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Ideal Pitching/Layup Distance


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I started reading thru this post last night and it is one of the things about golf that I really enjoy, listening and in this situation reading about people's different strategies to play this crazy game.

I have always been the type that attacks, I only layup if the hole demands it and then I am really looking at how to maximize that situation and still attack so I can get as close to the cup as possible as fast as possible. 

I play golf with people of all abilities and have done so my entire life and as a general rule of thumb my friends that play lay up golf shoot higher scores over the course of a round then people that attack a hole.

With that in mind I also hear from my friends and have read in this post that people generally lay up because they do not have the confidence in hitting the appropriate club to get them to the hole.  They want to hit a distance that gets them to their money club.  I always answer my friends the same way as I will here.  If you have a club that you can hit with great confidence then you can do the same with every club in your bag.  Next time you go to the range leave your favorite club(s) at home and only work on the clubs you have no confidence in as well as the Driver.  I believe that is what this site teaches to lower your score and it reminded me of what my dad always taught.  Make your weakness your strength.

Great thread, thank you for starting it

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No, I try and get the ball as close to the green as possible without putting myself in trouble.  

Really dumb ideas, these two.  Particularly the second one.  I don't know what they're smoking.  The correct answer is to be as risky as possible and lay back to at least 110-115 yards whenever possib

This is the traditional wisdom for laying up, get to a "good yardage", commonly a full swing wedge of some kind.  Newer statistically-driven strategy would suggest you try to get as close as possible

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Other than laying up short of a lateral hazard that I may not carry I always hit my second shot on a par 5 as far as I can, which is shorter than most of you.  I am normally not laying up on par 5's but I just cannot reach the green in 2.  I also am much more effective from 30 yards or less and will be closer to the pin than most of the 90+ yard approach shots I hit.   

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5 hours ago, RayG said:

Now, saying that- there are a couple of my friends who have ABSOLUTELY no short game whatsoever for all practical purposes. Yet they insist on getting as close as possible (inside 50 yds or so) and then chili chunk the next 2 or 3 shots, get all mad and complain. They SHOULD be laying to a good number that a full wedge or whatever will get them there. But you cant tell them that

I like full swing approach shots and often layup to keep hazards out of play, but I can't think of anyone in the 60+ league I play in that ever lays up, they all go for it no matter what. Not all of them 'chili chunk the next 2 or 3 shots,' though some do...

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Just for fun, I pulled up some data from my GameGolf account.  Keep in mind, I'm a higher handicapper.

100 to 125 yards, I get quite a bit of dispersion:598a1e5552154_100-125yds.jpg.794d660601291b4b3763104e4564b726.jpg

75 to 100 yards, a little better.  Just a little.598a1e5a1dac9_75-100yds.jpg.5a37e72f17f0fa6918359c1ac91746d7.jpg

50-75 yards, about the same as 75-100.598a1e5dcc174_50-75yds.jpg.980f7d01ad77dd904e0075603f4b284a.jpg

25 to 50 yards. Big difference.  (Note that the 72% dropping to 37% is because their target is smaller--less than 5 yards).  But the pattern is much tighter.

598a1e60dbda1_25-50yds.jpg.0b75a1e9abc60fbc5474f150f847504b.jpg

Inside 25 yards, not much surprise.  Keep in mind that this will include greenside chips, so this might look better than if they were all 24-yard pitches.

598a1e63ba38b_0-25yds.jpg.789fd7abedc390426e52f47feb386fa9.jpg

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Summary: I'll take the 25-50 yard approach shot all day long over anything over 50 yards.

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If I have an open look, I'll go for the green. Sometimes I get lucky and end up on it ;-)

If I absolutely can't reach the green unless I hit a perfect 3W or hybrid, I'll go for the green. I could get lucky and hit it or miss just off it and have a better chance of getting up and down.

The only time I will ever consider laying up is if there is water or any other hazard where I may lose a ball AND I have to hit a perfect 3W or hybrid. In that case I'm still getting as close to the green as possible while keeping the hazard out of play.

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I think it's a bit of a nebulous area. Laying up because of the lie, trouble short, etc... would be different from laying up just because you aren't comfortable with a 50 yd pitch. I would think "most" people have an issue with those shots that are shorter than their comfortable shortest full swing (85 yds for example), and their longest chip type shot- say from 20yds and in. So, from 20-80 yds out are likely the bugaboo of the masses. Mostly because not everyone practices those. Especially the more casual recreational player. Yeah, I know- "Well, I can play a 3/4 lob from 50 and put it within 5 feet every time!" Good for you, you practiced that shot and are comfortable with it. But you take Joe Weekender and his 24 hdcp to 50 yards out with 10 balls and I GUARANTEE that at least 2 will be 30 yards over the back and 2 will be 30 yards short and 15 yds right. The others will be sprayed somewhere in between. And this is the player who SHOULD be playing to a yardage that he CAN hit reasonably reliably. Mostly because if he can't hit a target from 50 yards out most of the time, it's likely they won't be able to hit it from 230/250 out in the middle of the fairway, either.

