and your longest iron.
For instance, say you hit the 5-iron 170 yards. Your next club – a 4-hybrid, for example – should deliver 180-185 yards. Ideally, this will hold true right through your longest hybrid or wood.
If you can eliminate any big yardage gaps in your set, you'll simplify club selection and improve your distance control.
What's In Your Bag – The No Gaps Golf Set
Picking the right set of clubs is one of the most important parts of performing your best on the course. Building a great set doesn't just come down to selecting brand names, either – the composition of your set is key to avoid having gaps in your yardages. If there are big holes in the distances that you hit each of your clubs through the set, you will be vulnerable on the course if you end up with a bad number in to the green. Ideally, you will have an even separation in distance between each of your clubs from the driver down to your wedges. When you can accomplish this task, it will be easier to get through a round without having to dramatically adjust your swing.
Obviously, the game is easier when you can make a full swing at the majority of your shots. It is hard enough to hit quality shots when you are able to make a full swing – it is even more difficult to get your ball on line and manage the distance correctly as well. With a well-designed set of clubs that doesn't leave you with big holes, those occasions where you face an uncomfortable yardage will be few and far between. With only 14 clubs in the bag, you can't cover every potential yardage, but you can do a good job of removing large gaps to maximize your chances of having comfortable distances as often as possible.
So do you need to go out and spend thousands of dollars on a top brand name set in order to cover the gaps in your bag? Not at all. You can build a set that covers as many yardages as possible without spending a huge sum of money – unless you choose to purchase a high-end brand name. It's up to you to decide how much money to spend, but you should be able to create a well-balanced set on almost any budget.
Not every set of clubs will work in the same way for every golfer. You could pick out a set of clubs that provides you with a nice separation of yardages, and that same set could not work at all for another player. Therefore, it will be important to test out any clubs that you are considering adding to your bag to make sure they offer the distances that you expect. It is one thing for a set of clubs to 'look good on paper', but it is another thing for them to perform correctly on the course. Don't make assumptions when buying clubs – test all options as thoroughly as possible before making a purchase.
All of the following tips on building a set of golf clubs are based on a right handed golfer. If you play left handed, please reverse the directions accordingly.
Charting Your Current Set
Assuming you already play golf, you already have a set of clubs to consider in this equation. That means that you should figure out exactly how far each of the clubs in your current set can hit the ball before you decide on what changes are necessary. It is essential to have an accurate accounting of current distances or you won't be able to make informed decisions. You never want to fix problems that don't exist in the first place – so take your time to learn your current yardages prior to purchasing new clubs (or making adjustments to your current clubs).
When determining how far you hit the ball presently, never use yardages from the driving range as a guide. There are a couple of problems with this method. First, and most important, are the range balls themselves. Many driving ranges use flight-restricted golf balls that will not travel as far as a regular golf ball. The ranges do this so they lose fewer balls, but as a result, you will not be able to get a good judge on how far your shots are traveling. Also, even if you are hitting on a range with full-flight balls, those balls have been hit thousands of times and are likely beginning to wear out.
Another problem with judging your distances on the driving range is the perspective that you have (or don't have) on your shots. It might look like your ball landed by the 100 yard marker, for example, but it could have actually been ten yards long or ten yards short. It is difficult to be accurate when you can't walk out onto the range and see for yourself where the ball hit the ground. When you add it all up, there is just no way to learn anything concrete about your distances by hitting balls on the range. If you want to chart your yardages and make improvements in your set, you are going to have to do the work out on the course.
So how do you go about doing that work? You need to have a plan in place, and then execute that plan carefully over the next few rounds that you play. It shouldn't take more than a few rounds to accumulate enough data to make solid decisions about your set. The important point here is to be consistent and accurate when gathering your data. If you don't put accurate numbers into your chart, the conclusions you make about your clubs may be incorrect.
Follow the steps below to chart your yardages and learn about the strengths and weakness of your current set construction –
- The first thing you will need for this project is a distance measuring device. Without either a GPS or a rangefinder to help you on the course, it will be nearly impossible to get accurate yardages. You can pick either a GPS unit that is designed for golf, or a laser rangefinder – either one will work just fine. These units can get rather expensive, so shop around for a good deal before you buy.
