Bobby Jones once said, “Some people think they are concentrating when they’re merely worrying.” The quote lends itself particularly well to this topic. The key to improving your golf game is overcoming fear with a game plan that is based on cumulative experience and knowing your strengths and weaknesses. Knowing what to aim for is a critical decision impacting every shot we make.
With more than 54 million golfers on the planet and just as many guidebooks, videos and coaching tips for amateurs, one snippet of advice turns up over and over again — don’t aim for the pin! Here are some reasons why:
Greens are generally protected by sand traps, grass bunkers, undulations, rough, shrubbery and water. Your task as a golfer is to manage your game so that you can avoid these risks. I recently heard a teaching pro tell his group that they should all be playing to a spot short of the green where they can hit a full pitching or sand wedge to the pin. Let’s take the example of the iconic 16th at TPC Sawgrass to demonstrate this advice.
Off the blue tees, this is a 486-yard par 5. You hit your drive safely to 220 yards, leaving you 266. Water to the right, hideous bunker with trees in it on the left and two further pot bunkers guarding front right and back left. Are you seriously going to drag your fairway wood out and smack it as far as you can? Why not subtract 100 yards from the total of 266 and, discounting all other conditions such as wind, select the club that will move the ball approximately 166 yards? This type of course management will likely see you taking a full wedge into the green in regulation and, more importantly, you have not risked taking it for a swim or over-hitting into the trees.
Until such time as you can fly your wood shots consistently onto a green, avoiding all the trouble, adopt this management tip for a greater success rate. The bottom line is that even single markers don’t always aim for the pin with long fairway shots unless they can manage the risk in the approach to the green. Selecting the safe lay-up spot may give you a higher percentage chance to get close to the pin.
Playing to the middle
When a pin is tucked in a tight corner and the bulk of the green sits in front of us, why risk hitting the hazards or adjoining swales? The percentage shot is to get it safely onto the middle of the green and take your regulation two putts up to the hole. That’s better than losing one or two shots getting out of hazards. Putting carries the least risk and will, unlike some other shots in your bag, get you closer to the hole no matter what you do. So play safe to the middle of the green and watch your scorecard improve.
Know the course
This tip applies to your home course or one that you play reasonably often. It might also apply to a holiday adventure where you’re lucky enough to play the same course twice. Apart from some very “natural” links, golf courses are architecturally designed in a way that every hillock, swale and undulation is deliberate.
Look carefully and learn from your own and others’ shots into greens. You might find there is a bump-and-run opportunity that kicks off a side hill and places you nicely in the middle of the green. Collect information about the green itself either through playing experience or studying your yardage book. Learn about its curves and dips. You can use these to learn about where to land your ball with some advantage — it’s rarely going to be right at the pin!
Front or back
So often, golfers dice with risks at the front of a green when, with an extra club, they could go over the pin with a controlled distance shot and then putt back to the hole. This concept could be applied more often than you might think — landing in the safest spot with the most green reduces the possibility of the ball running off into something treacherous.
Greenside traps can be very damaging to your scorecard. You might feel you have played reasonably good golf but your scorecard tells another story. So consider whether you are getting caught up in greenside trouble because you are going for the pin rather than playing a percentage shot onto the green. Getting onto the green in regulation is the goal. Nobody is going to pin a medal on your chest at the end of the round if you stick a couple of aggressive shots close when all your others have diced with danger and put you in difficult situations.
As Bobby Jones might say, concentrate on your “course management options, rather than worrying about how you are going to get at the pin.” It will serve you better in the long run!
— N. Incoll