Instant Bogey Golf: Distance and club choice

A question recently came my way about learning the distances of your clubs. Knowing your distances is important, but there’s more involved than just assigning a number to each club, particularly if you don’t have a repeatable swing that strikes the ball the same way every time.

The pros will have somewhere around 12-14 yards between each club. If they hit a 9 iron 140 yards, they may hit an 8 iron 152-154.  A recreational golfer should have around 7-14 yards between clubs, depending upon how consistently they hit the ball in the sweet spot of the golf club. The slower your swing speed the less difference between clubs, so some people may find it just as beneficial to play with five or six clubs rather than 14.

I tell my students to go to the practice range where there is usually a 100 yard flag. Use a SW, PW, 9 or 8 iron to try and reach the flag. When dealing with distance of irons it is the distance in the air that is important (this is where you hear professional golfers talking about “carrying”). Once you have found your 100 yard club, you can add from there, knowing that you hit the next longer club about 10 yards more. So lets say you hit the your pitching wedge 100 yards.  It’s reasonable, then, to assume you could hit a 9 iron 110, an 8 iron 120, and a 7 iron 130. You can also do this with the 150 yard flag and then go backwards with the lesser clubs.

The pros will tell you that, when they play with amateur golfers during the pro-am rounds before a regular tournament, the recreational golfers just never take enough club. One pro asked his amateur partner if he could choose his clubs for him on the back 9. When the amateur thought he could get there with a 7 iron, his pro gave him a 5 iron. when he wanted to hit a 5 iron the pro gave him a 7 wood. The end result was that the amateur shot 4 strokes lower on the back 9 than he did on the front 9, and did this simply by taking more club for the second shot. The other piece of advice is to go for the center of the green rather than the pin. One college coach had his players play 9 regular holes and then took out the flag sticks on the back nine.  With no flags in sight, the golfers had no idea where the holes were and therefore were forced to go for the center of the greens. Not surprising, they shot better on the back nine than the front nine.

The other mistake they make is to think total distance rather than carry distance. If you hit a 9 iron 140 with roll a 9 iron won’t do you much good if you have a 140 yard shot over water.

Finally, remember that most greens are roughly 30 yards in diameter. This means that if the pin is in the center of the green, you can hit the ball 14 yards short or long, left or right, and still be on the green for a two putt. Even if you just miss the green you have a short chip and then a putt. Most golfers put too much pressure on themselves, thinking that they must make the perfect shot.  All they really need to do is make a shot that they have made at the range a hundred times and just get it on the green, or close to it.

While it is true that pros have a dozen shots with each club (hard, soft, cut, knock down, punch, just to name a few) the recreational golfer is far better off having one shot he can rely on and making that shot most of the time. For me it is a slight draw, but when I was younger it was a high cut which would hit the green and stop. Now that I am older, I need the draw in order to get maximum distance from my shots. However, that is max distance swinging at 70% of max power. Rarely do the golfers on tour come out of their shoes when hitting a shot. Tiger says that when he needs an extra 10 yards off the tee, he increases his swing speed to about 90% of his max force. Not 100%, just 90%.  If he needs to go up to 90%, then he was far below that for his normal swing.

So the basic principles are:

- Find your 100 yard club and/or 150 yard club, and work from there
- Take more club than you think you need, because you probably need it
- You don’t need an easy 5 iron and a full 5 iron, just a 5 iron

Remembering these fundamentals will help you find more greens in fewer strokes, and will help your scores drop like an apple from a tree.

Ron Curran, author of “Instant Golf” and the “Instant Bogey Golf” instructor, shares his golf tips with you from time to time here at If you have a question about how you can improve your game, email him at For more info on Ron’s teaching and availability in your area, visit

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