Do you know a "sucker pin" when you see one?
It's tucked behind a bunker or water hazard, or maybe perched on the tiniest shelf of a two-tiered green. Perhaps it sits at the bottom of a large slope, with trouble lurking dangerously close in the other direction.
Basically, a sucker pin is any location where the risk-reward equation doesn't add up in your favor. If you take dead aim at a sucker pin, there's usually a big penalty for a minor mistake. The flip side is, there's often plenty of room to play it safe. (Hence the term.)
Here's an example:
- The flag is cut on the green's front right portion, just a few paces beyond a large bunker.
- To reach the pin you must carry the bunker, with little room to land and stop the ball even if you succeed.
- The center of the green lies left of the pin, and the front of the green is hazard-free. A shot to the “fat” of the green not only takes the bunker out of play (assuming you execute well), it leaves a putt of no more than 30 feet.
In other words, even if you pull off the hero shot, your chances of making birdie are only slightly better than if you play to the middle of the green. And the penalty for a miss is much, much worse. Only a sucker would take that risk.
Don't Fall for the Sucker Pin
Playing good golf is about more than just making good swings and holing putts. In order to post low scores on a regular basis, you need solid strategy to go along with your physical skills. Many amateur golfers overlook the strategic part of the game, instead focusing on improving their technique as the only path to a lower handicap. Of course, this is a mistake. If you are willing to work just as hard on your course management skills as any other part of your game, you can improve significantly in a short period of time.
In this article, we are going to cover one very specific piece of the course management puzzle – the sucker pin. Hole location plays a big role in all of your course management decisions, and the sucker pin is one of the ways that the golf course can trick you into wasting strokes. When you fall for a sucker pin, you will be taking a risk that is unnecessary, and you just might find your ball in a bad place as a result. Sometimes, the best shots that you hit on the golf course are the safest ones, as they steer you clear of trouble and allow you to keep your round on track. Sure, it might be fun to pull off an amazing shot from time to time, but shooting a low score is more about being patient and smart than anything else.
Before we get too far into this article, it is important to take a moment to develop a clear definition of a sucker pin. To most golfers, a sucker pin is going to be one that is placed in a spot on the green where you are more likely to get into trouble if you take dead aim. For instance, the classic example of a sucker pin is when the hole location is cut just barely beyond the edge of a water hazard. If you are facing a shot over water to the green, and the pin is located only a couple steps onto the green beyond the water, you are looking at a sucker pin. Why? Because you would have to be a 'sucker' to take dead aim at that target. The smart play is to take extra club in order to put your ball safely on the green beyond the hole. If you are aggressive and try to hit a perfect shot, there is a good chance that your ball will wind up in the pond more often than not.
There are really two parts to this equation – first, you need to be able to identify the sucker pins that you will encounter on the course. Then, once you have decided that you are dealing with a sucker pin, the next step is to come up with a smart strategy to complete the hole without any trouble. You will have to think carefully to come up with the right plan, and you will have to have the patience to execute that plan without talking yourself in to aiming at the hole. Even professional golfers get tricked into going after a sucker pin from time to time, so this is not a problem that is unique to the amateur set. Hopefully, after you are finished with this article, you will have the knowledge you need to avoid falling for any sucker pins in your upcoming rounds.
All discussion below is based on a right handed golfer. If you play the game left handed, please take a moment to reverse the directions as necessary.
Examples of Sucker Pins
We have already highlighted one common example of a sucker pin – the hole that is cut just a few steps beyond the limits of a water hazard. However, that is far from the only example of this kind of pin that you are going to see as you play various courses in your area. There are a number of possibilities for sucker pins, and some of the most common are outlined below.
- Near the back edge of a sloped green. If you are playing a hole which features a green that is tilted dramatically from back to front, any hole cut near the back edge of that green will fall into the category of a sucker pin. You don't want to take dead aim at such a hole for one simple reason – any shot going over the green is sure to turn into a bogey, or worse. Since the green is sloped dramatically from back to front, and since you are going to be short sided for your chip shot, you will have almost no chance to get up and down. In all likelihood, your chip will race past the hole, you will miss your long putt for par, and a bogey will be the result. On the other hand, if you safely play short of this pin, you should have a pretty easy uphill two putt for your par.
