70/30 Rule: Not All Golf Clubs Are Created Equal

70% Of Your Shots Come From Only 30% Of Your Clubs

Have you ever heard the term 80-20 rule?  It is a general rule of thumb that associates that 80% of an outcome is derived from 20% of a cause. One example is in business where 80% of a company’s sales come from 20% of their customer base. This is also referred to as the Pareto principle, named after an Italian economist in the early 20th century to help explain why not all things are equally distributed.

Your golf bag also has a general rule of thumb regarding the frequency of clubs used.  That is approximately 70% of your shots come from only 30% of your clubs.  What are the most popular clubs in your bag?  They are the putter, driver and wedges and are often the most experimented and swapped out golf clubs when things are not going well. So you should focus more on these clubs out of the maximum 14 you are allowed to carry during a round.

Golfers can do a lot of self-fitting and improve their scores if they would take good notes during or after each round and compile statistics.  If you don’t already keep track of your strokes, I would strongly suggest that you do. By examining some of the data it will show what to work on.  Following are a few stats to keep in mind with a brief explanation of each one.

Terminology You Should Know
Fairway hit is the term for the ball landing in the fairway off of the tee (and that is your own fairway too).  On par 4’s and par 5’s, the fairway is the ideal area to land the ball after teeing off toward the hole.  The fairway constitutes a nicely moved area where the grass is short and even.  Most golfers will reach for their driver on each par 4 or 5 meaning that 14 or the 18 holes will use that one club.  However, there is no rule you have to use your driver; you can use any club off the tee to advance the ball and keep it in play.

The concept of a par 3 is that the golfer reaches the green in one stroke and then takes two putts to put the ball in the hole or to hole out.   A par 4 is designed so that it takes two strokes to reach the green and two putts to hole out. Lastly, a par 5 is designed so that it takes three strokes to reach the green and two putts to hole out.  When a player reaches the green in the number of stroke outlines above (or even less), the term is called green in regulation or GIR for short.

“Putts per round” is a term that is self-explanatory.  It is the number of putts that occur on the putting surface only during a round (typically 18 holes).  One important note, if you use your putter from the fringe or elsewhere on the course that is not the actual putting surface, technically is not considered a putt.

According to PGATOUR.com at the time of this article, here are some average statistics for the PGA Tour.  Remember the slogan “These guys are good”. Well if you look at the average, they still hit slightly less than 2 out of every 3 greens in regulation or fairways off the tee and goes to show just how difficult this game is!

Scoring average    71.22
Driving accuracy    62.3% (or 8.7 fairways hit per round)
GIR            61.98% (or 11.15 green in regulation per round)
Putts per round    29.27

For the other 99.99% of us who golf, we will have a higher average score, have more putts per round and not hit as many greens or fairways.  By how much will be proportional to your score.  Take a look at the table below to see how each of the three key stats is approximately based on your score.

Jeff Chart
Let’s say a player shoots 100 for 18 holes, here is a likely breakdown of their strokes:

Driver = 14 times, Greens in Regulation = 0, therefore we shall assume at least 18 shots will come from 100 yards in toward the green with one of the wedges, Putts = 39 times

This totals 71 strokes with probably only these 4-5 clubs (driver, putter, 2-3 wedges), while 29 strokes are taken with 8-9 clubs.  This comes very close to the 70/30 Rule.

Now let’s look at someone who shots on average 79 for 18 holes, here is the likely breakdown of their strokes:

Driver = 14 times, Greens in Regulation = 8, therefore we shall assume at least 10 shots will come from 100 yards in toward the green with one of the wedges, Putts = 32 times

In this case a total of 56 strokes with probably only these 4-5 clubs while the other 23 strokes are taken with 8-9 clubs.  Again, this comes very close to the 70/30 Rule.