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31 minutes ago, RayG said:

But you take Joe Weekender and his 24 hdcp to 50 yards out with 10 balls and I GUARANTEE that at least 2 will be 30 yards over the back and 2 will be 30 yards short and 15 yds right. The others will be sprayed somewhere in between. And this is the player who SHOULD be playing to a yardage that he CAN hit reasonably reliably. 

The question becomes, does Joe Weekender with his 24 handicap really do better from 90 yards than what you've described?  From what I've seen, at least a few of those 10 shots from 90 yards will end up still 50 yards away, he'll still miss left and right, and he still may skull one or two of them long.  

And if you consider that same guy's variability, he's probably going to mishit a significant percentage of his lay-up shots too.  On those, he may end up at 130 or 150 or further, instead of 90 yards.  If he's aiming to get to 50 yards, even his mis-hits will be closer to the green than if he was aiming at 90 yards or further.

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1 minute ago, DaveP043 said:

The question becomes, does Joe Weekender with his 24 handicap really do better from 90 yards than what you've described?  From what I've seen, at least a few of those 10 shots from 90 yards will end up still 50 yards away, he'll still miss left and right, and he still may skull one or two of them long.  

And if you consider that same guy's variability, he's probably going to mishit a significant percentage of his lay-up shots too.  On those, he may end up at 130 or 150 or further, instead of 90 yards.  If he's aiming to get to 50 yards, even his mis-hits will be closer to the green than if he was aiming at 90 yards or further.

I'll give you that.. in principle. But he might FEEL more comfortable from outside of that "zone" and make a better swing. Once they're in that zone, the most common thing I see is the full backswing and sudden deceleration just before hitting the ball. But from a full 9 iron, it's a normal swing.  I guess it could be more of a mental thing than an actual "ability" issue as well. 

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If i cannot advance the ball inside 30 yards from the green then my usual layup zone it´s 90 yards. Because i can hit my 3 full wedges from 70 yards to 110 yards.

I know that closer to the hole it´s better for scoring but i know either that a longer lay-up shot have a bigger shot zone that put more trouble into play. Moreover when the pin is short or behind a bunker and i really need to hit it with spin. 

If I have to choose between hitting Driver to the 150 yards mark or an hybrid to the 190 yards mark i would definitivly hit the Driver because 40 yards at that range it´s worth the risk but If I have to choose between hitting a 3wood to the 50 yards mark or a 4 iron to the 90 yards mark i would definitivly hit the 4 iron unless the 50 yard landing area it´s ridicusly big and the pin it´s on the middle/back. At that range the same 40 yards don´t worth the risk.

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First... I'll answer the original question in the topic.

For me, the ideal layup distance would be about 70 yards.  It's the correct distance for a smooth 58° wedge for me.  With that shot, I'd average about 20 feet from that distance.  A lot of my birdies come from shots at this distance.  Although I average about 20 feet, I'm often inside of 10 feet which gives me a decent look at making the put.

Second... I'll address what everyone else is talking about.   

I have never seen golf as a one-size-fits-all game.  Yes... statistics will tell us that you're going to be closer on average from about 20 yards than you are from 90 - 120 yards.  You pretty much don't even have to do the research.  It's common sense that the closer you are to the hole, the easier a shot is going to be on average.  Common sense also says that someone as tall (6'4") and muscular as Tony Finau should be blowing the ball WAY past someone as small (5'10") and wiry as Justin Thomas... yet, Finau is averaging just 0.4 yards more off the tee than Thomas.  

Golf is a unique game.  Players like Fred Couples or Ernie Els make the game look easy and effortless.  They're never out of balance and they hardly look like they're trying.  Then you have guys like Thomas and Jason Day who look like they're angry at the ball.  Different sizes... different swings... different styles... similar results.  

If you're currently uncomfortable with hitting those longer clubs because of the potential to top the ball or blow it out of bounds... play within your game.  Put the practice time in with the trouble clubs, and then bring it out when you're comfortable with it.  

