chocking down on club

Think about your most recent round of golf.

How many times did you face an approach to the green or a tee shot on a par 3 where the yardage exactly matched the distance you typically hit a particular club? (For example, 160 yards if a good 6-iron goes that distance.) Five times? Three times? Once?

The golf gods are rarely so kind. Even when they do bestow us with a favorable yardage, there's usually another factor or two – wind, elevation change – that pushes the “real” yardage up or down. Long story short: You must be able to adjust when you don't have precisely the right club for the shot.

Here are a few basic rules to follow when you're “between clubs,” using a 7-iron and 8-iron to demonstrate:

  • Choose the longer club (7-iron), unless going past the pin or over the green promises more trouble than coming up short.
  • If hitting the longer club, grip down an inch or so, which will cut down the distance the ball travels.
  • If a high shot is called for, make a full swing with the more lofted (shorter) club.
  • If a low shot is best, take the longer club, grip down and swing easy.
  • One you've chosen a club, commit to the shot completely. You don't want to swing too easily and decelerate with the longer club, nor try to “kill it” and overswing with the shorter one.

When you are just getting started in golf, it seems like 14 clubs – the allowed limit under the rules – is more than you could ever need.

Between Clubs on the Approach – Here's What to Do

After all, it's hard enough to learn how to hit one or two of those clubs, so using 14 different options seems impossible. However, as you get experience and polish your skills, you quickly learn that 14 is actually not enough. If given the option, most golfers would carry many more than 14 clubs, in order to cover as many different distances as possible.

Finding yourself 'between clubs' on an approach shot is a common experience in this game. In fact, you will almost certainly face this issue in each and every round that you play. Many times, it will feel like you are between clubs on every approach shot you hit, all day long. While this can be frustrating, it's up to you to have a plan. If you know how to deal with this situation properly, you can make it through without doing any damage to your scorecard.

First, let's take a moment to explain what we mean by being between clubs. For the sake of this example, let's imagine that you hit your 8-iron 140 yards under normal conditions. And, under the same conditions, you hit your 7-iron around 155 yards. That means there is a 15-yard gap between those two clubs. So, when you arrive at your ball for an approach shot and find that you have 147-yards to the target, you are officially between clubs. The 7-iron is too much, and the 8-iron is not enough. So, what do you do?

We are going to use the rest of this article to answer that last question. There are a number of options you have available when trying to negotiate an approach shot where you are between clubs. Understanding these options, and practicing them as necessary, is going to give you the best possible chance to arrive at a successful outcome.

All of the content below is based on a right-handed golfer. If you happen to play left-handed, please take a moment to reverse the directions as necessary.

An Important Rule of Thumb

An Important Rule of Thumb

To get started, you need to understand an important rule of thumb as it relates to this topic. That rule of thumb is this – when you find yourself between clubs, you want to use the longer club in most situations. In other words, using the shorter club and swinging hard is not going to be your best bet most of the time. There will be some occasions when it makes sense to use the shorter club – and we'll talk about that later – but in general, you should opt for the club that can cover the distance easily.

There are a few reasons to respect this rule of thumb. For starters, it makes sense to use a club that you know can cover the necessary distance. If you opt for the shorter club, not only will you have to swing hard in order to reach the target, you'll also need to make perfect contact. Any degree of miss-hit on this kind of shot is going to cause you to come up well short. By putting a club in your hands that will have no trouble getting all the way to the hole, you won't have to worry as much about a perfect strike. Even if you miss the sweet spot slightly, you still may come away with a positive result.

Another reason to avoid using the shorter club is the negative impact that a hard swing can have on your technique. If you know that you have to hit the shot as hard as possible to reach the target, your fundamentals are likely to let you down. You'll turn back too far, you may lose your balance, and it's likely that you will pull your head up out of the shot before making contact. Not only do these mistakes spell bad news for the current shot, but you might even have trouble getting back on track for upcoming swings. Amateur golfers tend to swing hard way too often, and the results can be seen in their poor mechanics. Stay within yourself as often as you can on the course, and especially when you are between clubs.

