Niagara Gazette

June 8, 2013

Golf by Ruggiero: The real difference between pros and others is...

Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Like all sports, golf has its great players, its good ones, and its not-so-good ones. Ever wonder what the principal disparity is between the professionals and the rest of us? Could it be driving distance or maybe iron accuracy?

Driving distance? Certainly the pros hit their ball well past the average amateur. And, distance does has its advantages. On a typical 400-yard par four, the pros will hit a drive 280 yards, leaving themselves a simple wedge to the green. The typical club players will hit their tee shots perhaps 220 yards, leaving them 180 yards to the hole and requiring the use of a hybrid.

So, the pro undoubtedly has an advantage over the recreational golfer in hitting greens in regulation due to driving distance and there’s not much the resident duffer can do about it, no matter what the manufacturers tell us.

(Note: hitting a green in regulation means getting your ball onto the green of the hole that you are playing in two strokes less than its par. So, reaching a green in regulation, or GIR, on a par five is being on that green in three strokes, a par four in two strokes, and a par three in one stroke.)

Iron accuracy? These professional guys (and gals) are good to be sure, but did you know that the leading PGA professional on tour hits only 12 out of 18 greens in regulation. That means that 33 percent of the time, they find themselves needing to get their ball “up-and-down” to save par, just like us!

Most decent local players will average nine GIR, or about 50 percent of their holes. Not a huge difference, but the pro again does maintain an advantage.

So, while driving distance and iron accuracy both provide the professional with a capability of navigating 18 holes in less strokes than us, the primary discrepancy between the professional and a good club player is not distance nor iron accuracy, it’s scrambling.

Actually, that’s very good news for all of us who desire to score lower. Its highly unlikely that the average player could add 60 yards to their drives or to hit their hybrids as accurately as pros hit their wedge. But, anyone can become more efficient around the green if they’re willing to put in the time to do so.

Do you know how good the pros are at scrambling? You’ll be surprised. At present, there are five tour players who have a scrambling ratio of 100 percent! That’s right, EVERY time they’ve missed a green on the fringe, they’ve gotten their ball up-and-down. There are another 31 tour players who have only missed getting up-and-down ONCE this entire season.

Average amateurs might get their ball up and down a little more than half the time. Let’s do the math. The professional misses six greens per round, but makes birdie or par on the holes that he misses the green. The result? They score under-par with scores like 67, 68, or 69.

The decent club player misses 8 greens a round and scrambles successfully only one-half of the time. Add in a three-putt or two, and a good local amateur will shoot 75, 76, and 77. The greatest disparity? Scrambling.

And what can we do with this information? Easy. Practice.

Here’s a drill that’s sure to work. Take five balls from just off the practice green at your club and attempt to get all five up-and-down. Continue until you do. If you’re newer to the game, four out of five will do. I guarantee that you’ll shave strokes off your game in no time.

• • •

Over the past several weeks, I’ve had readers approach me concerning a previous column on putting. Included in the inquiries was one from my fiancé Kellyann, who wanted to know if the putter that she uses (Acushnet Bullseye) was properly fit to her.

This got me to thinking about players who have the illusion that equipment will solve much of their on-course difficulties. They won’t. Since Kelly and I golf together often, I see firsthand that her consistency wavers due to one widespread putting flaw that she will need to correct if she is to be more productive on the short grass.

The defect is referred to as deceleration.

Poor putters bring their putters back too far on their backswing. From this position, they have little choice but to decelerate their forward swing so as not to hit their ball too far past the hole. This poor procedure causes the player to never develop a proper feel on the greens. Putts are left too short or hit far past the hole. Inconsistency is the result.

Here’s how to do it correctly. NEVER bring back the putter further than is necessary to roll your ball into the cup. A general rule of thumb (not to be taken too literally due to green differences from course to course) is to take your putter back one inch for every one foot your ball must roll. So, from twelve feet from the hole, take back your putter 12 inches.

Positive acceleration is the ability to increase clubhead speed throughout the entire putting stroke. If done correctly, the backswing and the follow-through of any putting stroke will have symmetry. If you take your putter back one foot in the backswing, your putter should travel about one foot past the ball after it’s struck.

I had Kelly work on a drill that I developed. Place a ball on a tee about twenty feet from a hole. Get 5 balls and place each, one at a time, about 15 inches in front of the teed-up ball. Strike each ball towards the hole without knocking the ball behind your stroke off the tee.

The goal? Each of the five balls must roll past the hole or be holed. If any of the five balls does not reach the hole, start over. Also, once you have reached the initial goal of hitting all five balls past the hole, you MUST hole all five balls with your second shot. Do this until you accomplish the goal.

It took Kelly about 30 minutes to accomplish her objective, but she did. In no time at all, using this drill, you will begin to feel your putter accelerate to the hole and you will hole more putts than ever. I’m POSITIVE of that.

Until next week, keep it in the fairway.

Ken Ruggiero is a local golf instructor and has been writing this column for the past 28 years. He can be reached at