- On top of a false front. This is one of the most-difficult sucker pins to spot, and it can also be one of the most damaging to your score. A false front is a section of green that won't actually hold your ball – the ball will simply roll off the front because the slope of the green is so severe. So, although you could land your ball on the putting surface with an approach shot, it would just roll right back off and you would be stuck with a difficult chip shot. By placing the pin just barely onto the flat part of the green above a false front, the golf course staff can tempt you into falling for this trap. Don't do it. You always want to play safely away from a false front to make sure your ball doesn't come racing back towards you.
- In a corner, surrounded by bunkers. You might not see this one as commonly as some of the other options, but it can still be damaging if you fall for it. When a green has a 'corner' that is wrapped by bunkers on a couple sides, a pin that is located in this area is one that should be ignored. Taking dead aim at such a target is going to bring all of those bunkers into play, and you will be short sided if you happen to find one of them with your approach. As is always the case with a sucker pin, the best plan is to aim away and putt from longer range. Sure, your chances of making a birdie will go down, but your odds of walking away with a par will go way up.
Once you start looking for sucker pins on your local course, you will likely find more of them than you expected. A course doesn't have to be extremely difficult overall in order to have some sucker pins that can trap you from time to time. In fact, using sucker pins is one of the ways that an easier golf course can prevent scores from going too low. During your next round, take note of each hole location throughout the day and decide how many of them you would put in the 'sucker' category. As long as you are thinking about this topic while you play, you will be far less likely to make a bad mistake.
Choosing Smart Targets
As soon as you realize that you are looking at a sucker pin on a given hole, your next order of business should be to figure out what you are going to use as a target for your approach shot. If you aren't going to aim directly at the hole, what are you going to aim at? There are a number of things to keep in mind on this point as you work on finding a new target for your shot. Each of the points below should factor in to this important decision.
- Staying below the hole. When at all possible, you want to do what you can to keep the golf ball below the level of the hole. It is almost always easier to play short game shots uphill as opposed to downhill, so finding the low side is going to make your job easier once you arrive at the green. This is a point that is important on all golf courses, but it is especially important when playing courses which feature firm, fast greens. Even without making any changes to your putting or chipping technique, you can effectively improve your short game simply by leaving the ball in better positions throughout a round.
- Find the putting surface. This is probably point that goes without saying, but you want to do your best to at least put the ball somewhere on the green with your approach shot. Taking the hole location out of the equation, you should simply be thinking about setting up a putt for your next shot. It is usually going to be easier to two putt for your par rather than having to get up and down. Even if you set up a long putt, you will at least be able to take your putter from the bag for your next shot rather than having to turn to a wedge to get out of trouble. If there is a wide, safe side of the green to aim at, use that as your target and stay as far away from danger as possible.
- Finding a focus point. One of the reasons that so many golfers automatically aim at the pin with their approach shots is the fact that the pin provides a visual cue. There isn't much else to aim at in many cases when looking at the green, so most players just use the flag as their target by default. You can do better than this, however, if you are just willing to look a little closer. There is almost always something you can use as an aim point, whether it is the edge of a bunker or perhaps a tree in the distance behind the green. By picking out a specific spot to focus your aim on these kinds of shots, you will do a better job of orienting your stance to the target you have in mind. You can still use the pin for your target when it is in a safer location, of course, but look for alternative targets when you encounter a sucker pin placement.
Choosing smart targets is a key to playing good golf regardless of whether or not you are facing a sucker pin. However, when you do encounter these kinds of pins, thinking strategically becomes even more important. Key the tips above in mind as you make your way around the course and you should be able to do a great job of making the right choices at the right time. Golf is as much mental as it is physical, so sharpening your course management skills will take you a long way toward posting better scores.
The Power of Peer Pressure
You might think of peer pressure as something that you left behind after graduating from high school, but it remains a very real force even into your adult years. In fact, peer pressure can even influence your performance on the golf course. If you let the actions of others in your group affect the decisions that you are making, you will likely wind up performing at something less than your optimal level.