Where You Need To Improve
Let’s say your scoring average for 18 holes is 91 and you have compiled these stats for 10 or more rounds.  You should have a good understanding of what to work on.  By examining the chart of statistic for scoring, you can focus on your weaknesses.  For instance, the chart indicates you might hit 4 fairways per round, 3 greens in regulation and 36 putts per round if your average score is 91.  In reality, this bogey golfer may average 3 fairways per round, 2 GIR, and 33 putts per round. From tee to green, the performance could be improved, but on putts it is better than average.  That is how we analyze this information.

There are many professional golfers who do not look at the statistic fairway hit as overly important as many of these golfers are strong enough to recover and hit shots into the green with mid and high lofted clubs.  Some of the longest drivers on tour are near the bottom of driving accuracy. Bubba Watson is a good example at 195th on tour at 55.49% (still not shabby). #2 in driving distance is J.B. Holmes who is 204th in driving accuracy.

In reality, the average golfer who hit’s their driver 220 yards off of the tee is much more penalized whenever they miss their own fairway.  To avoid costly penalty strokes and have an opportunity to hit the green on the next shot on a par 4, there are a couple things one can do.  One is to make sure you are playing the proper set of tees. No need to penalize yourself by playing a course that is too long that you cannot possibly reach the greens in regulation.

The other option if you are missing a disproportionate amount of fairways is to use a club off of the tee that will put you in play.  After all, you have 8 or 9 other clubs you bought and sitting in the bag begging to be used.  Even though it may mean slightly less distance, this will improve your chance of reaching your goal of a GIR.  One of the most accurate statistics is the number of GIR in a round.  The more you make, the lower your score will be.  But don’t be discouraged if you find that once you hit more GIR that your putts per round will increase slightly as you will most likely be further from the hole.

There are golfers who might not be very strong, like women or senior male golfers that potentially might hit a disproportionate amount of fairways and possibly fewer putts than what their score would indicate.  For this reason, both fairways hit and putts per round are not as strong of indicators as GIR are in scoring relevance. In these cases, it is helpful to focus on the longer and lower lofted clubs to get them much needed distance.

So if you feel that during a round that you are using the same clubs over and over again and wonder why you have seldom used clubs in your bag, well now you know.  Thirty percent of your clubs (putter, driver and your wedges) will do the brunt of the work (70%) so it is important to select ones that are properly fit for your game as well as take the time to practice with them too.

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  1. d cheever says:

    Insightful post. Maybe that’s why I only carry 9 clubs. There were just too many lonely ones in the iron department.

  2. Good article, Jeff. Here are a few data points from today’s round for comparison purposes:

    I shot an 84. Let’s compare to the 85 line only your chart.
    10 fairways hit (better than the chart’s 6).
    5 GIR (a bit worse than the chart’s 6).
    31 putts (better than the chart’s 34).

    Your chart shows the same GIR as fairways hit. I always have about twice as many fairways as greens. Maybe that’s because I’m 67, and have been losing distance for the last 4 years or so.

    The ninth hole at this course is a par-5 around a lake — or over the lake if your drive is right and your fairways woods are reliable. If you hit your tee shot over 220 yards, it had better be a draw; bunkers and the lake are right, and if you stay left without the draw, you’ll be in the trees 100 yards off the tee. But, if you hit it only 200, the fairway is about 80 yards wide and there’s no trouble at all. So, unless you intend to go for the green in two, it’s a really bad idea to hit driver.

    In my foursome, I put a 19* hybrid in the middle of the fairway (thanks for that Dynacraft Hypersteel). The others used driver. Warren hit a beautiful draw about 30 yards past me. Tom had a funky lie on the bank of the lake, and Bruce was in the trees left. Warren didn’t go for the green, so he merely had a shorter layup shot than I did; we hit our third-shot wedges from the same place. We both made par. The others had big numbers.

    That’s a perfect example of when to refrain from hitting the driver. Even the guy who did it perfectly had no real advantage over my layup, and the others were in big trouble.


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