It is going to be tempting to just grab the shorter club and swing hard when out on the course, especially if you are playing well and feeling good about your game. Usually, getting to the target with the shorter club will only mean hitting the ball a few yards farther, so you probably think you're up to the challenge. This is why it is important to have a game plan in mind before you start your round. If you don't know in advance how you are going to handle being between clubs, you'll be more likely to make a bad decision.

While the rule of thumb we are suggesting states that you should opt for the longer club in most situations, that should not be taken as an across-the-board instruction. Sometimes, it will make sense to use the shorter club, depending on the circumstances at hand. Golf is a game which throws an incredible number of different challenges as you during the course of a round, so you always need to be willing to adapt your game on the fly. Most of the time, you are going to be wise to use the longer club, but that is not true in every single circumstance.

Finding Your Target

Finding Your Target

Before you settle on which club you are going to use for this kind of shot, you need to first decide on a target. A great number of golfers think that the hole itself is automatically the target for an approach shot, but that is not necessarily the case. Sure, you are going to aim at the hole with plenty of your approaches, but you'll also need to aim away from the hole in some instances. Wisely selecting a logical target for the shot at hand is one of your main tasks as a golfer.

So, why would you decide to aim away from the hole? Let's take a closer look.

  • Avoid a hazard. One obvious reason to aim away from the hole is to stay safely away from a hazard. If the hole is positioned near a water hazard, for example, you will likely want to aim at least a few yards to the safe side of the hole. Even if you are feeling good about your swing, you always want to provide yourself with a little margin for error. Playing away from the hole in this situation is the prudent decision, even if it does slightly reduce your chances of making a birdie. Keeping big numbers off the scorecard is one of the best things you can do for your game as a whole, and that all starts by keeping the ball in play.
  • Avoiding the short side. The idea here is the same as it is when trying to avoid a hazard, except in this case you are trying to steer clear of the short side of the green. The 'short side' is the side of the green closest to where the hole is located. It is generally harder to get up and down from the short side than other sides of the green, meaning you don't want to miss in this spot. So, for example, if the hole is cut near the back of the green, going long and sending your ball into the back rough is going to place you on the short side. From there, you'll likely have a difficult up and down to save your par. If you were to stay short of the hole in this scenario, you'd almost certainly be better off – even if that meant dealing with a relatively long putt.
  • Position yourself for an easier putt. When playing an approach shot to a severely sloped green, it is a good idea to intentionally play to the low side of the hole. If you execute your shot and position the ball on the low side, you will have an uphill putt. By getting to putt uphill, you will be able to be more aggressive with the roll, and you should have a greater chance of knocking it in. You aren't always going to be able to position yourself for uphill putts, but you should do so whenever you get the chance.

The three points above are examples of times when you may wish to aim away from the hole, but you'll surely find other reasons to do so as you keep playing this game. To add one more point to the list above, you also may aim away from the hole when the weather conditions are difficult. For instance, on a windy day, you aren't going to be as accurate with your approach shots as you would be otherwise. Playing away from the hole, then, is a smart strategy to give yourself a little more margin for error while still hitting the green.

Now that you have an understanding of what would motivate you to aim away from the hole, it's time to bring this discussion back to the topic of being between clubs. After you have decided on the target you are going to use for a given approach shot, you'll want to find the yardage to that target and work on picking a club. Rather than basing your club selection on the yardage to the hole itself, it is best to pick your club based on the target number. It won't be easy at first to convince yourself to aim away from the hole – especially if your current strategy is to simply aim at the hole each time – but you'll become a better player when you are patient in this way.

It is worth noting that the design of the green and the surrounding area should play a role in your club selection, as well. For example, picture a green which is guarded by a deep bunker that runs across the front edge of the putting surface. If your shot comes up even a bit short, it will be swallowed up by this sand trap and you'll have very little chance to save par. You can think of this bunker as a tie-breaker. If you are trying to decide between two clubs, opt for the longer club to make it more likely that your shot will safely clear the trap.