- Next, locate a small notebook that you can place in your pocket during your upcoming rounds of golf. This notebook will be the place where all of your yardages are recorded. You will only be writing down a few numbers for each hole, so don't worry about having a ton of space – you will only need one or two pages to record 18 holes worth of results.
- Before starting your round, create spaces inside the notebook to write down the information related to your shots from the first hole to the last. Assuming you are playing 18 holes, create 18 lines and indicate whether each hole is a par three, par four, or par five. By doing this in advance, you will save yourself time when actually out on the course.
- You are going to be recording the yardage for each shot that you hit during your round. For shots with your driver or fairway metals, write down the club and the total distance of the shot (after roll). For iron shots, write down the club and the carry distance of the shot.
- In order to get accurate yardages after you hit the shot, you need to know exactly how far you had to the target. So, for example, if you had 150 to the hole and your ball landed five yards short, you will know you hit that club 145 yards. When measuring long shots like a driver, you have a couple of options. If you are using a GPS device, use the 'mark' function to measure the distance between where you teed off and where the ball finished. If using a rangefinder, walk to your ball and then use the rangefinder to measure back to a landmark near the tee. This method isn't perfect, but it should get you within a couple of yards.
- Play your round as normal while recording your distances on each shot. Make sure that you are not trying to hit the ball 'extra hard' in order to max out your distance – simply play your usual game and make a note of the yardages as you go. There is no need to think much about your findings at this point, either. Have fun playing the round and try to shoot the best score possible.
Use the system above to record all of your yardages over the course of five to ten rounds of golf. Obviously, the more rounds you play, the more accurate your data will become. However, even after just five rounds, you should have hit enough shots with most of your clubs that you can start to spot trends and patterns. If you wish, you can enter your findings into a spreadsheet in order to make them easier to review.
Doing the Math
You should never make too much out of the results of one or two shots. You need to have distances for at least a handful of shots with each club before you can get a good judge on your averages. Miss-hits are common in golf, even among good players, so you don't want to make a poor judgement about your set of clubs based on a couple of bad swings. For that reason, take the time to calculate an average distance with each club that was hit during this 'experiment'. Once you have average yardages calculated for all 13 clubs (you aren't including the putter, for obvious reasons), write them down on a piece of paper and review your results.
Right off the bat, do you notice any glaring holes in your set? As you move through your set of irons, the distance gap should ideally be around 12 yards or so. Of course, it isn't going to be exactly 12 yards between each club, but that is a good number to keep in mind as you look over your distances. For example, if you find that you hit an 8 iron 130 yards, a 7 iron 144 yards, and a 6 iron 155 yards, you can be happy with those results. The gaps between those distances fall in a normal span, and you should be able to cover all of the distances in that range using one of those three clubs.
When looking at the numbers for your driver and fairway metals, you can expect the gaps to be larger. If you hit your driver 260 yards, you may only be able to hit your three wood 230 or so – and that's okay. The biggest point to watch for with relation to your fairway metals is the transition from those clubs into your long irons. You don't want to have to span a big gap from fairway metals (or hybrids) to long irons, so check those numbers carefully. If anything, you would rather have your gap between your shortest fairway metal and your longest iron be a little small. Since long irons and fairway metals have different characteristics, those two clubs can coexist in the same set even if they offer similar yardages.
The most common places to look for problems with your distance gaps is in your long irons and your wedges. Most likely, the middle of your set will be just fine, but you certainly want to review your numbers just in case. However, for the average amateur golfer, the biggest gains can be seen by solving gap problems in the wedges and the long irons. Getting your long irons right from a distance perspective is crucial because they are often used on par threes. For your wedges, it is important to have appropriate gaps so you don't have to continually hit altered shots in order to take distance off of the ball.
Fixing Your Gap Problems
Most likely, you will uncover at least one or two problem areas within your set. Don't feel bad about having used a set with improper distance gaps – almost every amateur golfer around shares this same issue. However, you will want to get the matter sorted out as soon as possible in order to improve your chances at shooting good scores.
