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The Golf Secret Better Players Already Know

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Written By: Jon Sherman

The conventional wisdom in golf has always been that the long game is important, but your short game is where scoring actually occurs. The famous saying, “Drive for show, putt for dough” has been muttered a million times over the years.

However, with the emergence of new statistics from Every Shot Counts author Mark Broadie and others exploring similar research, the old adage is falling out of favor. Broadie uncovered a mountain of evidence that suggests that long iron and hybrid play have the most significant impact on the scores we shoot.

Broadie concludes that the long game is immensely important.

We don't dispute that. It’s unquestionably true for professionals, but how well does that actually translate to the average golfer? 

Should you leave your wedges and putter in the bag and spend more time working on your long game?

Don’t Abandon The Short Game

My theory has always been that higher-handicapped golfers spend way too much time practicing their long game at the expense of their wedge and putter play. If you go to any driving range right now you’ll see stalls filled with golfers banging away on their drivers.

After Every Shot Counts was released, I worried that the rise of Strokes Gained would mean wedges and putter would fall even further by the wayside.

Every golfer on this planet can develop a great short game.

Here’s my problem with the new stats:

My argument against what Every Shot Counts teaches us...the notion that the long game is the key to lower scores, boils down to one undeniable constraint.

Time

...and most of us don't have nearly enough of it.

For most of you reading this, the amount of time you devote to improving your golf game is limited. Between work, family obligations, and all the other things that get in the way of golf, we just don’t have as much time as the pros do to work on our games.

Improving your long game means fixing your swing. For most, that’s an extremely time-consuming process that offers no guarantees of improvement. How many golfers have you known who have spent hours trying to re-tool their swings, only to finish worse off than when they started?

While the stats say hitting the ball farther with more accuracy is the path to lower scores, for many of us, it’s just not feasible to put in the time necessary to turn statistical probability into reality.

Where is your time best spent?

Only a select group of golfers will have the physique, athleticism and technique to hit the ball with tremendous length and accuracy. Reaching that level of proficiency takes a great deal of time and effort in addition to having the natural physical ability. No matter how much time we spend with the driver, the overwhelming majority of us will never hit it like Jason Day.

However, every golfer on this planet can develop a great short game.

I think Dave Pelz sums it up nicely in this clip…

Your short game can be the great equalizer in golf, and it requires much less time and effort to master than the long game. How do I know that? Well, because it was the key for me.

My story

If I had to summarize most of my golfing career, I would say it would be “wasted talent.” Since I took up the game at 10 years old, I have always been an above-average ball striker. As a kid, I spent thousands of hours hitting golf balls, and mostly focusing on the longer game. It was fun, and I loved doing it.

Most people who saw me on a driving range would assume I was a scratch golfer because of the way I hit the ball.

Sadly, that wasn’t the case.

I remember taking a lesson with a pro down in Florida many years ago. He watched me hit the ball for about 20 minutes as I went through my bag executing perfect shots – 300 yard drives, 7-irons thrown at the pin with laser accuracy.

“So do you shoot in the 60s and low 70s? What’s the problem?”

I sheepishly told him that it wasn’t the case. I had played competitively in high school and college, and my opponents routinely beat my brains in because their wedge play was superior and they were better putters.

My issue was that I was TERRIFIED of my short game, because I had never really taken the time to commit to it.

I would only shoot my best scores when my swing was completely on, and I was able to hit a ton of greens. Sadly, those rounds were few and far between, and the times when my swing was off, my scores ballooned because I simply couldn’t get up and down for par.

Does this sounds familiar to you? It’s the story for most golfers regardless of the scores they are shooting.

So what changed for me?

On which part of your game do you spend the majority of your practice time?

View Results

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Practice Time

I read Dave Pelz’s The Short Game Bible about 10 years ago. Not only did it convince me that the path to lower scores was going to be through my wedge game, but it gave me the tools to understand how to play those shots more effectively. I devoted my practice sessions to honing in my wedge distances, and improving my chipping technique.

The beauty about the short game is that once you understand the proper technique, it’s easy to make huge strides in that part of the game. To me, the short game is golf’s low-hanging fruit because it’s where you can improve your scores with the lowest time investment.

I credit this shift in my philosophy to improving from a 4-8 handicap down to a .7 handicap as of this spring (I’m currently a 2 right now). Improving my wedge game did a few things:

  • I was able to lower my scores on rounds where my full swing was off. Rounds where I would have shot an 84 or 85 were now a 78 or 79.
  • My on-course demeanor improved. I was no longer as worried or distressed when I missed a green. Instead of dreading my wedges, I knew that I could get up and down for par from anywhere on the course. My short game was like a shield against errant swings.
  • I made more putts because I was leaving myself inside of 10 feet, which is the magic distance where you actually have a chance to make them.

better-player-practice-breakdown

My story is just one guy’s story, and anecdotal evidence probably isn’t compelling for most readers of this site.

Given newer stats that strongly suggest we focus on the long game, it might seem that my recommendation to invest more of your precious practice time on the short game is ill-advised, maybe even dead wrong.

But I believe down to my core that all great golfers have great short games. They weren’t born with them. They got them by spending a good chunk of their practice time on and around the green. I always noticed the better players working with their wedges and putter more, and had seen the results in my own game.

How could I prove it though? Sending out a poll to a few hundred golfers asking them to detail their practice habits was not going to cut it.

Thankfully we are at a point where technology can give us the answer.

I reached out to my friends at Swingbyte, and asked if they would run some numbers from their database. Their popular swing analysis tool is used by thousands of golfers around the world during practice sessions. SwingByte’s data provides us with the perfect way to really determine which clubs golfers are spending the bulk of their practice time with.

What if I was completely wrong?

SwingByte provided a spreadsheet that broke down how many shots were recorded with each club, separated into categories based on handicaps. With over 3 ½ million golf shots to sort through, I had some real insight into where golfers are actually spending their time practicing.

The Results

The data is definitive. Single-digit handicaps spend significantly more time practicing with their wedges and putters than higher-handicapped golfers do.

swing-byte-chart

The chart above clearly illustrates that as handicap goes up, the amount of practice time devoted to the short game goes down.

What’s also interesting is that when you look at practice time with longer clubs (5 iron and above) and driver, an inverse relationship is revealed. As playing ability goes up, the time spent on this portion of the game goes down.