The influence that peer pressure can have on your game can be seen with regard to the topic of a sucker pin. Imagine that you are standing on the tee of a par three, and you are looking out toward the green to pick your target for the shot. Immediately, you realize that you are dealing with a sucker pin. The hole is cut close to the edge of the green, and there is water near that edge. You quickly decide that you are going to aim away from the hole, toward the wide side of the putting surface. After selecting your club, you stand off to the side while the other players in your group hit their shots.
As the other three players hit their shots, you notice they have something in common – all three of them aimed directly at the flag. One of them hit a great shot, one landed in the rough, and one of them found the water. Having seen all three of them take dead aim, what should you do? Should you stick with your original plan, or should you go ahead and take aim right at the pin?
You can probably guess which decision is the right one in this case. You should absolutely stick with your original plan of playing away from this sucker pin. Sure, one of the players in your group managed to hit a great shot, but the other two are likely walking away with at least a bogey. Their actions should have no influence on your choices, so stay the course and play smart. If you are willing to stick with a smart game plan throughout the course of the whole day, you will have a great chance to walk away with the best score.
Peer pressure in golf is not as obvious as someone making fun of you for playing it safe or choosing a specific club. Usually, it is subtle in nature. In the example above, no one tried to talk you into aiming directly at the flag – but you thought about it anyway, just by watching the others in your group hit their shots. As you play any round of golf, be careful to monitor your thinking and do your best to keep the actions of others outside of your thought process. All golfers have their own personal style and plan on the course, and you should stick with yours even if your playing partners are going a different direction. Golf is hard enough as it is, you don't need to make the game any harder by trying to copy the strategies of other players. Being yourself during each and every round is the best way to find success.
When to Be Aggressive
Usually, you are going to want to play safely away from anything that you would classify as a 'sucker pin'. However, that is not always going to be the case. In some instances, you would be better served to go ahead and be aggressive, as the risk just may be worth the potential reward. Part of being a good player is knowing when to take a risk and when to play it safe, so this article would not be complete without a look at some of the times when you should go ahead and fire right at a sucker pin.
If you come across any of the following situations during an upcoming round, go ahead and give yourself permission to take a chance on trying to pull off a great shot.
- Soft course conditions. Anytime you are playing on a soft golf course, you can feel free to play much more aggressively than you would otherwise. When the course is soft, the ball is not going to bounce very far after it lands – if it bounces at all. That means you don't have to worry so much about some of the hazards and other trouble spots that are lurking near the green. As long as you hit a decent shot, you should be able avoid too much trouble. Also, since the ball is going to stop quicker when it lands on a soft green, you will be rewarded for your aggression if you do land the ball close to the cup. Soft course conditions make it possible to be more aggressive everywhere from tee to green, and that includes when you come across a sucker pin.
- Late in a match. If you are playing in a match against someone else at your club, you will need to keep the status of the match in mind as you make strategic decisions. When the match starts to get late and you find yourself behind, it might be necessary to be more aggressive than you would be otherwise. For instance, imagine that you are playing a match where you are one hole down with two to play. On the 17th hole, you determine that you are looking at a sucker pin. However, given that you are one down with only two left, you really don't have much choice but to aim at the hole and take your chances. Even though you wouldn't want to aim at this hole location when playing regular stroke play, the status of your match dictates that you become more aggressive.
- Confidence is flowing. Sometimes, you just feel like you can do no wrong on the golf course. Those days don't come along often for most players, so you want to take full advantage of them when find yourself in a groove. If you are playing well and you have a high level of confidence in your swing, you might go ahead and take a chance on a sucker pin, even though you know it is a gamble. This is a shot that you would not take on when playing at a lower level, but your high confidence on the day may be all you need to pull off a great shot and walk away with a birdie.
Sucker pins have the capability of ruining your score for the day, if you let them. Most golf courses won't include more than one or two sucker pins within their setup on any given day, but you never know what you are going to find when you step to the first tee. Think carefully about all of the shots you hit, and be safe when planning your approach into the green (unless the situation calls for a more aggressive plan). As long as you are aware of the dangers of sucker pins, and as long as you make smart decisions, you should be able to get through your rounds without wasting any strokes due to these tricky hole locations.