Golfers are incredibly demanding of themselves, and it often hinders their ability to enjoy the game and play better. A large part of this has to do with having warped expectations on the golf course. I've been around thousands of golfers in my life, and one area in particular where most of us struggle is how we evaluate the quality of the shot we just hit.
For most, if they don't land the ball within a small window of where they aim, the swing is a failure. The truth of the matter is many of those shots weren't that bad. When you take a look at some statistics, it is way better than anyone could expect.
In this article, I'd like to adjust your expectations of what is considered a "good" golf shot. While I can't define it precisely for all of you, I think most of you will realize that things aren't as bad as they seem. I'll go through each shot on the course and give you a few statistics from the PGA Tour and GAME GOLF that will hopefully change your perspective, and give you renewed clarity on your game.
Where you hit the ball off the tee is extremely important in determining what your eventual score will be on any given hole. Overall, your goal should be to hit the ball as far as possible while keeping it in play and giving yourself a chance to hit a green in regulation.
For most, the measuring stick for success is whether or not you hit the fairway. I'll get into why using this stat is a flawed way of thinking, but let's take a look at some percentages.
PGA Tour: 61%
Scratch Golfer: 53%
85-90 Avg Score: 43%
95-100 Avg Score: 38%
Even at the highest level of golf, PGA Tour players and scratch golfers are barely hitting half of the fairways off the tee. So why are you getting so angry when you miss the short stuff?
Hitting the fairway is a good shot, but in my opinion, a successful tee shot is really about the opportunity on your approach shot. Are you giving yourself a chance to get the ball on or near the green?
Every golfer has a broader dispersion off the tee than they realize. I explored how you can plan your tee shots using dispersion in this article. For example, most PGA Tour players and scratch golfers have about a 65-70 yard dispersion off the tee with their driver. Fairway widths can range anywhere from 25-65 yards, with most courses anywhere between 30 to 40 yards.
So it makes complete sense why the best golfers struggle to hit most fairways. However, one thing they are incredibly skilled at is keeping their ball in play. Avoiding hazards, trees, and an area of trouble that prohibits you from having a clear shot to the green is how they keep their scores lower.
Therefore, I think you should stop using the fairway as the measuring stick for your success off the tee. If you keep the ball in play, avoid significant trouble, and give yourself a clear path to the green, you have done well for yourself.
I've witnessed plenty of golfers lose their minds when they miss a green from 150 yards (myself included). I've also seen quite a few get angry at themselves when they don't land it within 10 feet of the pin.
Your approach shot is statistically the most important shot in golf. Mark Broadie proved this in his book Every Shot Counts. It should go without saying that your overall goal should be to hit the green, but how difficult is that? Let's take a look at some green in regulation stats:
PGA Tour: 67%
Scratch Golfer: 67%
85-90 Avg Score: 28%
95-100 Avg Score: 17%
You can see that there is a massive difference between the best golfers in the world and the typical player in this category. If you want to shoot your lowest scores, this is an area of the game where even marginal improvement will yield significant results.
However, that truth is that for most golfers you are going to miss the majority of greens you are aiming at. It's OK! Missing a green is not really a bad golf shot - missing it in the wrong area is really what penalizes you the most.
I've written numerous articles about how aiming at the pin and trying to make birdies is a failing strategy. When golfers get too aggressive with their approach shots, it can lead to the dreaded short-side miss.
So what is a good approach shot? Hitting any part of the green should be considered a success (forget about how close to the pin it is). I won't stop there though...
Even if you miss the green, if you have given yourself an easy pitch or chip shot with plenty of green to work with, I would consider that a success as well. That way you can give yourself a chance at making par, or hopefully bogey at worst.
Recovery shots are one of my favorites, and the stat I'm about to share usually blows a golfer's mind.
Let's say you have hit a weak shot off the tee, and now you are in the trees with no direct line to the green. Many of you try to pull off the hero shot and fail miserably.
Did you know that more than 80% of the time, PGA Tour players are making bogey from recovery situations? Most people are shocked when they hear that because in television broadcasts you are mostly shown the shots that work out (usually Phil Mickelson's).
So what makes a good recovery shot? No, it's not hitting the green - it is merely getting your ball back to safety, and giving yourself a clear shot to the green. If you can do that, and make bogey, you are keeping pace with the best golfers on the planet!
Putting is by far and away the area of the game where golfers have the worst definition of success. Even at the highest levels, the measuring stick is binary - did the ball go in the hole or not?
When you take a look at the statistics, it becomes clear that putting is far more difficult than most realize.
I've shown this table multiple times on this site because it makes it so clear just how hard it is to make putts even from 8 feet.
While we all want to hole more putts, I believe that your success on the green is really about your proximity to the hole and limiting three putts. It is impossible to land your ball inside of 10 feet with your approach shots on average (PGA Tour players average about 20 feet from 100-125 yards).
The reality is that our first putt on most greens has a slim chance of going in. However, how close you leave it to the hole with your next putt is extremely important. If you can leave it inside of three feet on average, you will almost eliminate three-putting. That is why I believe controlling your speed on the green is the most critical skill and the measuring stick of a good putt.
If you can match the speed with the break and distance of the putt, then you will sink a few more of those longer putts, and more importantly, give yourself more stress-free tap-ins.
While this may be hard to do, you should stop evaluating all of your putts based on whether or not they go in the hole.
Wrapping It Up: You Are Probably Better Than You Think
Golf can be a very frustrating game if you have the wrong perspective. Golfers are needlessly torturing themselves on the course because their measuring stick of success is entirely misguided. I hope this article relieved some of your unrealistic expectations.
In my opinion, a good golf shot is not necessarily about hitting fairways, knocking down pins, and sinking long putts. It's mostly about giving yourself a better chance to post a lower score on the hole and avoid big numbers. The next time you are on the course, try keeping this perspective and it will likely keep you in a better mental state!