This presents an interesting dilemma, and it goes against Broadie’s findings. Based on his data you would expect that better golfers would devote more of their practice time to the long game, but the reality is exactly the opposite.

What does all of this mean?

I’m not arguing against Mark Broadie’s data that suggests improving your long game is the key to lowering your scores,  but we have to be realistic. We have to be practical.

Conquering the long game is inherently more difficult, and it takes significantly more time. Most of us just don’t have a ton of that precious resource.

The data Swingbyte provided us shows that better golfers are spending more of their practice time on the short game, and it’s working for them. I believe this is clear evidence that the short game still offers the best bang for your buck in terms of the amount of time you invest versus the impact on your actual scores.

We are all infatuated with hitting the long ball, and it’s certainly a worthy cause. However, at the level that most of us play, and given the reality of our time constraints, it still makes sense to focus on the short game.

About Jon Sherman

Jon is the owner of Practical Golf, a site dedicated to being an honest resource for golfers of all levels looking to improve their games. After reaching his lifelong goal of becoming a scratch golfer, he wants to share everything he has learned. Jon's articles offer straightforward advice that are easy to understand and implement.

He believes that sometimes the simple answers are the best ones.

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Comments

{ 78 comments… read them below or add one }

Simon December 14, 2015 at 1:18 pm

I totally agree with Mark Broadie if you are a pro but think that telling club golfers to do the same thing is very unrealistic. Granted an extra 50 yards would improve any golfers chance of shooting lower scores. Regular amateurs who have an understanding of the game may already have reached the limits of length off the tee if they hold a decent handicap.
Add to the fact that most regular golfers are at an age when pro golfers are past their physical peak. If your golfer is a teenager then he would be best served finding as much length as he can but not when you have already said goodbye to 40.
Even if you made the pursuit of perfecting the long game their is still the small matter of getting up and down on the 6-8 greens you will miss when you reach that lofty professional standard.

I also agree with this article that due to circumstances for most of us golf is a pass time and not a career. Time is limited and I know I have made the most improvement in the last two years when I upped my short game practice. Benefits of a big garden paid off. Dropped my handicap 14 points.

I still work on my long game but know that at this point in my life the gains are minimal. More accuracy is realistic gaining swing speed not so much. As someone else pointed out to truly have a short game you need a lot of different shots. It’s also fun to manipulate the ball around the greens and any beginner after to getting a serviceable swing through to lower handicaps are never wasting their time working with wedges.

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ignorance December 6, 2015 at 10:45 am

Why are there so few places to practice realistic short game situations? Most people practice at the range as they can’t afford golf memberships and don’t have the time to practice at a course. How many places have a chipping/pitching range with a good green to practice fairway shots, greenside shots, greenside bunker shots, uphill/downhill greenside shots, thick rough chips,…?

Unless you have time to play a round by yourself on a course that’s not so busy I’m befuddled how you accomplish this.

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Ash January 5, 2016 at 2:03 am

Yes its a fact, most courses do not have adequate pitching practice (the dreaded ‘no chipping’ sign) and this situation isnt likely to improve any time soon. Living in so cal near San Diego, I’m no doubt spoiled, but am able to find several local public courses that have driving ranges and practice areas that have an area or separate green specifically for chipping/pitching and also a practice bunker. Whats more, while there is a charge for range balls, the putting and chipping area are FREE. Now thats a deal! No question I truly support those facilities and usually hit a bucket of balls and also practice the around the green shots. Interestingly, its noticeable that typically the chipping green is practically deserted compared to the driving range!

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Troy December 5, 2015 at 4:25 pm

Nice post,

No question every part of the golf game is important. I personally spend more time on my wedges and short game as I hit a lot of shots into par-4’s with these clubs. I think it also depends on where your game is at and what you need to most improve on.

Cheers

Troy

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cksurfdude December 2, 2015 at 11:32 am

Agree with the author’s premise.

As far as [egad!] anecdotal evidence, consider the most recent winner of The [British] Open – undeniably a proper test of controlling your golf ball and hitting challenging greens in a good spot – and the victory was fairly unanimously credited to his near 100% spot-on wedge play.

Similarly, and again an unscientific observation, but … look closely at the fairway “landing zone” in any pro tournament, and even on most ‘regular’ courses: a majority of tee shots end up in pretty much the same [small, for the pros] area BUT not all players end up with the score on that hole; i.e. one reasonable conclusion IMHO could be that as you get closer to the hole the more important a sharp short game becomes….

(especially putting: eliminate three putts and drop one stroke for every hole where that has happened to you)

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THEHacker December 1, 2015 at 7:23 am

I think short game is deceptively hard to improve. On the course, one has to deal with different conditions, lies etc… and then there’s the additional problem of estimating distance to the target. I’m not talking about known distance like 100, 120, 150m which we can more or less estimate from markers. I’m talking about weird distances from 30 – 80 meters, from weird locations when you missed the green way left / right, from funky lies etc… Those are the killers.

On the other hand, I think that if one is in reasonable shape and has a reasonably sound swing, it is possible to play pretty good golf. To me the key is the 2nd shot for most par 4. Depending on how long you are off the tee, it’s maybe a short iron for the long hitters, or mid – long irons for the shorter ones. So for me I put in quite a lot of time for the mid irons, and normally practice these early in the session after I’m loosen up.

That said practising driver is so much fun and so satisfying for me, and something that I leave to the end of the practice session.

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dwayne December 1, 2015 at 11:25 pm

Yes on course there are so many weird situations that the short game must conquer these can’t be recreated at the practice ranges where schmucks like me go, these skills have to be acquired while playing on the course. I usually try to play 9 holes a week, solo, yellow ball vs white ball, and these challenging short game shots opportunities arise frequently.

Too frequently actually.

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ryebread November 30, 2015 at 4:28 pm

The problem with golf is that no shot is discrete. Bad shots compound. Good shots put you in position to score.

Unless one can avoid that type of shot completely (like avoiding sand), it pays to work on the part of the game that one is weakest at. It’s a lot easier to go from bad to good than it is to go from good to great. It also prevents multiple bad shots that happen in a row because of one real stinker.

I tend to think for the average hack (like me) with limited practice time, it should be spent:
– 25% on putting
– 25% on wedges
– 25% on driver
– 25% on all else

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alfriday November 28, 2015 at 1:09 pm

“Even though putting only accounts for a stroke or two of the difference in scores between a typical 100-golfer and a typical 90-golfer, putts might be the easiest strokes to erase from your scorecard.” Every Shot Counts, p. 129.