I spent the better part of 3+ years avoiding my 3 wood and hybrid for the same reason.  I didn't get to play or practice much and I didn't want to ruin a hole or a round by blowing a ball out of bounds or topping a few shots and taking a triple.  My play was to hit a 4 iron (which I was very comfortable with) and leave myself as close to the green as that could get me.  I joined a club last September and spent a large amount of time on the range and playing alone while practicing those 3 wood shots.  From the fairway, my Game Golf stats tell me that my average 4 iron is about 179 yards.  I'll typically play that club to go a maximum of about 190 from the fairway.  My 3 wood averages abut 216 yards.  The shot pattern shows a large number of shots between 205 - 220 yards, so... I'll typically play the 3 wood to go a maximum of about 230.  

That 40 yards is a huge difference in my game.  The biggest example I have is on the 3rd hole at my home course.  A solidly struck driver would typically leave me about 280 yards from the hole there.  Hitting a 4 iron, if I caught it well, would leave me anywhere from 100 - 120 yards from the hole (which would be approach wedge or pitching wedge).  Being comfortable enough to hit a 3 wood on that hole now (out of bounds up the entire right side) leaves me anywhere from 50 - 70 yards away.  

Over the last 3 or 4 months (since I became comfortable with playing my 3 wood off the tight lies), my scores on that hole have been much better.  I'm much more prone to make birdie or par than I am to make double or worse.  

Yes, I'll still top a shot now and again because I make a poor swing... but the practice time I spent has allowed me to feel comfortable playing it and trying to shorten the hole as much as possible.  Still, I played within myself when I knew it wasn't there.  I employed the strategy you mentioned above in trying to eliminate anything more than a bogey.  At that time... for me... it was the right play.  

Play what works for you.  It's not a one-stop-shop type of game.  

All that said... what iacas says about being closer being a statistically better play is not wrong.  It just may not be right for you right now. 

CY

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42 minutes ago, Fairway_CY said:

All that said... what iacas says about being closer being a statistically better play is not wrong.  It just may not be right for you right now. 

See, I would still disagree with this statement.  Even where I'm at, I'm exactly as likely to flub a partial wedge as to flub a full wedge shot.  Also, I'm just as likely to pull the ever-loving hell out of the ball (say 10* off-line), but if I'm 40 yards away, my pull might still end up on the green, where if I'm 90 yards away I'm left with a 20 yard pitch (as an example).

Everyone's swings are way more consistent than they think they are.  They might not be good swings, but you'll have an equal number of bad shots regardless of the club when you get into your irons/wedges.  Therefore, a 10% miss in any direction will put you closer to the pin if you're closer to the pin.  

Obviously you need to not hit into hazards, and hitting into the rough is mostly not a good idea (not always) but if you are not contesting hazards/obstacle trouble, get closer.

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1 hour ago, Fairway_CY said:

First... I'll answer the original question in the topic.

For me, the ideal layup distance would be about 70 yards.  It's the correct distance for a smooth 58° wedge for me.  With that shot, I'd average about 20 feet from that distance.  A lot of my birdies come from shots at this distance.  Although I average about 20 feet, I'm often inside of 10 feet which gives me a decent look at making the put.

But what are your average proximities on a 60, 50, 40, 30, 20 yard shot?  Are any of them actually worse than for that "ideal" 70 yard distance?

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51 minutes ago, Golfingdad said:

But what are your average proximities on a 60, 50, 40, 30, 20 yard shot?  Are any of them actually worse than for that "ideal" 70 yard distance?

No... providing contact is average-to-good, the distances are better as I move closer.  That said... the percentage of time I make clean contact from 50 or 60 yards as opposed to 70 yards is lower.  I don't have to do anything differently when I make my 70 yard swing... but I have to dial back or choke down when playing from 50 or 60 yards.  This results in a higher probability of hitting it fat or thin.  

Like I mentioned, though... that was just answering the first part of the question.  

For me... I'd prefer to play a 70 yard shot than a 50 or 60 yard shot.  At 40 yards and in... I'm probably not laying up... I'm hoping that my contact is going to be solid enough to get me into that distance.  

So... say I'm 280 yards out.  I'm not getting there.  I know that.  If I smash a 3 wood, it's going 230 after the roll-out.  That's going to put me in that awkward 50 yard range.  At this point, with my game where it is... I'd rather hit a hybrid that'll get me 210 if I hit it well.  That'll leave me 70 yards.  If I'm outside of 70 yards but inside of 90 yards... it's still a 58° wedge for me.  90 yards is a full swing... 80 yards is a full choked-down swing... 70 yards is a full, but smooth (75% power) swing.  

