Professional golfers are constantly walking around the course flipping open their yardage books. They are intently reading, analyzing and then shoving them back into their back pockets. If you’re big into research, you may have found pictures of a few pages of someone’s book. But if you’re not, you may not know exactly what they’re looking at. I used to wonder why pros looked at those books so much. I mean, haven’t they played these courses a bunch of times already? Don’t you kind of get it? Of course, I was a little off. But it wasn’t until I was able to start using those same books that I started to see how my game could adjust.
I think the first question that we should answer is what do professional yardage books look like?
Well let me show you! This yardage book has been the same yardage book I used at LPGA Qualifying School Stage 1. This is for the Dinah Shore tournament course where the ANAinspiration is held, the first LPGA major of the year.
You can see that they’re pretty detailed. And all yardages, at least in this book, in bold are to the front of each green. The number in parentheses above that bold number is to the middle. Each tree that is marked with a yardage. The curves in the fairways are marked with yardage. Front and backs of bunkers.
The (Y), (X) and (R) are actually spray paint marks that were in the fairway. Since there are no range finders and sometimes courses don’t have enough yardages written on the sprinkler heads, they’ll mark the fairways to make it easier to walk off yardage. The tiny + or – number that is next to the bold number, that’s elevation. So let’s say the book says it’s 158 to the front with a +2 next to it. It’s slightly uphill, making it 160.
And then there are the arrows. So many arrows! Those arrows show you slope. Whether you’re in the fairway or on the green, it shows you which direction the ground is going to move the ball. Pretty cool right?!
How do yardage books help off the tee then?
Now you have seen all of the information that can go into a yardage book. You may be wondering why a pro may need all of this if they’ve already seen and played the golf course. Let’s go through it!
It’s true, most pros will play their practice rounds and come away with a game plan on each hole. Their game plan is written down in each yardage book. A hole-by-hole game plan starts with going backwards from the green to the tee. I will look at the hole and if there is a “landing area” that is a larger area of the fairway and gives me the best shot into the green. If there isn’t a clear landing area, I will decide what club I am the most confident will give me a short putt on my approach.
Once I have that club and corresponding yardage, I start backtrack. I’ll take the total yardage of the hole minus the approach shot yardage I’d like. Whatever yardage I have left is going to be the the yardage I need to hit off the tee and of course that corresponds to a club.
Alright, so how do yardage books help going into greens?
That’s the first part! The second part is the green view on a yardage book. Once I get pin positions for the day, this could change which side of the fairway I want my approach shot to come from. The other thing with a green view is which kind of putt you’d like to have after your approach. Let’s walk through this.
The green slopes from back to front. Take the green and mentally separate it into 4 quadrants, easy to see in yardage books: top-left, top-right, bottom-left, bottom-right. If you get a pin position and it’s in the bottom-left, depending on how far away from the front of the green, you probably want to be below the hole or even with it. Otherwise you start to leave yourself with a longer downhill putt.
The other thing is you want to error on the right side of the pin for a couple reasons. One, this leaves you with a putt. If you miss left, there’s a good chance you’re off the green and short-sided. Two, you have left yourself with a right to left putt which is usually visually easier for a right-handed player. Lefties, it’s kind of a bummer if this doesn’t look as pleasant of a putt but the bonus is you’re still putting.
That’s why they’re so important!
At the highest level, besides having good mechanics, it’s all about your process. Who can completely stay in their process, their game plan, for every shot and for 18 holes. It’s so hard to do! But getting a yardage book and plotting your way around the course makes it much easier. It’s rare that you see a pro really switch up their club on their tee shot unless weather is playing a major factor or it’s a par 3 with a varying pin placement. It creates consistency and less questions. Less to think about as you’re approaching your next shot.
So that’s most of it! What do you think? If you have questions or I missed something, reach out in the comments!