We’ve all been there, sitting in the new-world-record-longest geometry class ever, which has just barely edged out the previous week’s class for the title (I was homeschooled, so even though I was sitting at the kitchen table, it still felt the same). Your mind has wondered from place to place, not really ever resting, but also not really ever engaging, when you eventually have the thought, “There is no chance on God’s green earth I will EVER need this. We have calculators on our phones now, for crying out loud.”
Well friend, today’s the day. I am about to tell you when you might need some of that triangle stuff and you’ll be glad my mom made me pay attention, so that now I can educate you.
First off, this is not going to be something you need maybe more than once or twice in your life. Second, technology is still allowed, as there is no test (although the repercussions for getting the answer wrong can be far more costly than in high school). Feel free to use calculators, phones, yardage finders, or anything else that comes to mind.
Do you remember Pythagoras’s theorem? You know, 𝑎2+𝑏2=𝑐2 ? Well, it saved me one time on the golf course, and it might just save you, so I’m here to enlighten. (For the visual learners, a visual reminder for you below)
I was playing a match with one of my very good friends when I sliced the crap out of one of my tee shots. It landed in a playable position, but my view was completely blocked from seeing the flag. I was down a slope, and even when I climbed to the top, there was some 6 foot heather that I couldn’t see over. (I‘M SHORT OK? I GET IT.)
My options for getting the yardage to the flag became pacing how far it was from me to the heather, going laterally and using my yardage finder for a distance, then adding those two together, hoping I didn’t change the angle too much, or walking through the heather on a straight line, and piecing the two numbers together as well. (Snakes. No thank you.) And finally, walking laterally until I could see the flag, shoot it, and hope that my angle, again, hadn’t changed it too much, or just guessing on the increase. The problem with the lateral stuff is that 150 yards from a flag goes in a circle, and you can‘t just walk 50 yards dead-sideways and expect the distance to be the same. You can see that from my crude diagram above.
A lightbulb went off in my brain. As you can see from the above diagram, we now have a triangle. My friend and opponent was 180 yards from the green in the fairway, and if I could shoot how far I was from him, I would then have 𝑎2 and 𝑏2, and all I would need at that point was to find was the square root of 𝑐. I just needed to make sure and create a 90* angle to make sure that the theorem would hold true. (Super important).
I told him get ready for some seriously nerdy stuff; we had to see if it would work (Pythagoras never tried it on a golf course I’m sure, I may be the first, who knows?), so I squared 180, squared the 45 yards I was from him, added those numbers together and then got the square root of that big number. Turns out I was about 185.something yards away. #Math. I picked my line, fired it at the green and halved the hole.
Listen, I realize you’re probably about to bicker over the fact that I went through all that work over getting my yardage down to an exact number when I’m holding a 6 iron. But, I have hit too many shots that flew into the top of a bunker or into a bulkhead before ricocheting back into water when all I needed was one more yard. I have lost too many matches and tournaments by one or two shots to know that every one matters and the difference between 123 yards and 126 yards is really important sometimes.
So, now you have no excuse if you find yourself behind an obstruction, off to the side of the fairway, or without a range finder (God-forbid). You now know how to calculate your true distance and even if you only need it once in your life, if that time happens to be on the back nine of a major championship and you hold a one shot lead with a shot over water, you’ll be tremendously grateful that this blog post was written.
I mean, you’re welcome. Happy Math-ing!