If I'm at 250 yards out... I'm "going for it" but... not really.  I'm just trying to get inside of 20-40 yards.  At that point, unless there is trouble, there's no point in ME laying back with a 4 iron.  Others may be uncomfortable with hitting a full 4 iron, which brings the second part of my post above into play.  

Hit what you have.  Work on what you don't... then build it into your game.  

I've dropped from a 14 index to just above a 10 index since the middle of March by identifying the biggest struggles I have with full swings (which were my 3 wood and hybrid)... working on them... and then implementing those parts back into my game.   

In April, I was more likely to top a 3 wood as a 13.7 index than I was to make even semi-clean contact.  That meant a shot from 280 became a shot from 250.  The shot from 250 became a shot from 210.  The shot from 210 was hit with a 4 iron which became a 35 yard pitch.  That became a 15-20 foot putt which meant 2 putts.  That's a 7 on a fairly simple par 5.  

I played the 280 shot with a 4 iron which left 100 or so.  That shot was a full approach wedge.  I'd either be on or near and then 2 putts.  In my mind's eye... par or bogey was acceptable.  Double or worse was not.  

Now... I'll take a 40 yarder over a 70 yarder... but I'll take a 70 yarder over a 50 yarder.  That's now... maybe not in 6 months after I work on it, but... right now, where my game is... that's my shot.

CY

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3 hours ago, p1n9183 said:

If i cannot advance the ball inside 30 yards from the green then my usual layup zone it´s 90 yards. Because i can hit my 3 full wedges from 70 yards to 110 yards.

Why not learn to hit a 40-50-60 yard shot?  You're a good enough player that it shouldn't take you more than an hour to figure out which wedge and swing.  Have you mapped your 1/4 and 1/2 shots with the wedges?  Flight shots with the wedges?

59 minutes ago, Fairway_CY said:

Now... I'll take a 40 yarder over a 70 yarder... but I'll take a 70 yarder over a 50 yarder.  That's now... maybe not in 6 months after I work on it, but... right now, where my game is... that's my shot.
 

Is this what you mean by it is right statistically, but might not be right for you right now?  As in, over time, you'd be better off learning to hit the 50 yarder, but if you and I were playing today, you'd be more likely to score well from 70 than from 50.

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1 hour ago, Fairway_CY said:

No... providing contact is average-to-good, the distances are better as I move closer.

Then it sounds like you're way overthinking this.  This one sentence is all that matters.

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7 hours ago, RayG said:

So, from 20-80 yds out are likely the bugaboo of the masses. Mostly because not everyone practices those.

No… they think it's the bugaboo of the masses.

People have better touch and stuff than they think. Even if they haven't mapped out their yardages, and they have to hit a shot from 70 yards with a 7-iron because of a low branch… people surprise themselves despite never having practiced playing a punchy 7I from 70 yards.

7 hours ago, RayG said:

But you take Joe Weekender and his 24 hdcp to 50 yards out with 10 balls and I GUARANTEE that at least 2 will be 30 yards over the back and 2 will be 30 yards short and 15 yds right.

Your guarantee really doesn't match up with our actual experimental data.

Now, we didn't take 24 handicappers out there, but… those people are not really here on the site, and if the trends from the lower handicappers to the higher handicappers continued, they'd actually benefit the MOST from being at 50 yards than being at 90 yards.

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Whether they're aiming at the flag or the "smart target," they averaged lower scores and hit more greens from closer to the hole than from farther away.

7 hours ago, RayG said:

And this is the player who SHOULD be playing to a yardage that he CAN hit reasonably reliably.

Dude, a 24-handicapper can't hit any club reliably.

And this is the type of player who benefits the most from being closer to the green.

Now, yes, he's not going to hit the ball 250 most often… but give this guy a 5-hybrid and tell him to lay up to 100 yards and he's about as likely to screw up the 180-yard layup and then the shot that comes after it than if he'd tried to hit a 5-wood to 60 yards and the partial wedge after that.

Just curious, too, @RayG… whether you've bought LSW, and if not, why not.

4 hours ago, Fairway_CY said:

Common sense also says that someone as tall (6'4") and muscular as Tony Finau should be blowing the ball WAY past someone as small (5'10") and wiry as Justin Thomas... yet, Finau is averaging just 0.4 yards more off the tee than Thomas.

That's not the same kind of "common sense." And "common sense" both ain't as common as anyone wishes, nor is it correct as often as we'd like to think it is.

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12 minutes ago, Golfingdad said:

Then it sounds like you're way overthinking this.  This one sentence is all that matters.

I don't believe so.  

