When to Use What Golf Club?

By Herm Otto

From your first tee shot to your last putt, what club do you select for each shot? If you are a beginner, five considerations are all you need to think about in making this selection: distance, trajectory, obstacles, elevation and wind. Understanding the impact that each of these considerations has on club selection will allow you to make the proper selection to get you as close to your target as your skill level can reasonably achieve.

Instructions

Difficulty: Moderately Easy
Step 1
Determine the actual distance (in yards) from your lie to the hole. Distance markers and the flag color are there to assist you with this. Be aware that distance markers are to the center of the green, not to the hole. If the flagstick appears to be at the front of the green (or up), subtract 10 yards from the distance-marker yardage. If the flag is behind the center of the green, add 10 yards.
Step 2
Visualize the trajectory needed for the ball to take a clear path to the hole and stay put when it lands near the hole. The clubs are designed with loft (angle that the clubface is at when it strikes the ball). More loft (steeper angle) makes the ball trajectory higher. Less loft makes the trajectory lower. As club numbers descend, loft decreases and the ball flies lower. As club numbers ascend, loft increases and the ball flies higher. A ball struck with a low trajectory runs farther after landing than a ball struck with a high trajectory that tends to run little when it lands.
Step 3
Determine any obstacles that are in the direction and trajectory of your desired ball flight. If there are obstacles low, or on the ground (bunkers, water, sprinkler heads, vegetation, etc.), you will need to loft the ball over them with a higher-lofted club. If there are obstacles high (tree branches, power cables, etc.) you will need to slip the ball under them with a lower-lofted club. You may need to compromise distance to avoid an obstacle, but this is better than going for the distance and colliding with the obstacle.
Step 4
Determine the elevation change between your lie and the hole. If you are hitting uphill, add 10 yards to the yardage-marker distance to compensate for lost trajectory and run. If downhill, subtract 10 yards for added trajectory and run. For steep inclines, add or subtract more yards (more or less club) accordingly.
Step 5
Determine how the wind is behaving (direction and strength). If it is blowing into your face as you face the hole, add 10 yards to the yardage-marker distance to compensate for the wind resistance. If it is at your back, subtract 10 yards to allow for the wind's help. For strong winds, add or subtract more yards accordingly.
Step 6
From driving-range practice and previous play, you should know your approximate ball distance with each club. If not, and you are an adult male beginner, assume you will hit the ball about 150 yards with a 5-iron. Add 10 yards each as the club numbers descend (170 yards with a 3-iron) and deduct 10 yards each as the club numbers ascend (130 yards with a 7-iron).
Step 7
Determine the correct club for the actual distance based on your game. Adjust the yardage (club selection) for trajectory, obstacles, elevation and wind.

Tips & Warnings

Whenever you have the choice, lower trajectory is usually safer than higher trajectory because you have more control. The "Texas Wedge" (using your putter to putt onto the green from off the green, when the turf you will putt across is free of obstacles and closely mown) is a good example. In similar conditions, "bump and run" with a 7-iron from 75 yards out rather than trying a high-trajectory shot with a wedge. As a beginner, leave your driver home. Use your 3-wood for your longest tee shots. You will have much more control.
Whenever you have the choice, lower trajectory is usually safer than higher trajectory because you have more control. The "Texas Wedge" (using your putter to putt onto the green from off the green, when the turf you will putt across is free of obstacles and closely mown) is a good example. In similar conditions, "bump and run" with a 7-iron from 75 yards out rather than trying a high-trajectory shot with a wedge.
As a beginner, leave your driver home. Use your 3-wood for your longest tee shots. You will have much more control.

About The Author

Herm Otto is an architect and was a university instructor for over 25 years. He is also an avid golfer who began golfing 10 years ago. As a Demand Studios writer, Otto writes golf and travel articles for GolfLink. He now resides in Arizona.

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