For the quickest and easiest way to drop strokes, perhaps we should be going to the practice green.

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CG Freak November 26, 2015 at 4:00 pm

There are few points in this article I’l like to raise.
Has there been anyone who have just started to play golf and practice like <5 handicap? I assume that not many. Related to this have these persons able to lower they handicap faster than others who practice more driver and long clubs?
My point is that there is no real help of short game unless you are able to get (near) green in regulation. You don't have to drive over 300 yards from tee and make 250 spoon approach. But you need to get decent opening to decent location so that you have some short of opportunity to get GIR by mid irons if not wedges. So first learn to putt, then drive to fairway +200 yards, approach near to green with hybrids/long irons. Then learnd to get out from bunkers. Those are minimums you need to learn before you can really get benefit of great short game.

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Alex November 26, 2015 at 1:56 pm

My teacher used to take rookies to the European Tour and he always tells me that Ian Poulter has the swing of a club champion. But whenever he takes out a wedge during the round he always takes 2 shots, never one more.

Distance can’t be learnt or taught, so the short game is key for golfers of any skills to shoot lower.

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BIG STU November 26, 2015 at 8:19 am

In my heydays I never considered my self a good ball striker but I was able to play competitive golf and do ok. My reason was the short game. Growing up my dad ran a public 9 hole course with a seperate 9 hole par 3 course. I played the par 3 all the time. Never played the big course until I was 13 or so. I played that par 3 course from when I was 5 years old starting with an old cut down 5 iron and as I got older with different clubs. One of the holes was right beside the house so i put in countless hours chipping and putting. Actually today 90% of my practice time is chipping and putting. The other week I played a casual 9 holes with a guy I just met. Ended up shooting even par (36) and I missed 5 GIRs. Yep got 5 up and downs. that guy said something to one of my friends who is a ranger. My friend told him “when you come out and you see Stewie practicing where is he at?” On the practice greens most of the time. Besides practicing the short game has always been fun practice to me

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Steve S November 25, 2015 at 9:20 pm

After reading a lot of the replies and thinking about this a lot (I’m retired and don’t have much to do) I’m beginning to think about spending a lot more time on my wedges. A few years back I played a round with a friend at Marysville Golf Club in Ohio. Not a very long course, but very quick greens and some tricky fairways. It was an “all you can play Sunday after noon”. So we played 18 and I shot an 81, 42 on the front, 39 on the back. We decided to play the front again but this time I only used a 6 iron, sand wedge and a putter. (a club maker made me a new 6 iron and I was trying it out). I shot a 42 on the front. No driver, no fairways, or long irons. But EVERYTHING was in play. I had a few less putts the second time around but I attribute that to being closer to the green and knocking my chips close.

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kenny November 25, 2015 at 3:45 pm

The description is me

I can pound 300 yard drives with ease, get my timing down at the range and flight 7 irons almost identically

On the course i am the same, when my timing is on, i can score well, when its off, mid 80s is easy!

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Steve November 25, 2015 at 9:44 am

I think it’s complicated. You have people with limited time who: have the ability and the drive to get better, have the drive, less ability, don’t have the drive. I sense a little of a defeatist attitude towards learning the full swing as well.

Imho, I think that if the overall level of instruction were better, more people with the ability and the drive would get better, you’d see a much higher percentage of people taking lessons who do really get better.

And if you learn the short game “smartly”, (not in any order of importance) Aimpoint, good short game instructor like a James Sieckmann or Stan Utley, get fitted properly for wedges, putter, get a SAM Puttlab analysis, you don’t have to spend tons of time improving your short game. I think it’s easier and thus takes less time relative to the long game to reap scoring benefits. The long game, that’s a long term improvement proposition even with an instructor that gets the most out of your latent potential.

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Mbwa Kali Sana November 25, 2015 at 8:47 am

This is a ridiculous and stupid article ,misleading with that .
I’m over 81 ,I still play to a handicap of 7 ;despite my age ,I play 18 rounds 3/4 times a week (I live on the FRENCH RIVIERA where you can play all year around without so called “winter greens “)
I use to be scratch ,but my explosiveness has faded with the years taking their toll..
Before playing the short game ,you have to be there ,meaning close to the green !
My short game is outstanding ,but I experience great difficulties to get on the greens in regulation .
My drives and fairway woods are straight as arrows ,but much too short .
All great players are long off the tee .
BEN HOGAN used to say that the drive was the most important shot on any given hole.
He would pace up to where he wanted his drive to land ,always a flat surface .
So stop misleading good golfers with your biased comments .
How many times did PAULRUNYAN ,an artist in the short game ,beat long hitters like SAM SNEAD ?

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Pete S November 25, 2015 at 11:14 am

Sounds like you should be playing a different set of tees.

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Jon November 25, 2015 at 8:01 am

Thanks for everyone’s feedback on the article, I think we are having a great debate here. There is no “right” way to play, or practice this game. That’s the beauty of golf. While this data is extremely interesting, and I do believe that spending a decent chunk of your practice time on short game makes sense based on time restrictions, it’s merely a suggestion. I am certainly not saying never to practice with your irons or driver.

Since we are adding our personal stories, I thought I would talk about two golfers that I play with a lot just to illustrate a point.

Player #1 can’t drive the ball more than 210 yards, yet he can still shoot in the 70s almost every round (and takes my money a decent amount of the time) because he is absolutely lethal 100 yards and in. He is 65 years old, and physically can’t hit the ball as far as he used to. But he adjusted his game accordingly.

Player #2 hits the fairway almost every time with his driver (250-270 yards), and routinely will hit about 12-14 greens per round. He does have a solid short game, but ball striking is clearly the strength of his game, and he certainly embodies the advantage that Mark Broadie talks about.

I believe all golfers have the ability to be player #1.

Player #2 works harder than anyone I have ever seen (he’s an amazing tournament player) on the range. He definitely has eclipsed the 10,000 hour mark in his lifetime for practice. I see this guy after rounds hitting balls for an hour trying to correct whatever swing mistakes he might have made during the round.

This is an extreme example of course, but my point is that you can’t be a great ball striker without putting in a ton of time and effort (unless you are blessed with a ton of physical ability). In the end, you do have to know your own game, and try to spend your time where you think you can impact the most amount of change. If you spend all your time working on your driver, and there is no noticeable improvement in your performance on the course, then maybe it’s time to put some work in elsewhere.

