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Computing Distances

The 39th Secret

Many golfers judge distances subconsciously. They look at the hole and "feel" the distance. This is not as accurate as consciously computing how far you are from the green. The "feel" can be made much more accurate if it is helped mechanically and psychologically. This is particularly true when you are within pitching distance of the green.
The soundest method seems to be that of Jones, which involves the control of distance simply by shortening the grip on the shaft. If you will drop balls at one-yard intervals back from the green for about 100 yards, you will find that you can control the length of the shot by simply holding the club at spots higher and higher on the grip. With this mechanical method Jones was then free to concentrate on direction. The balls automatically were close to the hole if he computed the yardage correctly.
Gauging the distance involves certain psychological factors. Hitting the ball the correct distance is a psychological horse of another color. In order to practice hitting precise distances, I had Harold Lamb, our greenskeeper, calibrate all distances from our practice green 100 yards back. Whenever I hit practice balls I did not play shots from one position, but scattered them at yard intervals from the green on back. I noted my finger position on the grip at each distance. On the course, the sole problem was to estimate the distance, hold the grip at the point indicated for that yardage and pull the trigger.
I find that if I break up the distances to the flag into intervals of ten yards, yardage can be gauged precisely. This is fine for short distances but is difficult to do for distances over 100 yards. Distances up to 60 yards are easily handled. When the distance is greater, I move to the side of the ball, estimate where the halfway mark is, divide this into yardage, multiply it by two, and that is it.
Of course "feel," or the subconscious, is still important, but even this can be developed consciously. A general rule which should guide us in the development of "feel" is always to use muscles which have the greatest potential for touch. Proper muscles can build a physiological fence around the shot and prevent bad judgment.
Practically speaking, this means that your estimate is more accurate if the more sensitive muscles are used for the shorter distances. You must avoid using a yardstick when a ruler is needed.
The most delicate touch is in the tip of the index finger; then the other fingers, wrists, forearms, arms and body. Smaller muscles are more sensitive discriminators than larger ones. Also, if few muscles are used, the additional variables that accompany the moving of many muscles are eliminated.
I was recently able to correct a flaw in my irons that plagued me for many years. I seldom missed hitting the ball, but the blade was not straight at contact and I missed greens on both sides. I finally struck on the idea of utilizing the sensitivity of the ball of the left thumb. By concentrating on its position, I improved my ability to sense where the blade was. (On theoretical grounds, the use of the sensitivity inherent in the index finger of the right hand should aid in putting touch.)
Since all shots do not require equal amounts of touch, there comes a point at which strength becomes a factor. Otherwise, what is gained in touch is lost in accuracy if, for instance, the club is loose in the hands.
The right combination of distance and direction can only be achieved through varied practice. There are additional factors such as wind, bounce, and temperature whose influences need to be appraised. The simplest method of appraising is just what you would now expect—practice and play under as many different playing conditions as possible.