Instruction: How to choose the right club

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Understanding wind direction is key in determining the correct club to play on any given hole.
July 23, 2013
By John Stahlschmidt, Senior Head Instructor, TOURAcademy TPC Scottsdale

In addition to giving you real-time distance to the green and hazards on more than 40,000 courses worldwide, the all-new TOURCaddie app ( also offers you personalized club recommendations, based on the true yardages that you hit your clubs. That’s why it’s like having a personalized caddie in your pocket. When you preview the hole, it also maps out a strategy for what clubs you should hit and how you should play the hole.

Now, the virtual caddie cannot factor in the wind, the lie of the ball, the altitude, or the weather. You’ll have to do that. But here are a few additional keys that, along with the help of your TOURCaddie, will make club selection a breeze.

Off the Tee: Seek Out the Widest Part of the Fairway

If you watched the U.S. Open, you didn’t see the players hitting driver off the tee all that often. In fact, Phil Mickelson didn’t even carry a driver in his bag all week, instead opting for his strong 2-wood, nicknamed “Phrankenwood.” Even on most regular PGA TOUR stops, the players are hitting driver eight or nine times, at most. The average golfer, on the other hand, is reaching for driver 14 out of 14 times. There could be an ocean on both sides of the fairway, and they’d still hit driver. Furthermore, they’re going to try to hit the driver as far as they can, regardless of what trouble may lurk ahead.

From a course-management standpoint, take your cue from the very best players in the world, and consider leaving your driver in the bag from time to time. Look to see where the widest part of the fairway is, and if it leaves you with a manageable distance in for your next shot, then choose a club that’s going to allow you to get there. It might be a long iron or hybrid, and not your driver. (The TOURCaddie app will give you the distance to the widest part of the fairway by moving the target feature on the screen.) If the distance from the middle of the fairway to the green is too much to cover, then you should consider hitting driver. Too many times golfers reach for their driver when they can easily get home with a hybrid and 7-iron instead, especially on the shorter par 4s. Play the percentages and choose a club that will give you the best chance to keep the ball in play.

Another reason why you may want to eschew driver, especially early on, is to ensure that your round gets off to a good start. There may be a little anxiety going on the first few holes, which makes it tough to control a long club like the driver. Choose a conservative club off the tee for the first few holes -- one that will keep you in play and set a positive tone for the rest of your round. As your confidence starts to build and you feel yourself hitting the ball really well, then put your driver in play.

Also make sure to lay up short of trouble. (TOURCaddie will give you yardages to all fairway bunkers, including the distance to carry them.) Ask yourself: “If I hit the ball right or left and I hit it solid, does it have a chance to reach the bunker”? If the answer is “yes”, and the bunker is penal, than choose a club you can swing aggressively that will not reach it.

Approach Shots: Consider Your Front and Back Yardages As Well

The TOURCaddie app gives you yardages to the front edge, center, and back of the green, not to mention the yardage required to carry any greenside bunkers. All of this information is very important when deciding on a club for the shot at hand. Some greens run diagonally from left to right or left to right, so the yardage to the back is not always the same on one side as it is on the other. Also, if you know there’s little chance to get the ball up-and-down from behind the green, it’s good to know the yardage to the back, so you can play a more conservative shot to the center of the green. The front yardage is important, too, because not many amateurs can spin the ball and make it stop in its tracks. Unless the green is very soft, the ball is going to release and roll out several yards. In most instances, you’re going to want to play a little short of the hole location yardage, unless there’s a false front or hazard very close to the front of the green.

Speaking of hazards, if you opt to go for the flag and it’s tucked behind a bunker, you need to know what the yardage is to cover, or carry, the bunker. Knowing the yardage to the front of the bunker is not going to do you much good. Some other things you need to consider when choosing an approach club:

--The wind: In general, every 10 mph of wind equates to one more or less club. If there’s a 10-mph wind in your face, opt for the 8-iron over the 9; conversely, if there’s a 20-mph wind behind you, choose your pitching wedge over a 9- or 8-iron.

--The temperature: The hotter it is outside, the farther the ball is going to carry. The cooler it is — i.e., early in the morning or late in the day—the less it’s going to carry. Also pay attention to the moisture on the ground because when it’s cool and damp out, you’re not going to get as much roll on the fairways as you will when the course has had a chance to dry out.

--The altitude: At higher altitudes, the air is thinner so the ball will move through it more efficiently; and, as such, will travel farther.

--Elevation: For every 10 yards of elevation (to an elevated green or one below your feet), add or subtract a full club. The lie of the ball can also play a factor—if you’re on a moderate to severe upslope, for instance, you may want to take one more club (i.e., a 6-iron vs.  7-iron), since the hill will tend to add loft to the club.

--Your Swing: How are you swinging the club on the day you’re playing? If your adrenaline is high and you’re consistently hitting your approach shots long, then club down; conversely, if you’re hitting everything thin, club up.

For more help with your game and to get real-time distances and hole-by-hole 3D flyovers to more than 40,000 courses worldwide, download the new free TOURCaddie App for iPhone and iPad users at the App Store or As an in-app upgrade for $9.99, you also gain immediate access to more than 175 on-course tips from the TOURAcademy instructors.