And let me just throw in there that I spent the better part of my teenage years relieving my angst by banging away on the driver at the range, nothing wrong with that.

Just my $0.02

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THEHacker November 25, 2015 at 4:20 am

Personally I feel I should spend most time on my mid irons. When you are not driving long enough, your second shot usually involves a mid iron for short Par 4, and a hybrid or even a 3 wood for longer Par 4s. Dare I even mention Par 5s? It would be a driver, 3 wood, and a you guessed it – a mid or long iron on a bad day. A wedge would be useful when you missed the green… short….. and need to somehow recover and get the ball on the green, which happens a lot.

But the root cause of the issue is, my driver is not good enough, I must hit some more balls with my driver!!!!

Welcome to my world – so many clubs, so little time :)

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Matthew Carter November 25, 2015 at 3:54 am

100% agree. 1 handicap here and returned from playing the Nevada Open last week only to walk away playing bogie golf as an amateur A few things worked against me, 1 I didn’t have a chance for a practice round . 2nd I couldn’t use my laser radar because it could show slope if I selected it and I would get disqualified. Therefore the depth perception was totally different from playing nearly every day in Illinois as I looked out onto the Serra Nevada range. What I noticed with the Pro golfers in my foursome was this. Everyone had a bad shot from time to time, but when it came to wedges. These guys were settling the ball only a few feet from the hole every time. What appeared to be an given bogie. There wedges took over and the magical pars and birdies appeared. I walked away learning a whole lot from the Pros I played golf with, and they were a great group of guys.

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Andrew November 24, 2015 at 10:02 pm

Wow. A lot of feedback here. Good job getting us thinking. The main thing that I would like to say, is that we should all be honest, brutally honest. We know where our weaknesses are, but we all know what is more fun for each of us. Bite the bullet, and spend the time on your weaknesses. And yes, the short game is incredibly important.

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Simon November 24, 2015 at 9:29 pm

Good debate. I definitely do NOT spend enough time on my short game and I know this is the area which is going to help me salvage a round..or a bogey! But as someone else said, I detest hitting wedges off mats. I’ve started to get out more a little nine hole course at obscure times and play from various lies and positions from 120 in. Its really starting to help me again. The confidence is coming back which goes through the whole game. Now all that said..I’m with Mr Hogan. The most important shot is the drive. Without a good drive in a good position, you are always struggling and having to rely too much on the short game or the yip stick. A good drive relieves the stress. I practice my driving the least because I have most confidence in this part of my game. Thanks to the equipment I am longer now (280yds..I’m 59 and an aching old pro) than I was when I was 25. So..of course putt well and focus on the short game but get that drive right first.

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Richard Martin November 25, 2015 at 12:50 am

I’ve never been a long hitter and even though I’ve improved over the years with practice, my biggest gains have been working on my game from 100 yards in. I’ve learned to be creative around the greens and its paid off…..I turned 60 this year and have shot my best games, breaking 90 this year for the first time, did it in 8 rounds including a best of 84 on a par 71 course from the gold tees (5500 yds)! Its been a fun golf year!

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Kenny B November 24, 2015 at 6:18 pm

I’ve read Broadie’s book and I like Peltz’s approach. It’s been said already that each person has to work on where that person needs to practice the most. I hate hitting on the range. I only do it a small percentage of the time unless I need to work on a swing fix; even then I do not spend more than 15 minutes at a time on my swing. Spending more time is not going to help my game anyway. At my age I may be able to squeeze a few more yards out of the driver, but it doesn’t make that much difference for my second shot; I’ll still be hitting a high percentage of FW, hybrids or middle irons for approaches. Some holes I know I can’t reach in regulation, so I’m playing for a chip and a putt. The short game is critical for me. My good short game round will result in a score in the 70’s, a bad short game will result in a mid-80’s score. It makes no difference if I hit good drives or average drives; the score depends on my ability to combine good pitches, chips and putts. I can take a week or two off from golf and the long game will be basically the same when I return; sometimes it’s even better!! But in a couple of weeks, my short game will become a mess. I have to practice my short game hard after a layoff, and I know that the first round after that layoff will be worse than normal. I guess that I am the average single digit player when it comes to practice, but maybe for a different reason.

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Dwayne November 24, 2015 at 5:06 pm

There is one thing that I don’t know if it has been addressed but personally I just have more fun hitting balls than I do working on my short game. Hitting balls is a joy whereas working on the short game just isn’t the same for me. I don’t mean to get poetic, but striking balls solidly runs deep into the soul.

Yes, I must accept the fact that my scores maybe worse, and I should try different practice techniques to make short game practice more interesting, but today with the ground snow-covered, all I want to do is go the dome and pound those balls. (Maybe I will chip 5 of them.)

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Jon November 24, 2015 at 5:50 pm

Let me be the first to say that there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Golf should be fun before anything else. We can talk all we want about game improvement, and where is your time best spent, but the #1 goal of any golfer should be to enjoy yourself.

If it’s not fun, then why do it?

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Dwayne November 24, 2015 at 8:56 pm

Thanks, Jon. Enjoying this subject matter thoroughly.

I didn’t mean just “pound”, I meant smart, intelligent, planned, “pound”.

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Nardu November 25, 2015 at 2:37 am

I can agree fully with what you’ve said, but there are games / challenges that make chipping and pitching fun too.
If you ever get a chance to range with a friend, aiming for a flagstick or “green” gets interesting very quickly, throw in a points system too
Occasionally strangers have joined in target practice sessions, adding to the fun

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Dwayne November 25, 2015 at 9:23 am

Yes, chipping and putting for small bets, that is a lot of fun.

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Jimbo November 26, 2015 at 10:50 am

I am 100% with you Dwayne! I think for many of us that aren’t competitive golfers, the joy of the game is in the perfect strike as much or more than a low score at the end of the day. Seeing the ball soaring through the air, just like I envisioned, is so more satisfying to me than looking at my scorecard at the end of the round and seeing that it’s a few numbers less than usual. There’s more to golf than what you scored that day.
Thanks Jon for writing this piece, it’s created a great conversation!

