In basketball, the best teams tend to be those that get the most easy baskets. While their opponents are busy clanging 3-pointers off the rim, winning teams convert fast breaks into dunks and crisp passing into layups.
High-percentage shots are important in golf too. If you've ever heard a commentator mention that a pro had a “clean” round, that's what he's talking about. By hitting lots of fairways and greens, the golfer avoided trouble, gave himself opportunities for birdies and strung together a series of no-sweat pars.
While your scoring goals may be less lofty, you can still make life easier on the course by playing the percentages. Doing that requires having a good grasp of your own abilities, a willingness to play within your limitations, the awareness to recognize when a cautious approach is your best bet, and the attentiveness to account for hazards and trouble spots.
The first part, knowing what you're capable of, means having your club yardages down pat and owning a good sense of how well you play specific shots. For example, let's say your standard 8-iron flies 150 yards with a slight draw. What do you do if faced with a pin tucked behind a bunker on the green's right side? The smart golfer takes the hazard out of play, aims for the center of the green, knocks it on and either two-putts for an easy par or drains the birdie putt.
A golfer who doesn't heed his own shortcomings might take dead aim at the flag, put it in the sand and make bogey or worse. Don't be that golfer.
Sometimes, the seemingly bold or foolhardy shot plays into your hands. Using the same example, flip the flag to the green's left side, where it's guarded by a bunker. With your draw, all you've got to do is aim at the middle of the green and let your natural shot shape work the ball back to the pin. Your skill makes this a relatively low-risk approach.
Many players court big numbers when they fail to heed danger. How often do you “short-side” yourself on an approach shot, leaving little green to work with on a difficult chip? Instead of aggressively attacking a tucked flag, play to the fat of the green, two putt and stroll to the next tee.
Always play one shot ahead. On the tee, determine the best spot in the fairway from which to approach the green. From the fairway, find the safest place to chip or putt from and make that your “bail-out” area. Aim for the center of the green unless the pin is easily accessible.
Playing high-percentage golf doesn't mean playing timidly or with excess caution. It's all about recognizing opportunities and minimizing risk. Strive to play cleanly and you'll take a lot of the stress out of golf.
How to Get High Percentage Golf Shots Driver to Putter
Golf, like any other sport, is a game which is played against an opponent. However, in golf, the opponent is not wearing a different jersey – instead, it is dressed in grass, sand, water, and more. The course is your opponent in this great game, and your success or failure on the scorecard will be determined by how well you manage to attack your opposition. In addition to making quality swings and hitting good putts, you have to come up with a quality game plan if you are going to come out on top round after round.
Most golfers, when thinking about how to shoot lower scores, focus their attention only on the mechanics of their game. These players think that they will be able to lower their average score simply by making a better swing. While a better swing will certainly help, mechanics alone will never take you to the golf 'promised land'. Instead, you have to pair those mechanics with some excellent strategy. When reliable swing fundamentals come together with a reliable on-course strategy, great things are possible.
In this article, we are going to focus exclusively on the strategic side of golf. Specifically, we are going to discuss how you can find high percentage golf shots all around the course. From the tee to the green, you should always be looking for high percentage shots in order to maximize your odds of success. The golfer who finds the best opportunities throughout the day is likely to come out on top in the end, even if that is not the golfer with the best swing. Strategy can take you a long way in this game – but only when you think as much about course management as you do about the mechanics of your swing.
So what is a high percentage shot? To use a football analogy, a high percentage shot would be a short pass to a wide open receiver. With no defenders in sight, the quarterback is highly likely to have success when throwing a short pass to his open receiver – and there is little that can go wrong. Even if the pass is incomplete, it won't be intercepted because there are no defenders around. As compared to a long pass to a receiver covered by two defenders, the short pass to an open man is obviously the high percentage choice.
In golf, looking for high percentage shots means you are trying to tilt the odds of the game in your favor. No golfers execute their shots perfectly every time, so you always have to plan for the possibility of missing your target. A high percentage shot would be one where you can make a mistake and still avoid serious trouble. Using a club which will keep you safely short of a water hazard, rather than trying to hit the ball all the way over the hazard, would be a safe play. Most amateur golfers play far too aggressively from a course management standpoint, and they pay for that aggression on the scorecard. Playing high percentage golf might not be quite as exciting as taking on every tough shot, but it will pay off in the end when you see your scores come down.
All of the instruction below is based on a right-handed golfer. If you happen to play left-handed, please take a moment to reverse the directions as necessary.
