By Matt Rhodes
In my last post, I indulged in a bit of Johnny Miller hagiography, attempted to persuade you just how useful and versatile a rangefinder can be, and promised to offer some pointers on how you can integrate your rangefinder into your practice routine to maximize its on-course utility. Here is my attempt to make good on that promise.
"By relating the distance and proximity results to your notes on strike quality, you can discover your own tendencies and better understand the range of outcomes..."
To start, break out your rangefinder the next time you’re at the driving range. Do you know that the 150 yard sign is actually 150 yards from where you’re hitting? As the old saying goes, trust, but verify. And then figure out your own way to most reliably make a golf ball travel 150 yards, on-target. If you’re lucky enough to have a driving range with a smattering of additional flags, nets, or other targets, use your rangefinder to quickly establish the distances to all of them and then work on grooving club/swing combos that land the ball near those points. Mix it up by starting from different parts of the practice tee to vary the distances. Keep at it, and you will develop a much better feel for what you can do with each club in your bag.
Next, if possible, find a time when you can get out on your local track when there isn’t much traffic. Bring some extra balls, and use your rangefinder to set up at a spot where you can practice hitting a “stock” shot of some kind into an actual green. Drop a handful of balls and hit them all, noting the quality of contact for each strike. Then head towards the green, find each ball, and use your rangefinder to determine exactly how far you hit them and how close they finished to your target. By relating the distance and proximity results to your notes on strike quality, you can discover your own tendencies and better understand the range of outcomes that are possible when you’re attempting that shot. Repeat the exercise with different clubs and different lies (rough, hardpan, etc.) to build a more complete understanding of your own ball-striking tendencies under realistic playing conditions.
"By thinking in terms of what is most likely to happen with a given club, rather than what might happen on the rare perfect strike, you can reduce wasted shots, get more out of your game, and hopefully have more fun on the course."
This newfound knowledge can be a potent antidote to one the most common mistakes made by recreational golfers - underclubbing. Sure, I may be able to hit a nine iron 150+ yards if I strike it perfectly, but in reality, I know that any given swing with that club is much more likely to make the ball travel around 145 yards. That may not sound like much, but there are plenty of situations where those five yards can make the difference between having a birdie putt, scrambling for par, or even taking a penalty stroke and having to settle for worse. By thinking in terms of what is most likely to happen with a given club, rather than what might happen on the rare perfect strike, you can reduce wasted shots, get more out of your game, and hopefully have more fun on the course.
All of that to say, even if Miller-esque ball-striking precision is forever out of reach, there is still much to be gained by learning as much as we can about our own fallible efforts at the game. A good rangefinder is a great tool here. Use it to better understand the courses you play and your own ball-striking. In short, know your numbers, and enjoy what it can do for your game.