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Jon November 26, 2015 at 11:51 am

Appreciate you saying that Jim. One of my favorite things to do is talk about golf (even if it ends up being a heated debate). The whole reason I started Practical Golf was to help golfers achieve two goals:

1) Enjoy the game more
2) Improve their scores with reasonable advice

I believe being a successful golfer is first and foremost about enjoying the game. If you want to lower your scores, that’s great. But if it’s at the expense of your enjoyment, then why pursue it?

There’s no right way to play this game!

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Guy November 24, 2015 at 3:57 pm

Practise is important regardless, gaining fluid smooth swings helps with all clubs, BUT what is the ONLY club used on every hole?? Putter, I spend more time practicing putting. I invested in a good putter. I was amazed that many higher handicap golfers have little problem spending up to $749, on a driver but would never think of spending over $200 on a putter. I truly believe find a good pro that you can work with and review driver and irons annually, great investment

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Lasse November 24, 2015 at 2:43 pm

Obviusly you practice were your bad shots are. When you are at 30-35 your shots goes all over the place. They do not play any club better then another. So they use equel amaunt of time on every club. Are you reaching more than 70% gir your long play are guite good, so it will be natural to give your attention to the vedges and putter. Thats why proffecionals can say” drive for show and putt for dough”
My hcp is 11 so i play my short iron a lot from 150 yards in, becouse i reach abaut 30% gir.

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Bob November 24, 2015 at 2:23 pm

I think what needs to be taken away from this is that everyone knows their own game and should practice accordingly. I know players that keep the ball in play tee to green have a so so short game and still shoot in the 70’s. I also know players that have a real good iron and short game and struggle getting off the tee, and can’t break 80 because of penalty shots. so I guess what I’m saying is, work on what’s wrong with your game to get the most improvement. Just remember no matter how good you are around the greens it won’t make up for penalty strokes

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Dwayne November 24, 2015 at 3:39 pm

Well said, I am living proof of that, I am the penalty stroke guy.

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Jon November 24, 2015 at 4:27 pm

working smart is always the best kind of practice, whether it’s long game or short game. So many golfers could improve by giving more structure and purpose to their range sessions rather than just hitting balls for the sake of hitting balls.

I once had a conversation with a touring pro, and he told me that he assigns a certain amount of shots he is going to hit before every range session with each part of his game. For example, because he knew he was only going to take 20 swings with the driver, he thought about each and every shot beforehand. His target, pre-shot routine, etc

Every swing had a purpose, and he tried to simulate what his thoughts would be on the actual golf course. Great little piece of advice that I think can help everyone…

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Steve November 24, 2015 at 5:20 pm

Jon, great comment. Reminds of what I used to do to have fun on the range. In my head I played courses I liked tee to green based on the success or failure of each shot. Did two things. 1) It was fun. 2) I very rarely hit the same club twice in a row which made each shot a little more focused since I knew I couldn’t hit the same club again.

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Regis November 24, 2015 at 1:40 pm

The hard reality is that for a lot of golfers there really isn’t an opportunity to really practice the short game. Many of us on the east coast (even at private clubs) have practice ranges with matts. I’ve been to several resorts that offer fabulous short game practice areas. When I’m there that’s where I spend my time. But for golfers that have their practice time limited by purchasing tokens and hitting off of matts to flags learning the flop shot or a knock down shot comes down to on the course trial and error

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CG November 24, 2015 at 12:59 pm

Since everyone is going the personal experience route I’ll throw in my 2 cents. Mid 40s, hdcp generally 2 early in the year and +1 by mid summer. A good driver of the ball and spend 90% of my practice work from 8 iron down through all the short game variables. Just enough fairway woods, hybrids and long irons to make contact in the general direction. I never practice driver. I seem to have 8 iron or less in my hand on at least a dozen holes on every golf course I play. It is much easier for me to shoot good scores by fudging my way through the couple of long par 3s and ultra long par 4s by playing smart and safe shots and really making hay in scoring situations. I’m never going to be a tour player and will never play a 7500 yard par 71 in any sort of competitive environment so why should I spend the little practice time I have available becoming an expert at hitting 4 irons? As I age and lose MPHs on the tee ball I will just start hitting safer shots from closer and closer. Short game is so much more fun to practice anyway, so much easier on your body, and a good one is so demoralizing to the opposition.

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Mega November 24, 2015 at 12:58 pm

My driver use to be my best club in the bag but I would constantly be done in by my second shot and an inability to chip or play finesse wedges around the green. I was actually very solid with my pitching or distance wedges. Ironically as my swing has improved and my second shots and short game has improved I have developed a 2 way miss that has wreaked havoc on my scoring consistency particularly with the driver and other longer clubs.

I too started with Pelz for the wedges but that didn’t take me far enough, I liked Utley but without feedback I never learned to use the bounce properly from his books, However, since finding James Sieckmann my chips or finesse wedges have improved immensely. His technique matches what I’ve wanted to do but didn’t know how to execute properly.

Bottom line, after reading Broadie’s book, I have not reduced the amount of time I spend on my short game and when I work on my long game it is all about taming the 2 way miss. But in support of his stats, if I get off the well I score better. Didn’t break 100 in my tournament yesterday with an awful day off the tee and shot a 79 the tournament before that. Shot 100 despite making several 9 to 12 foot putts and pulling off several solid finesse wedge shots.

The biggest takeaway for my game that I took away from Broadie was the scatter plots he showed for putting, I was constantly missing putts on the high side which was often called by convential teaching as how to miss a putt but a miss is a miss. The scatter plot made me realize to make as many putts as I could, statistically I would need to be missing an equal amount of putts low as I miss high over the long haul. Now I still don’t like missing low but I understand its part of the process and work to understand if it was my read, aim, or speed that caused the miss and try to learn from it but not overcompensate like I used to so that all putts miss high.

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Brandon November 24, 2015 at 12:31 pm

I think the key here is that most golfers that are “practicing” are not practicing at all, rather they are beating balls w/o purpose. I would bet that long or short, spending time actually practicing the proper way will result in more improvement. Think about this- take a 25 HDCP and a 5 HDCP…putting from 30 ft…even money, 20 yard pitch…starts to tilt to the 5, and as you move farther back, my money is going to go more and more in favor of the 5. That shows that if you only had an hour, you’d be well off spending 60-70% of that hour in meaningful practice toward skill that you’re trying to improve and 30-40% working on keeping other skills sharp. Cheers!

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Jimbo November 24, 2015 at 5:48 pm

This is an excellent point Brandon! Too many of us (myself included) “practice” without purpose. Whether it’s short game or long game, I think we’d all improve our game immensely if we improved the way we go about practicing.

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Paul November 24, 2015 at 11:36 am

My biggest score wrecker is the second shot. I can get off the tee reasonably well and my short game, especially my putting is very good. I struggle mightily with a fairway wood or hybrid. If I could those as well as my shorter irons I know I could score signicantly better. More practice and some lessons I guess.

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Art November 24, 2015 at 11:31 am

We should trust the statistical analysis of Jon Sherman/Swingbyte over Mark Broadie? Really?? One guy “has a web site” and one has a PhD and works at Columbia University, hopefully that’s telling enough.
So go ahead all you 25+ handicappers. Keep losing 2 or 3 strokes a hole (maybe more?) due to your long game weakness, and brush up on your wedges to get up and down so you might save 0.5 stroke a hole.
Me, I’d rather mirror other’s thoughts here, and follow Mark Broadie’s advice: use statistics to find the part of your game where you stand to gain the most strokes, focus there.

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Jon November 24, 2015 at 11:43 am

I would say 3 1/2 million golf shots is a significant sample size. I merely grouped the results together.

The data shows that the higher-handicaps are spending more time on their long game, yet they still remain high handicaps? Why is that?

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Art November 30, 2015 at 3:57 pm

Jon, why is that, you ask? A great question. Unfortunately aggregating average practice times, as you have done, does absolutely nothing to show why ANY of those golfers occupy a particular handicap group. All you have illustrated is what these golfers’ play and practice qualities are at one instant in time. There is nothing to show HOW the low handicap group achieved that handicap. Another commenter mentioned the idea of correlation vs causation. Exploring those concepts might help you understand the lack of support you’ve given to your ideas.

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Pete November 24, 2015 at 11:47 am

Really Art? Did you even read listen to the Pelz video included in the article? So you think you have enough time to invest where you can swing like a pro? And BTW–no one said stop practicing your long game, or only practice your short game. Data is data, no matter what name is associated with it. To quote Ren and Stimpie: your wealth of ignorance astounds me. Do some critical thinking about the information presented.

And BTW–Broadie would probably tell you to look at your own game and statistics to determine where you are loosing strokes, not just his study.

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Tony Covey November 24, 2015 at 4:45 pm

Art – at best basic poor reading comprehension skills and Loeb’s disease (You only hear what you want to) are a bad combination.

First…nobody questioned the validity of Broadie’s research and conclusions, only the practical implication of those conclusions for the average golfer.

A quick aside…there is no analysis per say by SwingByte. It doesn’t suggest where golfers should or should not spend practice time, it only tells us, that better players spend a substantially higher portion of their practice time working on the short game than do higher handicap players.

Here’s the real kicker though (and where your reading comprehension skills fell short), Jon’s argument is not that Broadie is wrong, only that when practice time is limited (as it is for most of us), it makes more sense to spend that time on the short game.

Incidentally, Mark Broadie has also made exactly the same suggestion. So if the question is should you trust Mark Broadie or Jon Sherman; when it comes to bang for the buck with limited practice time, the answer is BOTH.

They are in agreement.

One additional consideration, while Broadie’s analysis of the professional game using Shotlink data is rock solid, the amateur stats are far less decisive. They were culled from a small set of golfers, self-reporting statistics on a single golf course. Basically, the margin for error is greater.

Here’s what common sense (and those damn stats) tell us. Professional golfers hit greens at a substantially higher rate than amateurs. While there’s no doubt anything that gets you closer to the pin more often (a better long game) is a positive, amateurs who aren’t highly proficient with the long game will need to make up ground with the wedge.

So yeah…while there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that the long game wields a heavy influence on your score, the point in all of this is that as far as relative improvement is concerned; when practice time is limited, you can make up more ground faster with a wedge than with a long iron or driver.

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redneckrooster November 24, 2015 at 11:00 am

I work as a golf course ranger and I watch a lot of people practice and most hit the big stick more than any other club in the bag. Most of that is with no purpose except to see how far they can hit the ball. I noticed that older players tend to practice the wedges, hybrids and putter more than the driver. Could this be an ego thing hitting the Driver? There is a kid that came everyday and would hit about 4 large baskets of balls, his father was teaching him. They used the sticks for alignment and just beat the ball for ever. One day I asked him to hit for me different shots, draw, fade, straight , all at different heights and locations on the range. He couldn’t ,all he had practiced on was beating the ball . He could knock the stuffing out of the ball but didn’t know how to play the ball. After that when I’d seen him he started practicing the different shots and played so much better that he’s playing at the college level now. What I’m saying is just hitting it long does help if you don’t have a better short game.Long drives are just that Long . Yes all shots must be placed where you want them and being in the fairway is a must but it does nothing if your short game isn’t developed. I work more on my wedge, putter, mid irons and up . I believe still drive for show put for dough.

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Dave November 24, 2015 at 10:57 am

My experience shows that if I hit tee shots long and in the fairway and my short game is clicking, I score extremely well. Needless to say, I spend most of my practice time on driving and the short game. I don’t want to waste time practicing something that has minimal effect on my scoring.

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Sam Peterson November 24, 2015 at 3:56 pm

I think there is a causation vs correlation fallacy at work. Are the better players shooting lower scores because they practice their short game more or are they doing it because their long game is mostly in order and the short game is the place where they’re losing most of their shots now?

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Practical Golf November 24, 2015 at 4:05 pm

that’s the difficult analysis of any study. If you look at any health-related study the same thing could be said. If you isolate one thing and say “if you do X you will live longer” the counter argument is that people who do that one thing also make great decisions with their eating/exercise habits that were not mentioned. The point about short game that I think is interesting is that all players can be taught how to chip/pitch properly to the point where they are efficient. However, not all players can be taught to drive the ball 275 yards and straight.

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Sam Peterson November 24, 2015 at 4:40 pm

I think the short game is relatively low hanging fruit when you’re a beginner and helps keep people in the game by giving them the means with which to score and keep a bogey from becoming a triple. Whenever I introduced friends and family, I try and get them to a point where they can pitch/chip/putt well enough to get up and down 30-40% of the time. The amount of time it takes to get there as opposed to the 50-60% on the PGA tour is humongous and probably better spent developing the driver and mid irons.

I didn’t make a concerted effort to really improve my short game to where it is now until I was hitting 40-50% GIR with no more than 1-2 lost/OB shots a round.

