You Don't Need Perfection to Reach Your Goals

There is usually a gap between the golf you're playing right now, and the level you want to get to. Typically, those goals are centered around the scoring milestones of breaking 80, 90, and 100. What I have found in my own game and many others, is that there are often unrealistic expectations. Likely, the scoring level you want to get to doesn't look like you think it does. In this article, I'll share a few statistics that will likely ease the pressure you are putting on your golf game.

There Is No Such Thing As Perfection

For a long time, before I became a scratch golfer, my goal was to break 80 consistently. Unfortunately, I assumed I had to play perfectly to get there.

If I made a few mistakes earlier in my round, it would throw off my mental state for the rest of the day. The pressure to make up for the "errors" (which were actually reasonable outcomes) overshadowed my ability to stay patient.

I know I am not alone in this because I witness the same kind of behavior in almost every golfer I play with. No one really sits us down and explains what shooting an 85 looks like.

The good news is that no matter what your hopes are for your game, I can tell you with complete certainty that you can get there while doing the following:

  • Missing the majority of fairways
  • Hitting your drives significantly less than 250 yards
  • Missing the majority of greens in regulation
  • Mostly two-putting
  • Failing to get up and down for par more than 70% of the time

Notice most of the words I used there - missing, failing, and less than. They're all negative in nature. I try to stay positive with most things golf-related, but the truth is you can make plenty of mistakes and still reach your goals. It's also why I created my 2/3 rule.

What Does Golf Look Like By Scoring Level?

Over the past decade, technology has done a great job at de-mystifying golf. A lot of the old anecdotal (and sometimes inaccurate) information about the game has been replaced with reliable data that gives us great insights into all parts of the game.

One area, in particular, I have focused on is golfer performance by scoring level. Around 2014, several companies started building GPS technology that allowed golfers to tag their shots as they played. For the first time, we could see the kind of statistical analysis that was available for PGA Tour players through ShotLink, but for everyday golfers. When the aggregate data started coming in, there were some interesting insights.

While traditional stats aren't always the best measuring stick for golfer performance, they do shed plenty of light on what's going on in the general golfing public. The following data is from GAME GOLF and taken from their database of tens of millions of golf shots from players around the world.

Scoring LevelDriving DistanceFairway %GIR %Putts/HoleScrambling %Sand Save %75-80229 yards48471.79293185-90205 yards43281.93151895-100183 yards38172.05710

I used stats that are just below the significant scoring milestones to give some overall insights. Since these are averages, there will always be exceptions to the rule, but allow me to present you with some main thoughts.

  • You don't need tremendous distance - we've seen an explosion of power in professional golf, but that has not translated as much as you think it would to the recreational level. Golfers who are breaking 80 don't generally drive it more than 230 yards off the tee. There's no question that increasing distance will help you shoot lower scores, and I gave some tips in this article, but please give up the notion that you need to bomb it off the tee!
  • Fairways aren't everything - if you miss a fairway, don't fret. This is one of the most misleading statistics out there. The key to improving is making sure you are avoiding trouble off the tee. Missing a fairway in the rough, while still having a clear shot to the green is actually a good thing! This article explores a tee-shot strategy and here is a way to track your success off the tee rather than using fairways hit.
  • Greens in regulation are vital - of all the traditional stats out there, I always tell golfers to focus on GIR. If you want to shoot your lowest scores, you need to hit more greens per round. Your chances of posting a lower score on any given hole drop dramatically when you can get the ball on the putting surface with your approach shot. However, you can still miss more than 50% of greens during your round, and shoot some great scores.
  • Putting is not the great separator - Because holing putts outside of five to eight feet is so tricky, this is a part of the game where golfers are not able to separate themselves as much by scoring level. Putts per hole can be a misleading stat, but on the whole, you can see that there is not a vast difference from a golfer who is just breaking 100 to one that is breaking 80. I believe putting is much more about avoiding three-putts than it is draining ten footers as the recreational level.
  • You don't need to be Phil with a wedge - Phil Mickelson is arguably the great wedge magician of all time. For decades he has gotten up and down for par from just about everywhere on a golf course. Fortunately, ordinary golfers don't need to do the same. Getting up and down for par is nice, but you can see that it's still challenging. What you do want to avoid are those wedge chunks and skulls that fail to get on the putting surface. Those are the shots that cause real damage, double bogeys, or worse.

Breathe A Sigh Of Relief

I'm hoping these statistics have changed your mind on whatever level of golf you are hoping to get to, and provided some needed relief. All golfers know that the game is challenging, but what they usually don't know is that they can make more mistakes than they think. In truth, they're not really mistakes, they are just reasonable outcomes. Because we view things like hitting fairways and greens as a success or failure, it's hard not to see them as anything but a binary event.

Most of the game is really in the gray area. If you missed a fairway, how badly did you miss it? Do you still have a shot to the green? Well good! That's not a failure, you've done an excellent job at limiting a larger score.

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