Analyzing Your Opponent
One of the great things about golf is the fact that no two courses are exactly alike. You can generally group courses into certain 'style' categories, but even within those categories there is plenty of variation. For instance, some courses would be considered 'links-style', while others are 'parkland' or 'tree-lined'. The general classification of a golf course might give you an ideal for what you will face, but you can't know for sure until you see a course for yourself. They are all different, which is what makes golf such an interesting game to play for a lifetime.
To develop an appropriate strategy for any given round of golf, you need to carefully analyze the opponent you are going to face. Returning to our football analogy from earlier, a football coach would not finalize the game plan without thinking specifically about the team on the other side of the ball. The strengths and weaknesses of the other team would be weighed, and the final plan for the game would be crafted based on how to best exploit the other teams weaknesses. By attacking the weaknesses and avoiding the strengths (as much as possible), a football team can give itself the best possible chance to win.
The story is the same in golf. When you play any course, your goal should be to attack the weaknesses of the course while staying away from its strengths. This will mean different things on different courses. For instance, a course with narrow fairways but a short overall yardage will require you to place an emphasis on control. On such a course, you could hit irons off the tee to exploit the fact that there isn't significant distance to be covered. You would be playing away from the problem of narrow fairways, therefore taking away the 'strength' of the course.
On the other hand, the opposite game plan would likely be the best bet when playing a long, wide-open golf course. This kind of course is a perfect opportunity to put your driver to work, as your errant drives are unlikely to be punished in any significant way. Your driver can help you dover the distance needed to attack the greens, so the challenge of playing a long course will be mitigated by the fact that you are hitting your longest club as often as possible.
The two examples in the previous paragraphs are oversimplifications, of course, but they make an important point. Anytime you face a new golf course, it is your job to identify what it is that makes the course difficult, and what it is that makes the course playable. From there, you create a game plan which is designed to give yourself the best possible chance for success. Just as a football team would throw a lot of passes against a team with a poor passing defense, you should do whatever you can to exploit the weaknesses of the golf courses you face.
As you gain experience in this game, you will get better and better at the job of analyzing the golf course in front of you. At first, you might struggle to find ways to attack some courses, but nearly every course has weaknesses if you are willing to look hard enough. Of course, it is important to match up your game plan with not only the design of the course, but also with your own abilities. You shouldn't be trying to hit shots that you are not capable of hitting, so always keep your strategy within the realm of what you can do with a golf ball.
Examples of High Percentage Shots
Although you are going to have a different game plan for each course you face, there are some types of high percentage shots which you should be looking for over and over again. These shots are available on many different golf courses, so you should always be on the lookout for a chance to use these plays. If you can get comfortable with each of the shots in the list below, you will always have some reliable safe options at your disposal.
- Tee shot short of the trouble. Most par fours and fives have some form of trouble waiting to catch an errant tee shot. Sometimes, the trouble will be in the form of a water hazard, or even out of bounds stakes. Other times, the trouble will be more subtle, like a fairway bunker or even a deep patch of rough. Whatever the case, you obviously want to keep your ball out of these areas. Rather than taking on the trouble and hoping to hit an accurate drive, you can choose to simply lay up short of the problem spots. This strategy will leave you with a longer approach shot, but it will take the trouble completely out of play. You can't hit the ball into a water hazard if you can't reach the water with the club you have decided to use. It takes patience to use this type of high percentage play, but you will often be rewarded in the end.
- Approach shot to the wide side of the green. This is perhaps the type of high percentage shot that could benefit the average amateur golfer the most. For most golfers, the process of picking a target for an approach shot involves taking aim at the flag at swinging away. The problem with this method, of course, is the risk that you will be taking on in some cases when you aim directly at the flag. Rather than always aiming at the flag, you should consider playing away toward the wide side of the green in many cases. By taking the high percentage option of hitting towards the big part of the green, you will hit more greens in regulation and you will have more birdie putts. Countless golfers could immediately take strokes off of their average score if they were simply willing to play away from the hole on many approach shots.
- Play into the big part of the dogleg. When facing a tee shot to a fairway with a significant dogleg, you may be tempted to cut off the corner of the dogleg in order to get closer to the green for your second shot. However, if you take on this aggressive line, you will be incurring a good deal of risk at the same time. By missing your line just slightly on such an aggressive tee shot, you could place your ball in serious trouble. On the other hand, you could give yourself a great chance of finding the fairway if you play to the big side of the dogleg. For instance, if the hole is turning from left to right, consider playing down the left side to maximize your margin for error. Sure, you will be leaving a slightly longer approach shot, but that approach shot should be coming from the fairway.
- Lay up with second shot on a par five. It is certainly exciting to go for the green in two on a par five. However, once that excitement wears off, you may find that you have hit your ball into an undesirable location by trying to reach the green. In most cases, laying your ball up with the second shot is going to be the better choice. This high percentage play will leave you with an easy third shot into the green, so you still may be able to record a birdie even after taking the lay up option. Most par five holes are designed with some sort of lay up area available, so you shouldn't have much trouble finding a landing spot for this kind of play. You can go for par five greens in two from time to time when you have a realistic opportunity, but laying up is typically the higher percentage choice.
Depending on the kind of golf course you play, there will likely be other high percentage shots available to you throughout the day. In the end, it is going to be up to you to spot these options and then take advantage of them successfully with a good swing. By advancing your ball toward the target without taking on undue risk, you can keep your scorecard clean and your round on track.
Finding the Right Positions
Sometimes, you need to take what the golf course is giving you in terms of high percentage shots. On other occasions, however, it is up to you to create those high percentage shots. By thinking a shot ahead – or even two shots ahead, in some cases – you can position your ball to leave yourself with a higher percentage shot for your next stroke. This kind of advanced strategy requires patience and careful thinking while on the course, but it offers you the opportunity to take your game to a new level.
Thinking at least one shot ahead is something professional golfers do on every single hole they play. To highlight this concept, we can come back to our football analogy one more time. For a football team, the goal is to pick up first downs all the way down the field until it becomes reasonable to go for the end zone (or to kick a field goal). However, with four downs to work with, the team doesn't have to try for a first down on every single play. Instead, they can choose to run a play which will only pick up a few yards, in order to set up another play which can convert the first down. This takes patience, but it increases the odds of success in the long run.
To play good golf, you need to think like a football team. You don't have to hit the perfect shot with the swing you are currently making, but you do need to set yourself up to hit a great shot on your next attempt. How do you accomplish this goal? The following points are ways in which you can position yourself for success.
- Playing to the low side of the hole. One of the basics of positioning your ball around the course is trying to find the low side of the hole whenever possible. Playing uphill is almost always easier than playing downhill as far as the short game is concerned, so you need to look for opportunities to place your ball in a spot which is lower than the hole. For instance, if a green is sloped from back to front, leaving your ball short of the hole would be ideal. Professional golfers are constantly trying to keep the ball below the cup, and you should be following that lead.
- Picking the correct side to favor your ball flight. The way you position your tee shots in the fairway should be related to the ball flight you tend to use for approach shots. A player who likes to hit a draw into the green will want to favor the left side of the fairway in order to provide enough room for that draw to work. Likewise, a player who likes to fade his or her approach shots will want to find the right side of the fairway most of the time. Picture the type of approach shot you want to hit into the green and then do your best to position your ball to facilitate such a play.
- Avoiding a scary shot. Don't like to have to carry your ball a long distance over water? Rather than having to face such a proposition, do your best to avoid that kind of situation in the first place. All golfers have their own personal 'fears' when it comes to various types of shots that they don't want to play. There is no shame in doing your best to hide from these fears – there are no points for bravery awarded in golf. Your only goal is to get around the course in as few strokes as possible, so game plan your way around situations which make you uncomfortable.
- Playing unconventional golf. Sometimes, playing to the percentages will mean taking an unconventional path to the hole. For example, you might decide to lay up with your second shot on a par four. Or, you might even decide to lay up off the tee on a long par three. You should not feel compelled to play a shot in a particular way just because the conventions of golf say it should be so. Again, the goal is the lowest score possible, and achieving that score might require thinking outside the box from time to time.
Your job as a golfer is to put yourself in the best possible positions to succeed. You want to find as many high percentage shots as you can, and those situations are not always going to be presented to you on a platter. Many times, you will have to earn your high percentage shot by making a smart decision on the previous swing.
Bringing Your Patience
The word patience has been mentioned a few times in this article, and for good reason. When playing a style of golf which is based largely on turning the percentages in your favor, you are going to need to bring plenty of patience along for the ride. It is easy to lose your patience in this frustrating game, but you cannot afford to go down that road if you want to post a good score at the end of the day.
To do a good job of maintaining your patience from start to finish, it is important to stick with a reliable pre-shot routine. A good pre-shot routine can help you to let go of the frustration you may be feeling from a previous shot before you get on with your next swing. Also, the time you take to complete your pre-shot routine can include a moment dedicated to thinking about your strategy. It will take practice to learn how to stay patient for an entire round of golf, but reaching this goal is a great way to raise the level of your game.
Golf is as much mental as it is physical when it comes to posting a good score. Making nice swings will help you navigate the course, but those swings need to be accompanied by some solid decision making. Putting yourself in a position to play high percentage shots throughout most of the round is going to cause your stress levels to go down – and your scores should go down at the same time. There are plenty of high percentage shots to find on the course, as long as you know where to look. Good luck!