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Mark November 24, 2015 at 12:25 pm

Bingo! This is exactly the reason why these stats don’t really prove anything. My gut tells me that more skilled golfers ALREADY have their long game in order, thus they feel they can spend their time working on their short game. Less skilled golfers are having the majority of their challenges getting off the tee box and therefore work on their long game predominantly.

The game of golf is incredibly frustrating if you can’t find your ball after your tee shot. The long game MUST be mastered just to play the game without embarrassment. Everyone screws up a chip shot or two and misses a putt, but those failures do not decrease the enjoyment of the game nearly as much as duffing your tee shot.

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Art November 24, 2015 at 12:41 pm

Bingo+1. Moreover, theses aren’t really statistics but simply observations and suppositions. Practical Golf, the relation you are trying to draw between science performed in the field of health and your Swingbyte synopsis is absolutely silly.

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Jon November 24, 2015 at 12:52 pm

thank you for your feedback Art!

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Tony Covey November 24, 2015 at 4:58 pm

Mark, respectfully your gut is wrong. Hear me out.

Keep in mind that Strokes Gained is a relative stat (in the case of the PGA Tour, it’s relative to the tournament field for a given week). The reason why the long game emerges as the difference maker (the strongest contributing factor to score) is that it’s where the greatest skill differences exist. If alll/most skilled golfers had their long games in order, then individual differences within the field would be minimal and by consequence, so too would the overall importance of the long game as it contributes to the total score.

Again…we’re talking about a relative stat.

That lack of parity is exactly why it makes sense for professionals to focus on the long game. Of course, for professionals, practice is part of the job…they have time that amateurs don’t.

So yeah…absolutely, I believe, and I think Jon believes too, that if time were not the pervasive issue that it is, we would all benefit from a stronger (and targeted) focus on the long game. That’s Sean Foley’s approach with his guys (it’s almost all long game), but again…they’re professionals with dedicated practice time, and again and there’s more parity with the professional wedge game than there is with the professional long game.

But time is an issue, and Jon believes, and I believe, and Broadie too, if your practice time is minimal you can more easily impact your short game than your long game.

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Sean O Reilly November 25, 2015 at 10:40 am

I think if your short game is sharp, you can counteract some poorer long game play. However the other way around is not true

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Sam Peterson November 25, 2015 at 1:32 pm

….but if your long game is sharp, your short game isn’t really that much of a factor beyond being a decent putter.

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Adrian Jones November 25, 2015 at 8:38 am

I agree with this statement 100%. Short game is damage control for a high handicapper when better players are trying to make birdie. Short game doesn’t make birdies for you unless you have a good long game. When I had he pleasure of playing 70 rounds of golf over the course of six months with a former touring pro he quickly got me away from laying up on par 5’s and such because he knew that the closer I was to the hole for the next shot the closer I would be on the green for the birdie putt. To me the best predictor is GIR. The more greens I hit the better my score was. That comes from the long game because even the best on tour only get up and down about 50% of the time when they miss a green. And as my long game improved my short game improved in turn because if I can hit the green from 175-225 yards out then I better be able to convince myself that I can do it from 10.

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Roho November 24, 2015 at 10:54 am

A lot depends on what type of golf course you play. I play 90% of my rounds on a course with water on the left and out of bounds on the right or vice versa. Did I mention narrow fairways? If I can’t put the ball in the fairway off the tee I’m staring at a bogie/double bogie right off the bat. It won’t matter what kind of short game I have.

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Steve November 24, 2015 at 10:53 am

The reason why low handicappers spend so much time on wedges and putter is because they are already GOOD at the other clubs. They spend time on the short clubs because that’s how they can lower their handicap. I spend time on driver and hybrids(to slow to hit long irons) because when I hit them well I score well. If you look at all the best rounds I played this year (high 70’s, low 80’s) it’s because my drives were decent length and in or near the fairway and the long clubs got me on or close to the greens on long par 4’s. Yes I still needed to putt but as long as I don’t 3 putt much I post decent scores. If I ever get real consistent with the long clubs I’ll focus more on the short game.

Bottom line..if you muff the drive on par 4’s you’re usually ;looking at bogey unless you pull off some miracle shots.

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Jon November 24, 2015 at 11:32 am

I would say that’s difficult to just assume that the time they spend on short game is because they are already proficient at the long game. Anything you do in golf requires constant effort, nothing is ever solved forever…especially with your full swing. It’s my belief that the effort it takes to impact your short game is far less than the effort it requires to solve the long game.

One day you might have figured out your swing w/ the driver, but whatever was working for you might be completely gone in two weeks. That means you’ll have to go back to the drawing board, and do some more work in order to get things right again. This happens to the pros all of the time, but they have the time to spend 6-8 hours on the range to correct whatever swing flaw was plaguing them in the last tournament.

To counter your point on muffing the drive on a par 4. While that might be correct, how many golfers have you seen make double bogeys from the middle of the fairway after a huge drive because they completely mangled their wedge shot? It certainly goes both ways!

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Steve November 24, 2015 at 12:19 pm

John, good point. However that’s not me. I guess this goes to show that while massive amounts of data can spot trends it doesn’t mean it’s right for your game. Art in another post makes a good point. Keep your own statistics and apply them to fix your game. Don’t worry about “medians” or general rules as they apply to the way you play. For me the bottom line is to have fun while playing and stay relaxed. If I do that I usually score well. Tension will kill my swing on ALL shots short and long.

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Jon November 24, 2015 at 12:24 pm

I’m a huge advocate of players using game-tracking devices like GAME GOLF (and have written about that before).

We thought this was interesting because it showed such a distinct trend that held up across all playing levels.

I agree with you though, one person is not a statistic. You need to know the truth about your own game. Many players don’t know where they are losing most of their shots to par, and using statistics can help with that.

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Jon November 24, 2015 at 4:16 pm

haha don’t worry Steve, you would be the 1,432,035th person to do that

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Art November 24, 2015 at 1:27 pm

Jon what is the point of your counter? If double bogey is your goal, do you like your chances for double better after booming a drive in the middle of the fairway, or after hitting a weak slice 150 yards down the fairway and 60 yards right–maybe a lost ball and another tee shot? Yes it goes both ways, but one way is better than the other.

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Kevin Loughran November 24, 2015 at 10:40 am

First thanks for a counter argument and second I like simple. I think that the first two comments are all about simple.

