Strategy and intelligence on the golf course

In our previous article we mentioned the importance of course management. What does that mean? Simply, that using your brain and being realistic about your golf skills will help to limit the destructive and demoralizing effects of bad decision making and poor judgment.

I think you will agree that it is more likely that improving your scores will result from eliminating the double and triple bogeys on your scorecard, rather than channeling your inner Tiger Woods and making 5 or 6 birdies in a row. So let’s look at these scenarios.

SCENARIO 1: You are a decent 3 wood and iron player. Your driver is inconsistent and you don’t practice your short game very often. You are playing well today and you are coming up to a short par 4. Will you tee off with a 3 wood and then hit a 8 iron, or will you drive it as close to the green as you can and then hit a mid-range pitch onto the green?

Analysis: A par 4 is defined as a golf hole in which the expectation is for a scratch (zero handicap) golfer to get to the green in two shots, then take two putts. Teeing off with a club that you are inconsistent with is a poor decision, especially if even in the best case scenario you cannot drive the green. So realistically, the risk isn’t worth it if you need to get to the green in two shots anyway. Assuming you do in fact hit a good drive, you are now left with a short shot which you don’t really practice, so you are now introducing an element of luck that you will not hit this shot fat or thin. To summarize, if it will likely take a minimum of two shots to get to the green, let’s make sure that the percentages favor us and we select a strategy which will more likely result in a favorable outcome. In this case, a 3 wood and 8 iron will probably give you a good chance at par and likely no worse than a bogey.

SCENARIO 2: You are teeing off on a par 4 with out-of-bounds on the right side of the hole and trees on the left. What side of the tee box should you tee your ball up on?

Analysis: You may be surprised to know that it is a good rule-of-thumb to tee up your ball on the tee box ‘on the same side as the trouble’. This is because you are now aiming away from the trouble, and not toward it. In this case, there is ‘trouble’ on both sides of the hole. However, with OB on the right, a ball hit to the right may result in the dreaded ‘3 off the tee’ situation and now you need to replay the shot which you just bungled. A ball hit into the trees on the left is not desired, but in this case certainly better than going to the right. To summarize, the percentages favor teeing up your ball on the right side of the tee box.

SCENARIO 3: You are playing well today and hit your 8 iron about 140 yards. You are 140 yards from the hole with lots of trouble in front of the green. What club will you hit?

Analysis: Golfers have a tendency to over-estimate their abilities, especially when it comes to distance. Often, a golfer will select the club based on their personal ‘best case’ result, rather than the more appropriate ‘most likely’ scenario. Additionally, in this case you must CARRY the ball 140 yards in order for success, as a ball hit shorter than this will find the water, sand or other trouble short of the green. Some golfers may factor this in and say to themselves ‘I will just hit an easy 7 iron or choke-down on a 7 iron to compensate’. Fair enough, but unless you have practiced these shots or have hit several already in your round, how can you be certain that you will have the correct tempo, timing, and confidence to do this successfully? For reference, your iron set has about 4 degrees of loft separating each club, which roughly translates into about 12 yards (36 feet) of yardage between your 7 iron and 8 iron. To summarize, your best decision in this case may be to hit a full (normal swing) 7 iron, which will likely eliminate the trouble short of the green. At worst, you will hit a perfect shot and be just over the green, and most likely, you will hit your shot not so perfect, and your ball will end up somewhere on the putting surface, which is the point!

As you can see, there is much to think about before hitting a shot. Take the time to think through your situation logically. Select the best tool for the job, then swing with confidence knowing you have invested thought into it and keep those big numbers off your scorecard!

Dan Warwaruk, Golf Operations Manager