In football, a team expects to score at least a field goal when it reaches the “red zone,” the area inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. Golf’s red zone extends to 100 yards from the hole, but the concept is similar. When you reach this range, you must take advantage of the opportunity.
Professional golfers are, well, pros when it comes to getting up and down from 100 yards and in. They’re able to control not only the distance of their shots, but the spin and trajectory as well.
You may never reach tour-level proficiency in the red zone, but you can knock several strokes from your average score by honing in on these keys:
- Carry at least three wedges: Most golfers carry a pitching wedge, which features 47° - 50° of loft, and a sand wedge with 56°. A lob wedge (60° - 64°) is a great weapon when you need to hit very high shots over hazards and stop the ball quickly on the green. Consider adding a gap wedge (51° - 53°), which will eliminate the need to hit tricky half- and three-quarter shots from yardages between your pitching and sand wedges.
- Use a ball with sufficient spin: Pros play golf balls with the highest spin rates, though these aren’t necessarily the best choice for amateurs. If you want better control around the greens without losing much (if any) distance off the tee, look for balls with urethane covers and two- or three-piece construction. They’ll fly plenty far, but tend to stop more quickly on the greens than surlyn or ionomer-covered balls.
- Learn different shots: You need to be versatile to score from close range. That means learning to hit the ball high when you need to land it on a small section of green, and low when the situation calls for a running shot. Ball position is the key to altering your trajectory. Follow these basic rules:
- Play smart: No matter how much you practice or play, you’ll inevitably face challenges you can’t conquer – and you shouldn’t try to. Let say you’ve got a 50-yard shot to a flagstick cut just a few paces behind a deep bunker. To get it close, you’ll have to hit a high, delicate shot that lands in the perfect spot. Miss short and you’re in trouble. The smart play is to purposely hit the ball past the pin, or to aim away from the bunker. You probably won’t get up and down, but you won’t cost yourself strokes, either.
•To hit the ball high, play it nearer your left (lead) foot.
•To hit it low, play the ball in the center or just right of center in your stance.
A small change in ball position can make a notable difference in flight. Experiment on the range to get a feel for this nuance.
Few amateur golfers devote enough time or focus to the red zone, even though 60-80% of all shots (including putts) occur there. Dedicate yourself to improving in this area and you’ll be way ahead of the game.