1. Short game practice particularly pitches has benefits for the long game in that they are mini swings and those llitkke swings cultivate a good swing tempo.

2. Generalizations and absolutes don’t hold. Each plate must study his own game, know his weaknesses and develope a plan to work around them given physical limitations and time constraints.

My practice time mirrors the single digit player because I am one. But it means that I spent about 60 percent of my time on the long game and then 40 on the short game. That’s about how many shots I hit on those areas on the course and when I’m working on pitches I’m double dipping.

i prefer Utkey to Pelz but either way the biggest take away is to know your short game. I like Brodie’s concept of proximity to the hole. All things being equal the closer I can get it to the hole in regulation the better my short game stats will be.

Thanks for t

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GilB November 24, 2015 at 10:36 am

I’ve been waiting for this type of article to pop up for a long time. In all my golfing years the most noticeable thing for us weekend warriors, even for folks who golf several times a week, is that after a while golfers can learn to hit their drivers in the fairway. They should, since they spend most hours banging away with the big stick. They eventually get it right until they buy a new big stick and have to learn how to hit that one, but eventually they do. They’re not going to bomb it the 300 yards they expect but at least at some point they learn how to hit it relatively straight. Then they’ll practice chipping and putting, and some are really adept at getting ti close. Because most golfers play the wrong set of tee boxes for their skill level they’re forced to play either hybrids, long irons, or even fairway woods to get to the green. They’re forced to play either chips or pitch shots to get it close to the hole. This is where it gets sticky. Most golfers don’t practice their fairway woods, long irons, or hybrids and, as a consequence, the score balloons when they’re knocking it all over the place. The other part of this equation is the pitch shot. Most don’t practice these shots either and they’re duffing it all over the place, never hitting it quite right. They’ll hit maybe one or two pretty well but, rest assured, they’ll duff more than their fair share and again, their scores will hit the stratosphere. I believe most will improve with more practice dedicated to pitching, fairway wood, and hybrid clubs. It can actually be a lot of fun too learning how to hit these clubs especially the pitch shot. You can see it in their eyes when they stick one close but it’s rare. If you want lower scores and that confident feeling, practice these clubs more and the skies the limit in reducing the final numbers.

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Dwayne November 24, 2015 at 10:32 am

While I respect the need for a good short game, my game lives and dies from the tee shot, if the driver is going well I will score OK, the game is fun, life is good, the brain stays cool and blue, if the tee balls are going everywhere then it is a bad day, penalty strokes, lost golf balls, red-hot brain, want to chew on tree bark.

I hate losing golf balls, not for the money, it just feels bad.

My driver is a wild beast at the moment, I need instruction, improved mechanics, physical fitness, equipment change, psychotherapy, all of the above.

However I will acknowledge this, Gary Player said this, a pro could play the ball for a 12 handicap from tee to green, then let 12 guy take over, and he would still be a 12 handicap.

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Jon November 24, 2015 at 10:40 am

great quote from Gary…

Your game sounds like many others (myself included for a long time). You would be amazed how you will feel mentally on the tee box when you know your wedges and putter can save you. All of a sudden the pressure to hit great shots is not an immense.

Like we said in the article, pursuing your long game is not a waste of time, and it can impact your scores significantly. How long is it going to take you to fix all of things required to get your driver going straight?

Just food for thought, thanks for reading!

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Dwayne November 24, 2015 at 1:13 pm

I do practice the short game a lot, chipping and pitching isn’t bad, but the putting is basically this, they just don’t go in. Very close, entertaining, tantalizing, but nope, they do not drop. I miss 1 footers, 5 footers, 10 footers. It might be genetic.

I haven’t considered thinking of my wedge play when I am on the tee box, on the tee box I am trying to hit the ball at some target in the fairway and not in the forest on the right or the condos on the left. However I do think of my wedge play after I am dropping from a water hazard. My golf league even has re-named “bogey” to the “Dwayne Bogey” ,Drive, penalty, approach shot, (2) putts. I get a lot of those.

Next year I am going Tin Cup and play the entire round with my 7-iron.

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Stu November 24, 2015 at 10:25 am

Other thing that i think is relevant is it is less energy and fatigue when practicing short game.
30-45 minutes of tee shots and long game hybrids and irons requires a decent level of fitness and energy. 30-45 minutes of short game wedges and putter are very easy to do in terms of energy expenditure.

I mention this because i am in a hot and humid climate and i may play 18-36 holes that same day and /or go to the gym. My rest day is my short game practice

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Benjamin Lee November 24, 2015 at 2:51 pm

Any weaknesses in your golf game will clearly show up in scores. To me, a good long game is like prevention and will alleviate pressure from the short game. However, you still have to have a good short game to score.

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Practical Golf November 24, 2015 at 3:04 pm

Ben, thanks for reading. The argument is certainly difficult. There are players who can hang their hat on tremendous ball striking vs their short game. It’s my belief that is harder to do because mastering the golf swing is no easy chore. What we discovered I think sheds light on the fact that most better players are having the work they put in on their short game rewarded. It all comes down to how much time do you have to work on your game, and where is that time best spent?

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Art November 24, 2015 at 12:19 pm

So Practical Golf, this article is only pertinent for “most better players”? What does that mean?

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Jon November 24, 2015 at 12:37 pm

it’s merely pointing out that better players are spending their time on the short game.

You are free to do what you want with that information, it’s certainly open to interpretation, and I respect everyone’s opinions.

There is certainly a precedent for people who are looking to improve in any endeavor wanting to know the habits of others who are successful. Golf is an immensely challenging game without one solution. Mark Broadie certainly pointed out something important in his book, but even he admits that mastering the long game is difficult and requires a lot of time.

If you have the time and resources to do that…great! go for it! Get lessons, work on the range, and play as much as you can.

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Jimbo November 24, 2015 at 9:46 am

Does working on short game really take less time than a range session? It’s usually about the same amount of time for me.
Maybe the takeaway from your story is: if there’s an aspect of your game that is holding you back, focus more of your practice on it. Don’t work on your long game just because Brodie says it’s important, and don’t work on your wedges just because Peltz says it’s important. Work on the part of your game that’s holding you back. The beauty of thinking along the lines of ‘strokes gained’ is you can assess your game not on cliches like “drive for show, put for dough,” but on a data-driven assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of your own game.

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