The Numbers Game
Get conversant with the right digits for golf's rules, equipment, your swing, and more, and the sum result is you being a better, more informed player. We polled expert sources to get their take on key figures that can help minimize your scores or at least maximize your enjoyment of the game.
GOLF RULES NUMBERS
The USGA Rules of Golf hotline, available seven days a week.
The approximate number of inquiries USGA Rules associates field annually.
THREE COMMONLY REFERENCED RULES
This rule says you can play two balls on a hole in stroke play if you find yourself in a situation where you're not entirely certain what to do - just check with a scoring official, Rules representative, or club pro before you return your scorecard to clear up which score counts.
This rule says you can correct an incorrect drop or wrongly substituted ball and proceed without penalty, as long as you didn't stroke at the ball.
This rule clarifies when it is OK to clean your ball during a round. When the ball is legally lifted from somewhere other than the putting green, you may clean it except (a) when determining if it is unfit for play; (b) for identification (it may be cleaned only to the degree necessary to identify it); or (c) when the ball is assisting or interfering with play.
Master club-fitter Woody Lashen pinpoints numbers to consider when deciding which clubs will work best for you. Lashen is a co-owner of the custom club shop Pete's Golf in Mineola, N.Y., named one of "America's 100 Best Clubfitters" by Golf Digest.
"This is the range of loft on today's putters. Most club players don't realize putters come in different lofts - or even that they have loft. Getting the right loft to match your particular stroke is crucial to distance control. That comes down to where your hands are relative to the putter at impact. If your hands are ahead, like most Tour pros, you're de-lofting the putter and need more loft. Average players tend to add loft by having their hands behind the ball at impact, so they need much less loft than a Tour pro does."
"The average off-the-rack driver sold in shops today is at least 45.5 inches long. The average PGA Tour pro's driver is 44.5 inches. Most professional club fitters will tell you the standard driver they build for club players is 45 inches. Why? Because the amount of extra distance you might get from a longer club isn't worth the potential loss of accuracy. We find that most people actually hit the ball farther with a shorter shaft. They make better contact more consistently, and they don't lose speed due to the club being too long for them to handle and swing efficiently."
"You want two distinct bounces on your two main short-game wedges so that you can use them in a variety of conditions and hit a variety of shots. On the wedge you use from the sand, you generally want more bounce - 10 to 15 degrees. With your higher-lofted wedge, you want less bounce, because you're using it off tighter lies and for short shots around the green."
"Pitching wedges don't have a loft number on them, but most now have 45 degrees or less of loft, not the old 48. You want no more than 5 degrees difference in loft in your wedges. Gaps vary by player, but you can use a 50-degree gap wedge, a 55-degree sand wedge, and a 60-degree lob wedge as a good starting point."
James Leitz, one of just 62 TrackMan-certified master instructors in the world and one of Golf Magazine's Top 100 Teachers in America, sums up how machine-generated numbers from high-tech swing-analysis equipment can be translated into improved performance.
"The ball-flight laws are the four things that make the ball fly the way it does: ball speed, launch angle, spin rate, and spin-axis tilt. These are the things you must control to control the game. Likewise, there are four impact alignments that cause the ball to fly the way it does: clubhead speed, clubhead path (horizontal and vertical), clubface angle, and impact point on the clubface. Players should be aware of what's happening with all four of their impact alignments. Technology such as the TrackMan Launch Monitor can provide those numbers, but they should be translated via a knowledgeable teaching pro."
"You have to have enough clubhead speed to compete at the level you want. Even if you're only a 12 handicap, if you have a 100 mph clubhead speed with your driver, that's fast enough to be club champion. But if you can only swing the driver 80 mph, you'll likely have to add speed to play in the A flight."
"You need the proper impact alignments to create the ball flight you want. OK, maybe there aren't an infinite number of changes you can make to help manage path, face, and impact point, but there are plenty that tie into those three alignments - starting with grip change, ball position, backswing adjustment, and transition."
"That's the chance you have to hit the shot you want without the geometry you need. Let's say you want to hit a little draw, which requires about a 2-degree-to-the-right path (for a right-hander). But if you have a 4-degree-to-the-left path, that's a bust. Golf hell is when your impact geometry can't produce what you want the ball to do. The road to glory begins with a basic understanding of the geometry you need for the shot shape you desire."
"This is the PGA Tour average angle of attack downward with a 7-iron. If your angle of attack is only 1 degree down, you have a problem. It is difficult to hit the ball high enough on the face of an iron and fairway wood unless you hit down on the ball sufficiently, which creates an efficient launch angle and spin rate to flight the ball properly and hold the green."
"This is about the maximum number of changes you should be working on after a series of lessons with your pro. You might start with seven or eight things, but as you make progress that should soon be whittled down to a more manageable number."
"To measure your impact point, one can of Gold Bond works beautifully. Just spray the clubface and after your shot you can see exactly where the ball hits the face - which has so much to do with how the ball flies."
"High-tech equipment isn't requisite, but there are some things a video camera can catch that the naked eye can't, some things that TrackMan can catch that a video camera can't, and even some things that TrackMan can't catch. The whiz-bang 3-D swing system Gears analyzes more than 600 images per second to measure exactly what the club and body are doing. As an example, it can tell you how much bend is in the shaft at impact. With that info, you can get fit to the proper equipment instead of making unnecessary compensations with your ball position or swing. The latest technology can absolutely help lead to lower numbers on the course."
RANDOM PGA TOUR NUMBERS
Total strokes played on the PGA Tour last season
Percentage of PGA Tour events won by 20-somethings in the past two seasons
Percentage of PGA Tour events won by 1 stroke or fewer last season
PGA TOUR WINNING NUMBERS
Golf analyst Jake Nichols identifies some figures to give you a better understanding of how the pros win, which, he says, will not only make you a better fan but can sometimes translate into success in your own game. He is Head of Golf Intelligence for 15th Club, a London-based team of golf professionals and data experts focused on helping professional golfers achieve an edge through the application of cutting-edge data analytics.
"The most powerful predictive statistic on the PGA Tour is scoring average relative to the field, calculated simply as a player's score compared to the field's average score for that round. The typical Tour winner gains more than 15 strokes on the field to win an event - 3.8 strokes per round. Why is it so hard to win consistently on Tour? Even Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy only average gaining 2.5 strokes on the field per round, meaning even the best need to raise their games significantly to win."
1.4 (or 37%)
"Putting extremely well is nearly essential to winning on Tour. From 2011 to 2015, the average PGA Tour winner has gained 1.4 of his 3.8 strokes (37 percent) with the putter, and only a handful of winners have managed to triumph without outputting the field. While excelling in other areas is how the best players separate themselves from the pack over the long haul, putting well wins individual tournaments."
Driving distance is an important difference maker on the PGA Tour, too. "The stats show that hitting the ball long enough to rank in the top 20 percent on Tour in distance is three times more valuable in terms of scoring average than ranking in the top 20 percent in driving accuracy. It's also more important than ranking in the top 20 percent in greens in regulation, scrambling, and putting."