Tour pros understand carry distance versus total distance. Many amateurs focus exclusively on total distance rather than how the ball actually got there. For example, many people will ask how far I drive the ball. Well, that depends on wind, conditions, firmness of the ground, slopes, bounces, and perhaps some other things. I can’t necessarily answer that question accurately. That said, I do know exactly how far I’m likely to CARRY my drives…what it does after that is up to the golf gods most times. Don’t you think it would be more important to know if you can carry a fairway bunker that requires a 255 yard shot, instead of saying “I normally hit my driver 280…I think I can carry that bunker”.
This argument extends to most every club in the bag. Amateurs say that they hit their 7 Iron 160 yards. What they fail to consider is that that is the total distance. Maybe they are indeed carrying the ball 155, with 5 yards of runout. More likely, especially with mid-higher handicappers, they’re carrying the ball 140 and it’s scooting another 20 across the green. This comes into play with club selection of course, particularly when you’re looking at a bunker or hazard fronting the green. Amateurs don’t take enough club and I’m convinced it’s at least partially because they don’t completely understand their own limitations.
Focusing on carry yardages will translate day to day. Certainly there is accounting for wind and slope, but over time, understanding carry distances will help your distance control and course management tremendously. Tour players have caddies who will track this data every day. When they get to the green, they’ll seek out the ball mark, pace off carry distance, and make note. These guys are very precise with this data…and for good reason when you’re attacking PGA Tour hole locations.
As an average player, you can easily practice this and gather data yourself. Out on the course, with a few balls in hand. Use a laser to gauge the distance from your ball to the lip of a bunker (say 150 yards with your 7 Iron). Hit a shot over the bunker. Back up a couple yards and hit another. If it clears the bunker, back up again. If you get to the point where you can’t clear the bunker, you’ve effectively found your carry yardage for your 7 Iron. Do this for a few clubs in your bag, eventually all of them. This info is guaranteed to help you make decisions next time you play.