Does that mean you have to rush out and use your credit card to buy all new clubs? Absolutely not. In fact, before you buy new clubs, it would be a good idea to see if you can adjust your current set to work more efficiently. There are a number of ways in which you can change golf clubs to alter their performance characteristics, and many of them are affordable (or even free). Only when you have exhausted these options should you move on to buying brand new clubs to rebuild your set.
Following are three ways in which you can alter your current clubs to fine tune their distances.
- Have the clubs measured and adjusted. Even clubs from the best manufacturers in the game don't always end up in your hands exactly as you would expect. For example, a wedge that says it has 52* of loft may actually have 51* or 53* While single degrees might not seem like a big deal, they can be huge when it comes to distance gaps. This about it this way – if you have one wedge which is supposed to be 52* but is a degree weak, and a 56* that is a degree strong, you will actually have wedges that are only separated by two degrees total (not enough to make a significant distance difference). Because of these inconsistencies, it is a great idea to visit your local pro shop and ask them to measure your clubs. There will probably be a small fee for this service, and they may even offer to adjust them to their correct lofts at no additional charge.
- Consider shaft changes. This is an idea that is mostly useful when talking about drivers and fairway woods. For example, some players run into the problem of hitting their three wood just as far as their driver. When that is the case, you might want to look at the shafts that you are using in these two clubs. A large number of amateurs play with mismatched shafts in their long clubs, but that approach can lead to inconsistency. Try getting the same shaft in both your driver and fairway metals so you can depend on the same ball flight from each of the clubs.
- Check grips too. Believe it or not, the grips on your clubs can actually affect how far you hit the ball. Grips that fit your hands properly will help you to fully release the club through impact, leading to better club head speed, and more yardage. At the same time, grips that don't work for your hands can easily cost you yards. If you find that the grips on your clubs are not all the same size, or are not in the same condition, try purchasing a matching set of grips and having them installed all at once. New grips feel great in your hands, and they just might help you better manage your distances as well.
The solutions above are far more cost-effective than buying all new clubs. You might get to that point eventually, but it only makes sense to start out with more reasonable measures. When having any work done on your clubs, be sure to visit a qualified professional who knows how to modify golf clubs without harming their performance characteristics.
Buying Some New Sticks
If you do reach a point where buying some new clubs is the only reasonable option, you will want to have a game plan going in to those purchases so that you don't spend more than necessary to correct the issue. For example, if the problem is only in your wedges, there is no need to replace every club in the bag. Highlight the problem areas and then shop for new clubs that can to a better job of providing you with even distance gaps.
How do you know if new clubs will work better than the old ones? Try them out for yourself – it's the only way. More and more golf shops are allowing potential buyers to use clubs on the course, so try to locate a shop near you that offers this service. Reading reviews or hitting balls on the range can give you a basic idea of the quality of a particular club, but it will do nothing to tell you if the club is going to fly the proper distance. Just as when you were creating your distance chart earlier, the only way to know how far a new club will hit the ball is to put it to the test under real conditions. You might have to go through a few different brands and models until you find the right solution, but that is better than buying a club that leaves you with the same problem as before. Considering the price of many new clubs on the market, it is better to do all of your homework and research upfront before putting your money on the table.
Don't make the mistake of feeling like you have to buy a particular name brand in order to play good golf. There are plenty of companies making quality golf clubs – and they aren't just the ones who sponsor the top players on the PGA Tour. Pick clubs based on the needs of your game, not on the desire to 'look cool' out on the course. The only goal is to shoot a low score, and the golf ball has no idea what brand of club you are using to do the job.
It will take a little bit of time and effort to outline your club yardages and discover any gaps that may exist. However, going through the process will give you a chance to quickly improve your game simply by building a better set of clubs. Controlling your distance is one of the most important skills in the game of golf, and it is made far easier when you have a set of clubs that always gives you a good option for any yardage that you encounter. Go through the process above to discover any yardage gap problems, and then quickly fill those holes to play better golf.