PGA Championship

Valhalla Golf Club



Game Plan

Players and caddies agree: This is the key number you should care about

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Have you ever looked at a professional golfer before they hit a shot? Especially before an important shot?

There are times when it looks less like they’re playing a game, more like they’re cramming for an important test.

They have papers and books. Levels (before they got banned) and compasses (before they banned those too). You may even ask yourself what are those guys looking at

Well, they’re looking at lots of different things. But above all else they’re looking at a number. One really important number, which makes every other number make sense.

It’s a number that helps make the bad shots look better, and the good shots look great. It masks their mistakes. The pros, they trust it above all else. And it’s a number that you should use too because it’s one of the easiest and quickest ways to strategize your way to better golf.

It's called a Cover Number.

You can learn all about it in our most recent Game Plan, which you can watch right here:

How to use cover numbers

A cover number, quite simply, is the number it takes to clear an obstacle short of the green.

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That could mean a bunker, water, or some other obstacle you're forced to carry. Often, theze hazards are slightly off-center, or off to the side of a green, so the number to the front of the green isn't always the same as a cover number.

To understand how to use cover numbers like the pros, imagine you're approaching a pin that's 173 yards away, with a bunker short right.

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The number to clear the bunker is 168 yards.

That means you need to pick a club that, on a pretty bad mis-hit, you know will carry 168 yards.

As you can see below, golf statistician Lou Stagner finds that five handicaps miss about 13 yards short or long of their intended target from this distance.

What's 168 (the cover number) plus 13 (your usual short-miss buffer you need to account for)?

It's 181 yards, which means you need to hit your 181 yard club to this 173-yard pin. Do that, and it will leave your short misses clear of that bunker, your average shots with a birdie putt, and your long misses with a non short-sided putt or chip.

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It's a simple example, but one which poses a good question:

Are you hitting your 180 club from there? Probably not, which is why you keep coming up short and making bogeys or doubles.

There are lots of variations of this, but the more you understand cover numbers—and how to use it—the better golfer you'll become.

To dive deeper on how this can help your game, watch the video below: