Tour pros who hit the most greens in regulation (GIR) also shoot the best scores.
It's no coincidence that in 2012, three of the top 10 performers in the PGA Tour's greens in regulation stat ranked among the top 10 in scoring. Three more of the 10 best GIR guys made the top 26 in scoring.
It stands to reason that amateurs who hit more greens will score lower, too. After all, it's a lot easier to two-putt for par than it is to get up-and-down from the rough or a bunker.
The good news is, you can easily boost your GIR percentage without making a single swing change. Sound strategy and a disciplined approach can do wonders for your iron game. Let's look at five ways to hit more greens:
1. Take plenty of club: Watch the pros and note how often their approach shots finish pin-high or past the flag, even when they miss the green. Amateurs, on the other hand, tend to come up short. Assuming you're not a tour-level ballstriker, choose the club that will put you past the hole if you hit it well. That way, a slight off-center strike will have enough distance to reach the green.
2. Aim at the center: It's always tempting to aim directly at the flag – that's the ultimate target, right? But it's imprudent when the pin is tucked behind a hazard or otherwise tough to access. Aiming at the middle of the green gives you a larger margin for error. And when you do hit your spot, you'll be within 40 feet of the hole nearly every time – and usually much closer.
3. Don't force it: Let's say your natural shot is a draw, and the flag is on the green's right side behind a bunker. To get close, you'd have to hit a fade. Rather than trying to hit the perfect shot, play your draw to the center or left side of the green. You'll make a more confident swing, hit it flush and take bogey or worse out of play.
4. Embrace the run-up shot: There's no rule that says you must fly the ball onto the green. Your best chance of getting onto the “dance floor” may be a low shot that bounces on. When you're unsure if you can fly the ball all the way, and the green is open in front, take plenty of club, make an easy swing and run it up. Remember, they don't ask how, just how many.
5. Improve your driving: You'll never hit many greens if you're often in the rough, the trees or so far back in the fairway that you're hitting a hybrid or wood. More accurate driving will automatically improve your GIR numbers; longer tee shots help, too, by putting a shorter club in your hand for the approach.
The formula is simple: Hit more greens, shoot lower scores. The stats back it up.
How to Hit More Greens in Regulation
It is easy to over complicate the game of golf. If you get too caught up in the mechanics of your swing or the technical elements of your equipment, you can quickly crowd your mind with unnecessary thoughts. Successful golfers are the ones who keep the game simple and never lose sight of the main objective – to get the ball in the hole is a few strokes as possible. Everything that you do on the golf course should be designed to help you succeed at that single goal.
One way you can make progress in that direction is to focus on hitting as many greens in regulation as you can during each round. When you are hitting greens in regulation, you will be setting up plenty of birdie opportunities, and you should be able to two-putt for your par even when you miss the birdie try. Any way you look at it, hitting greens in regulation is going to be a good thing for your golf game.
You might think that this is a pretty obvious point. After all, what golfer doesn't want to hit greens in regulation? While all golfers would love to hit 18 greens per round, the fact is that many golfers make decisions during their round that actually hurt their chances of placing the ball on the putting surface. Even if your swing is far from perfect, you can greatly improve your chances of putting for birdie simply by making smart choices throughout the round. Golf is a game that tests your decision making ability just as much as it tests your physical skills. When you make smart choices from the first tee to the last green, your scores will quickly fall as a result.
Hitting greens in regulation requires much more than just making good swings. Of course, making good swings will help. However, you also need to pick the right clubs, choose smart targets, exercise patience in some situations, judge the wind correctly, and more. It is smart to set a goal of improving your GIR percentage, because that statistic will directly correlate to your total score. In this way, golf can be very simple – put the ball on the green in regulation as often as possible, and you will become a better player. It doesn't matter how you get the ball on the green. As the saying goes, there are no pictures on the scorecard.
All of the instruction contained below is based on a right handed golfer. If you happen to play left handed, please be sure to reverse the directions as necessary.
Gather the Necessary Information
No matter what kind of decision you are making, it is best to first gather all of the relevant information before making your choice. When you make a decision without collecting all of the information available to you, it is more likely that you will make a mistake. This concept certainly holds true on the golf course. Prior to hitting any shot, take the time to bring together all of the information available. That information includes yardages, wind conditions, elevation changes, course conditions, and even air temperature. Only when you have considered all of these various factors can you truly make an informed decision.
As it relates to hitting more greens in regulation, there are three specific factors that you need to consider.
- Distance. Obviously, you already know that distance is a piece of information you will need prior to hitting an approach shot into a green. However, you don't just want to find the yardage to the hole itself – you also want to know how far it is to the front edge and back edge of the green. In fact, those two numbers are really more important than the yardage to the hole. The yardages to the front edge and the back edge can be thought of as your limits. You need to hit the ball at least as far as the front edge number, but no farther than the back edge number. Too many golfers get obsessed with the yardage to the hole and forget to think about the rest of the green. Even if you don't put the ball right next to the hole, you can still land it on the green as long as you understand what distance you need to hit the shot.
- Wind. The wind conditions at the time you hit the shot will greatly affect the distance that you are able to hit the ball. If you ignore the wind and simply pick a club based on the distance that you have to the target, your shots will often end up long or short depending on the direction of the wind. There is no exact calculation that you can use to measure the effect of the wind, so you will need to learn how to adjust for wind as you gain more experience on the course. As a general rule, the wind will affect your ball more the higher it flies. If you play low shots into the green most of the time, you won't need to concern yourself too much with the breeze – but a player who hits high iron shots with plenty of spin will have to consider the wind carefully.
- Turf conditions. If you are going to get your ball to stop on the green, you need to take into consideration the condition of the turf. Some courses have greens which are rather soft, while others play extremely firm. On a soft course, you may be able to aim at a flag which is located on the back of the green and not worry about the ball bouncing long. However, if the course is firm, you will need to plan for a shorter shot which gives the ball room to bounce after it lands on the green. Turf conditions can change from day to day, and even from hole to hole depending on the weather. Prior to hitting any approach shot, be sure to think about the conditions of the green and what that will mean for your ball when it lands.
An experienced golfer will be able to consider all three of these variables in just a few seconds as they are getting ready to hit a shot. If these points are new to you, it may take a little longer at first to incorporate them into your pre-shot routine. That's okay – it won't take long before they become second nature and you begin to analyze these elements without even consciously trying to do so.
Pick a Definitive Target
Do you pick a specific target for each and every shot that you hit during a round of golf? If not, you are missing a major opportunity to improve your accuracy – and your GIR percentage. Choosing a specific target is one of the best ways to sharpen your focus and execute better swings. Even if you don't think your swing is good enough to deliver the ball to your chosen target, it is still worth your time and effort to go through the process.
Picking a target can help you hit more greens in regulation because it will force you to think through all of the variables that were listed above. While you stand behind the ball and decide on a target, you will have to mull over the distance that you have to the green, the wind conditions, the turf conditions, and more. If you simply walk up to your ball and swing away with no thought given to picking a target, it will be easy to ignore those crucial details. It requires discipline to go through the target-selecting process prior to each shot, but that discipline will be rewarded with improved performance.
One of the most-common mistakes made by amateur golfers is using the hole as the target on each and every approach shot. Depending on the design of the course, the hole might not be a smart target on some of your shots into the green. For example, if the hole is cut only a few yards from a water hazard, you will want to aim on the opposite side of the hole so you can steer clear of losing your ball into the pond. This cautious technique might not allow you to make a birdie, but it will give you a better chance of safely making a par. Your greens in regulation percentage will quickly climb simply by picking safer targets throughout the round.
Using objects that are located behind the green is a good way to identify a target that you can use to guide your swing. Often, there will be trees behind the green that you can pick out to serve as your target. So, using the previous example, you might find that there is a tree behind the green which is a few yards to the left of the hole location (with water on the right). In that case, you could use the tree as your target line. As you go through your pre-shot routine and you get ready to make a swing, use the tree as your reference point to ensure that you are lined up correctly.
There is one other element to picking a target that needs to be considered – the ball flight you are hitting into the green. A shot that is played into a green with a draw might have a different ideal target than an approach shot that is fading as it comes down. Continuing with the previous example, this point can be easily illustrated. If you play a draw, you would have to start the ball over the water (on the right) to allow your ball to draw in toward the target and finish close to the hole. That is a risky proposition. Instead, you will likely be better off playing safely to the left and leaving yourself with a long putt.
However, a player who hits a fade can afford to be more aggressive in this situation. When hitting a fade, you can select a target a few yards left of the hole and rely on your fade to take the ball in close to the hole. Since you won't ever be carrying the ball over the water on the right, this method is far less-risky. One of the advantages of being able to hit both draws and fades is being able to choose the shot which takes on the least amount of risk and still gives you a chance to set up a good birdie chance.
The average golfer stands to instantly hit more greens simply by doing a better job of picking a specific, and smart, target for every approach shot. Even without making a single change to your swing, you can have more birdie putts once you value the importance of taking the time to select a great target.
A Three-Round Experiment
When faced with an approach shot into the green, most golfers simply find the yardage to the hole, pull a club, and fire away. The target is almost always the hole itself, and there is very little thought that goes into the process. This lack of strategy is a big reason why most amateur golfers have a hard time hitting very many greens in regulation.
If that sounds like you, try embarking on a three-round experiment to change the way you think about playing golf. By dedicating your next three rounds of golf to this experiment, you could come away with a new perspective on how to pick targets and hit approach shots that set you up with birdie putts.
Note: This 'experiment' may take up a little extra time on the course, so try to do it when you aren't going to be holding up any groups behind you. However, if you are playing in a foursome, you should be able to fit in the record-keeping while the other players in your group are hitting their shots.
To give this a try for yourself, use the steps below –
- Decide when you are going to start the experiment. You should have a period of time set aside where you can play three rounds of golf without worrying about your scores. Obviously, if you have a tournament or other event coming up at your local course, you may want to wait until you can play three straight rounds that are focused on this experiment.
- Before you start the first round, you are going to prepare your scorecard to record all of the relevant information. For each hole, you are going to write down two numbers – the distance that you had to the front of the green, and the distance that you had to the back of the green. Make sure there is a spot on the card for these two numbers to be recorded on each hole.
- Also, you are going to need a spot to record your success in hitting the green in regulation. If you hit the green successfully, use a check mark to stand for a green hit. If you miss the green, use the following system to record where your ball missed –
- 'S' for short of the green
- 'R' for right of the green
- 'L' for left of the green
- 'O' for over the green
- With your scorecard ready, head to the first tee and begin your round. When you are hitting shots that aren't intended to reach the green (such as tee shots on non-par threes), you will play this round like you would any other.
- On approach shots, you are going to make a change to your process. As you prepare to hit an approach shot, find the yardage to both the front and back of the green. However, do not worry about finding the yardage to the hole itself. Throughout each of these three rounds, you are going to completely ignore the hole location when hitting your approach. Using just the yardages to the front and back, you are going to pick a club that should safely put your ball in the middle of the green.
- With your club selected, go ahead and hit the shot. Remember, the only goal on all approach shots during these rounds is to hit the middle of the green. After the shot has been hit, take a moment to write down all of the information for that hole (yardages and result of the shot). As you arrive to the green, finish out the hole as you normally would, trying to hit the best chip shots and putts possible.
- Even though the main purpose of this experiment isn't to shoot your best score, you still want to keep score during these rounds.
When the three rounds have been concluded, sit down and take a look at your results. Out of the 54 holes, how many greens did you hit in regulation? Hopefully, by taking the focus away from the hole location and putting the emphasis on hitting the middle of the green, you will have improved on your GIR percentage. Also, take a look at you misses to see if you can spot a pattern. If most of your missed greens were to the left, you will know what you need to fix on the driving range.
For one last step, divide the 54 approach shots you hit into four different categories based on distance. Using the yardage to the front of the green, classify each approach shot as either less than 100 yards, 100-149, 150-199, or 200+. Once you have divided them up, take a look at your accuracy from each distance range. If one of these categories seems to be giving you problems specifically, work on your improving your swing with the clubs that cover those distances.
The whole idea behind this experiment is to allow you to focus on simply putting the ball on the green without being obsessed with getting close to the hole. As long as you are hitting greens, you should be able to two putt for par the majority of the time – even when you don't hit it right next to the flag.
Don't Forget About Your Tee Shots
It is hard to hit greens in regulation when you are playing from the trees. That should go without saying, but it is a point that seems to be forgotten by plenty of amateur players. If you are not consistently driving your ball in the fairway, you won't be able to hit a high number of greens in regulation – even with a great iron game. You need to be playing from the short grass on a regular basis to give yourself any kind of chance.
With that in mind, remember that you don't need to use your driver off the tee of every par four and par five. Golf is a game of position, and sometimes the best way to get position in the fairway is to use a fairway wood or long iron from the tee. It's nice to hit the ball a long distance with your driver, but that distance won't do you much good if you have to play your next shot from the deep rough.
Just as you need to make smart decisions on your approach shots to hit the greens, you also need to make smart decisions from the tee in order to set up your approaches. The priority for your tee shots should always be accuracy first, distance second – not the other way around.
Hitting a high percentage of greens in regulation requires a combination of skills. Obviously, you need to be making good golf swings both from the tee and from the fairway. However, you also need to be making great decisions and picking smart targets. Only when you are able to combine those two disciplines will you be able to lower your scores by setting yourself up for as many birdie putts as possible.