In 1906, Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, after observing that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population stumbled upon a nearly universally applicable principle that would come to be named after him some years later. Pareto’s Principle, also known as Pareto’s Law or the 80-20 rule, would later come to be widely adopted in fields ranging from business to healthcare, and suggests that in almost any situation 80% of the results are derived from 20% of the causes. In business 80% of a company’s profits are derived from 20% of its customers, 80 % of the complaints come from 20% of the customers as well, and 80% of all sales come from 20% of the sales force. In the world of computers 20% of the code written is responsible for 80% of the errors and crashes and 80% of internet traffic occurs during 20% of the time. In occupational safety 80% of the injuries come from 20% of the causes, while 80% of the cost increases from insurers is derived from 20% of the cases. Pareto even observed this ratio in his own garden, at one point finding that 80% of the peas came from 20% of the pea pods. Again and again, in incredibly disparate situations, Pareto’s Principle has been observed to be uncannily accurate. And when it comes to golf things are no different.
In the game of golf we are allowed to carry 14 clubs. Clubs designed to give you the ability to hit all sorts of different shots from a myriad of situations and yardages, but the reality of the game is that most golfers hit somewhere between 70% and 80% of their shots with about 20% (read 3) of their clubs. In the majority of cases those 3 clubs are the Driver, a favorite greenside wedge (typically a sand or lob wedge), and a putter. When you figure most people hit their driver 14 times a round, their favorite wedge 10-15 times a round, and putt about 36 times a round you end up with about 60-65 actual shots coming from those 3 clubs. Throw in the fact that your driver likely caused you to have at least a penalty stroke or two and put you in other places three or four times that you had to hit recovery shots from, that fact that your favorite wedge might have left you in the bunker once or twice (or airmailed the green into another bunker), and your yippy putting stroke makes just 2-putting each hole a lofty ambition some days and you can often find that those 3 clubs will account for over 70 strokes in a given round. It’s no wonder most people play just about as good and sometimes even better when we have a 3 club tournament.
Armed with these facts and figures, maybe it’s time to take a look at how we practice the game, and how much time we spend practicing the different elements of the game. I know, I know, the driving range is so tempting and it’s right there, a mere 25 or 30 steps from the clubhouse and it’s so much fun to stand out there for hours upon end beating balls to groove that magical muscle memory, but unless we’re doing it with the driver is that really the best use of our time? And besides, if laziness is part of the excuse that large expanse of much shorter grass (known as the practice putting green for those of you unfamiliar with it) is even closer. And while I know the practice bunker and short game area is located way down in the south forty (at least 50 or 60 steps from the clubhouse) I guarantee that for a good many of us the long walk and extra time we invest in taking our favorite wedge for a visit to that area would be an investment that will pay big dividends when it comes to our score.
Now I realize that for many of you these comparisons to your own game may not be completely accurate. For some of you, Driver may be the best club in your bag, for others that favorite wedge really is your favorite club, and I’m certain there are at least a few good putters out there. If you do a little 80-20 analysis of your game, however, I can almost guarantee that you will find that about 80% of the shots that you throw away during a round come from about 3 or 4 clubs in your bag, or types of shots. I know for some of you this may require a bit of painful introspection to figure out, so if you need help my door is open, but spend a little time doing it and I promise you will find out where you should really spending your practice time and how much time you should spend doing it. After all, with as precious as all of our time is, the goal should be to practice smarter, not harder and if we can learn to do that instead of just beating balls until our hands bleed we might just finally find the path that leads us to that next level. Let me know what you think, and pass it on if you agree.