Is Hitting Fairways Overrated? According To The Data, Obsessing Over The Short Grass Could Be A Mistake...

Every golfer wants to hit the fairway with as many tee shots as possible, but is it really as important as we make it out to be?

Are Fairways Overrated? Golf ball in fairway and a golf ball in the rough
Should we be obsessing over the amount of fairways we hit?
(Image credit: Getty Images/Future)

Traditionally, one of the most common measures of a good round for amateur golfers is the amount of fairways hit. I often hear this stat being referenced in conversations, both on the course and in the clubhouse, but should we be obsessing about finding the short grass?

Well, thanks to the latest data from Arccos, it appears we may be placing to much emphasis on the importance of finding fairways...

How important is it to hit fairways in golf?

There is no denying that crushing your driver down the middle of the fairway is one of the greatest feelings in golf, but the impact it has on your performance is not actually as profound as you think.

As referenced in the graph below, the average number of fairways hit by a scratch player in comparison to a 15-handicapper (best rounds) is less than one per round. That is also the case when you look at the worst rounds shot by the same players and when you consider the number of strokes gained, the number is even less significant.

Data bar graph showing the number of fairways hit on average by golfers of different handicaps, broken down into best and worst rounds

Graph showing the average number of fairways hit by handicap, measured over the best and worst rounds

(Image credit: Arccos)

Interested in discovering insights on your own game from Golf Monthly's data partner? Check out the Arccos website and use code: 'GolfMonthly' to save 15%

As you can see in the table below, if a 10-handicapper misses the fairway with 200 yards remaining it will only cost them 0.06 shots on average. If that same golfer missed every fairway on the golf course, say 14 in total, they would only lose 0.84 strokes.

Losing less than one stroke across an entire round, for not hitting a single fairway, certainly suggests that our obsession with putting it down the middle might be misinformed.

The difference increases slightly as you get closer to the hole, but a 5-handicap golfer, with 100 yards remaining on average at each hole, would still only lose one and a half strokes across the entire round.

Data table showing the number of strokes gained by finding the fairway for different handicap golfers and from different yardages

Table showing the number of strokes lost by missing the fairway, broken down by distance and handicap

(Image credit: Arccos)

Interestingly, the number of shots lost by missing the fairway varies very little across the entire spectrum of measured handicaps. With 100 yards remaining to the hole, golfers from scratch to 20-handicap lost around 0.1 strokes per hole.

It would be inaccurate to suggest that hitting fairways doesn't provide golfers with a scoring advantage, but the impact appears to be negligible and perhaps we should focus our attention instead on the plethora of stats that can significantly affect our performance on the golf course.

What about the pros?

When you think about some of the best ball strikers in the world, like World No.1 Scottie Scheffler, you might assume that they practically hit every fairway. The truth in fact is very different, as the former Masters Champion found less than two thirds of fairways last season. In fact, Scheffler has not managed to achieve more than 62 percent of fairways hit in any season across his entire PGA Tour career.

The PGA Tour average currently stands at 59 percent, so give yourself a break the next time you see your ball wander into the rough.

Barry Plummer
Staff Writer

Barry Plummer is our Staff Writer, joining in January 2024 after seven years as a PE Teacher. He now writes about instruction, working closely with Golf Monthly's Top 50 Coaches to provide hints and tips about all aspects of the game. As someone who came into golf at a later age, Barry is very passionate about supporting the growth of the game and creating opportunities for everyone to access it. A member at Sand Moor Golf Club in Leeds, he looks forward to getting out on the course at least once a week and making up for lost time in the pursuit of a respectable handicap.

Barry is currently playing:

Driver: Ping G425

Hybrid: TaylorMade Stealth 4 Hybrid

Irons: Mizuno JPX 921 4-PW

Wedges: TaylorMade RAC 60, Callaway Jaws MD5 54

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour