Updated: Apr 16
Do you go for all the flags with your approach shots?
If you’re one of those golfers that aims straight at the pin then you are either foolish or happy to throw away countless shots!
This applies to golfers of all standards, in fact in my experience it’s probably the best ball strikers that are the biggest culprits when it comes to having poor course management on approach shots.
Generally speaking because better players have a higher success rate in pulling shots off they feel more vindicated in going straight for the pin.
When you analyse the data this couldn’t be further from the truth and it’s imperative that all golfers have both an ability to pull off a decent percentage of approach shots and a sound course management strategy to cater for the misses!
Firstly as Mark Broadie in his book ‘Every Shot Counts’ indicates approach shots have a higher correlation to your overall score than any other department. In simple terms if you want to get any department of your game working well it’s your shots to the green! Its no surprise that when Tiger Woods was so dominant in the world of golf he was clearly head and shoulders above everyone in the key statistic 'Strokes Gained - Approach Shots'.
Obviously countless golfers and coaches are always searching for a process to improve the technicalities and skills of playing approach shots. however its my observation that very very few are actually working really hard on a strategic course management method.
I find this slightly crazy as I've always thought if we can utilise our brain just by thinking better its got to be easier than changing motor patterns and skill sets? Of course it needs practice and it needs a good depth of understanding but I see the results year after year where players with seemingly similar techniques and ability in practice, improve their approach shots stats by executing a correct plan!
So firstly let's deal with the science.
Using data from Broadie's book when a player hits an approach shot to a target and finishes let's say 10yards (30feet) away from the pin. We know that if it was 30ft on the green a tour player on average will take 1.98 shots to get in the hole, if its on the fairway/ fringe 2.17, in the rough 2.34 and in a bunker 2.47. See the image below and imagine a random scattering of shots within that dispersion.
Now what we also know is all golfers are effectively firing with a shotgun and not a rifle. Even the best players in the world have a random dispersion of shots at any given distance.
Yes for better players it is smaller than poorer players but it very definitely exists and we have no control over where the shots finish within that pattern, just the size of it! So our plan must be if we can move that dispersion of shots to an area that optimises our scores within the pattern we hit the jackpot!
On the example below you can see by moving the aim to the right a small amount (the red X)
we can almost eliminate the high value misses, we will get the same number near the pin and our scores will be lower.!
So once we understand this critical fact we are in business and you need some information.
Firstly the size of your dispersion at any given distance.
In days gone by this would have been a nightmare but as coaches and players are using Trackman and other radars to track the ball in almost all coaching sessions it is relatively straightforward for a coach to supply this information to a player.
Once we have this information you the player needs a system of managing and operating on the golf course.
Basically you need to find the smartest target to aim at and then rework your shot and club choice back to that target.
A few years ago I came up with my SOS Course Management plan where SOS actually stands for System of Six and is a pretty bulletproof method of handling these decisions.
The six steps are as follows:-
1. Flag information
2. Choose a smart secondary target
3. Estimate a playing carry for the ball to finish at the target
4. Choose a type of shot
5. Choose a club and aim (weather dependant)
6. Final visual confirmation
Over the years with my Tour players I have been fastidious with detail on this and seen massive gains. Equally its so important for club golfers to operate the same policy, although with much greater dispersions, as these often bring in hazards, out of bounds etc that normally wouldn't be looked at.
Once we are operating a system I would recommend a good statistics programme to track your improvement. The one I currently use is Anova Golf but there are many good ones out there. To take a read at my blog on stats click here.
In addition I marvel at how inaccurate the amateur golfer is at knowing how far they carry the ball, so decision making is at best a game of chance!
If I were offering an amateur golfer some broad advice Id say alway go at the middle of a green or the opposite edge if big trouble on one side and always take one more club than imagined.
That said operating a good system will always work better!
For elite players and Pro's just think you're not unlucky when you go straight at a pin, hit a good shot and it misses the green.
Your secondary target was probably wrong, you should very very rarely be going straight at a flag!
If you don't know why email meat firstname.lastname@example.org
I run two clinics that deal with these issues ACE Approach Shots (mostly technique and skill based with some strategy) and SOS Course Management (All strategy) please click the links for more details.