Most PGA Tour players are capable of hitting multiple types of shot shapes, right?  As an example, they're facing a pin tucked in the back left corner of a green on a par 3... and to the left of that green is a water hazard.  Typically (not always, but more often than not), the shot would call for a draw.  Start it somewhere towards the right side of the green... draw it in... land it middle-left and let the shot shape bring it closer to the hole.  

So Mr. PGA Tour is standing on the tee.  He was struggling that morning (or week... or month) with controlling the draw.  He COULD try and hit the draw... and he COULD pull it off.  Say the chances in his mind are 50% that he hits the shot as he needs to.  If he pulls it off, he's staring at maybe a 10 foot birdie putt.  However... if he overcooks it, he's in the hazard hitting his 3rd shot.  He knows he can control the fade.  That's a shot he's 90% confident in at the moment.  Start it at the flag, maybe just right of it, and let the ball drift off to the right.  Maybe he catches a ridge that feeds his ball towards the hole... maybe he doesn't and leaves himself a 25 footer.  He's going to make par, though.  

This is not an apples-to-apples comparison, I know... but I'm using it to make my point.

I'm clearly not a PGA Tour level player.  To me, though... it's the same premise.  That 3 wood I was talking about above.  Back a few months ago, I was maybe 30% confident I could advance the ball between 150 - 200 yards with that club... but I felt there was a 70% chance I was going to top it and advance it maybe 30 yards.  At that point, I wasn't capable of hitting that 3 wood in my eyes.  Instead of taking that chance and bringing an unnecessarily large number into play, I elected to hit the 4 iron.  

In the question you brought up before about the distances being better or worse as I got closer... it's an easy thing to look at from an outside perspective and suggest just hitting the ball as close as I could.  Statistically, IF I'm getting to 30 yards... I'm going to hit the ball closer than I would from 70 yards.  That said, knowing the limitations of my game at that moment... the chances of me getting the ball to 30 yards was probably 30%.  The chances of being able to get the ball to 70 yards (give or take) was probably 90%.  The potential downfalls included topping the shot (leaving a much longer approach) or blowing it out of bounds.  The potential reward was MAYBE 10-20 feet closer if I pulled it off.  

I don't believe it's overthinking it at all.  If the objective of every shot is to just hit the ball as far as I can, I should just visit the driving range.  On the course, some form of management is required.  My interpretation of the original post is that the poster is wondering how others manage their games in these situations.  It's abundantly clear that a large majority here believe in the 'closer is better' strategy.  It's not an incorrect or bad strategy... at all.  It's also not a one-size-fits-all strategy.  Others, like myself, believe there are other options.  Bad bet or not... it may be the safer bet at that moment.  If you have 30% belief that you can pull off the risky play but you have 90% belief that you can pull off something less risky, unless it's late in the match or tournament and you HAVE to take a risk... why not play the percentages?  
 

41 minutes ago, Shindig said:

Why not learn to hit a 40-50-60 yard shot?  You're a good enough player that it shouldn't take you more than an hour to figure out which wedge and swing.  Have you mapped your 1/4 and 1/2 shots with the wedges?  Flight shots with the wedges?

Is this what you mean by it is right statistically, but might not be right for you right now?  As in, over time, you'd be better off learning to hit the 50 yarder, but if you and I were playing today, you'd be more likely to score well from 70 than from 50.

Yes, exactly.  If I was on the course at this moment... I'd elect the 70 yard shot over the 50 yard shot.  In the long run, I realize that I'm going to hit the ball closer to the hole when I have shorter distances for my approach.  Statistically... that's not really something to refute.  Right now, however... I feel like the 50 yard shot brings more risk into the score than the 70 yard shot.  

I'm in the process of learning the proper technique to consistently hit the various distances.  What I find, right this moment, is that if I'm hitting a 50 yard shot... it breaks down to where I hit about 40% short, 30% long and 20% pin high.  My zones are vertical zones for that... giving approximately 20 feet for each zone.  If it's 20 feet short... it's short.  If it's 10 feet short or long... it's pin high.  If it's 20 feet long... it's long.  On a horizontal zone basis... it's probably a 20-30 yard wide area in which I'll hit.  Not good, I know... but... that's where I am.

CY

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@Fairway_CY, you're still overthinking it.

If you hit the long clubs poorly, their Shot Zones are correspondingly large, and then sometimes they're the best play (really wide open area, no hazards) and sometimes they're the stupid play (tighter landing area with a hazard or multiple hazards).

@Golfingdad was just pointing out that you, like almost everyone, hit it closer from closer range, even if you're not as confident.

I don't think he was commenting on whether hitting the shot to get there was the smart play or not.

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