While we all love taking a rip at a par-5 green with our second shot, the opportunity rarely presents itself to amateur golfers. Nonetheless, three-shot holes represent your best chance for birdies and pars in any given round, so taking advantage is crucial to posting a good score.
The most important shot on a par 5 is often the second, aka the layup. Look at it this way: If the hole measures 500 yards and you hit a 225-yard drive, you're left with a 275-yard par 4, in essence. Most of us feel pretty confident of making par or better on such a hole. The key is positioning yourself for an easy approach to the green.
There are three schools of thought on playing the par 5 layup shot:
- Pick your longest club: Probably the most popular strategy among average golfers. This usually means taking the 3-wood and trying to get the ball as close to the green as possible. Advantage: Generally speaking, the closer you are to the green, the better chance you have of hitting the next shot close to the hole. Drawback: Your longest fairway club is likely the most difficult to hit. Golfers often top or slice the ball in these situations, defeating the whole purpose.
- Play to a desired distance: The method preferred by pros, who determine how long they'd like their third shot to be and hit their layup to that distance. For example, the golfer wants a 100-yard shot to the green and has 175 to reach that spot, so he lays up with his 175-yard club. Advantage: It's always good to approach the green from a comfortable yardage with a club you trust. Drawback: To hit your layup an exact distance (or within a tight range), you must estimate how much the ball will roll on the fairway and factor in wind, slope, etcetera – then execute the shot. That's not easy for most of us.
- Hit your go-to club: If your favorite club is a 3-hybrid, for instance, you would choose it for any straightforward layup shot. Advantage: Your favorite club gives you confidence and boosts your odds of hitting a good shot. This tactic also eliminates guesswork. Drawback: If you blindly reach for the same club every time, you may fail to recognize trouble (a hazard) in the zone the shot will reach. You could also be giving up additional yards that could set up an easier approach, or hit the ball beyond your ideal approach yardage.
Bottom line: No single approach is best for every situation. Choose a standard tactic to use for layups (like hitting your go-to club), but assess your options before finalizing the decision. You may find that a different tactic is better for a given set of circumstances.
Three Approaches to Par Five Layups
Par fives are a lot of fun - there is really no way around that fact. When you are playing a par five, you usually have a great chance to make a birdie or even an eagle, but that doesn't mean that your success is guaranteed. If you aren't careful, these long holes can 'jump up and bite you' in a hurry. Careful planning and smart decision making is required in order to conquer par five holes on a consistent basis, as there is likely more strategy on par fives than there is anywhere else on the course.
Unfortunately, the average amateur golfer doesn't spend enough time thinking about strategy when they play a par five. Most players simply stand up on the tee with the goal of hitting it as far down the fairway as possible. Then, when they reach their ball, they once again hit is as far as possible, with little to no regard for hazards, slopes, trees, or anything else that might be featured in the design of the hole. If you decide that you are just going to swing away without planning out your shots on a par five, you will usually be disappointed in the result. Course management is a big part posting a good score at the end of the day, so commit yourself to managing your way through each of the par fives if you hope to be happy with your round when all is said and done.
In this article, we are going to discuss three different ways that you can decide to lay up on par fives. For most golfers, laying up on the second shot is going to be the usual requirement, as it takes impressive power to reach the green in just two shots. While it might seem like laying up is a simple thing to do, it is actually quite common for layup shots to go wrong. Many players take these shots for granted, and that lack of focus can lead to mistakes. Hopefully, after considering the ideas highlighted in the article below, you will have a newfound respect for layup shots, and you will take them seriously each and every time.
If you need any confirmation as to the importance of a good layup shot, you need to look no further than the players on the professional golf tours around the world. Pro golfers spend a considerable amount of time and effort planning their lay up shots on par fives, as they understand how important it is to get it right. A good lay up can set the stage for a nice wedge and a birdie chance, while a poor lay up could bring bogey into play. You might think that pro golfers are always going for the green in two on the par fives, but that just isn't the case. They do lay up a considerable amount of the time, and they take those layups very seriously.
All of the instruction included 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.
Approach #1 - Pick a Number
The first option for dealing with a layup that we are going to cover is the most commonly used method of planning this shot. Quite simply, when you decide that you are going to lay up, you pick a number that you want to leave for your third shot, and then you hit your second shot the appropriate distance to leave the desired number for the third. This is a simple formula that only requires a quick bit of math, but executing it correctly can be a bit more difficult than you might imagine.
Before you can even get down to the business of picking a number, you have to decide that you are going to lay up in the first place. How do you know when to lay up, and when to go for the green? It all comes down to the risk vs. reward equation. How much risk are you willing to take on for the possible reward of putting the ball on the green? For example, if the green is guarded by a bunker, you might decide that you are willing to risk putting the ball in that bunker in exchange for the possibility of knocking it on the green. However, if there is a water hazard in front of the green rather than a bunker, you may think twice and opt instead to lay up. You will have to decide for yourself how much risk you are willing to take on a given shot, but generally speaking, golf rewards players who make smart, patient choices.
So, assuming that you have decided to lay up, the next step in this process is choosing a desired number for your third shot. This is a number that you should have in mind before the round even begins, and it should be based on a comfortable full swing yardage for one of your wedges. For many golfers, this number will come in right around 100 yards, but that will vary from player to player. Work on picking out a comfortable distance during your range sessions and then try to find that number as often as possible on the course.
Assuming you have a clear picture of how far you want to leave yourself for your third shot, the rest of this puzzle is going to come down to accurate math and execution. For the sake of an example, let's say you have decided that you want to leave yourself exactly 100 yards to the hole for your third shot. As you stand back in the fairway waiting to hit your second, you obviously need to determine the total yardage that you have to the hole from this point. You could find this number through the use of a GPS, a laser rangefinder, or even an old-fashioned yardage book. After using your method of choice, you determine that you are currently 290 yards from the hole - meaning, obviously, that you need to hit a 190 yard shot in order to leave yourself with 100 for the third.
Before you pull your club and swing away, however, it is important to consider course conditions when picking a club. Are the fairways firm and fast? If so, you will need to account for some roll out after your ball lands. Or, if they are wet and soft, you will need to plan on carrying the ball the full 190 yards in the air. Plan this shot out just as carefully as you would plan an approach shot to the green in order to give yourself the best chance at hitting your number.
There is one other important point that needs to be made relating to the idea of picking a number for your layup, and that is the fact that you never want to force your layup into a tough spot. In other words, if you would like to place the ball at 100 yards from the hole - but that spot is guarded by a hazard, you will need to pick a different number to play it safely away from trouble. There is never any excuse for laying up into a hazard or other trouble spot, so always play it safe and pick the easiest layup possible.
Approach #2 - As Close As Possible
Laying up to a specific number in the fairway is not the only option you have available on a par five. Instead, you could choose to simply lay up as close to the hole as possible with your second shot, even if you are not actually going for the green. This is often a strategy used by players who have strong short game skills. If you feel like you can get up and down from just about anywhere with your favorite wedge and a good putt, you may wish to knock the ball up as close to the green as you can on most of the par fives that you encounter.
The obvious advantage to this method of playing par fives is the fact that you will be playing your third shot from closer to the green than you would if you had laid back to a certain number. Playing from a shorter distance should increase your margin for error and give you a good chance to set up a makeable birdie putt. This is especially true when you are playing on a course with soft greens. Those soft greens will make it difficult to hold your full wedge shots near the hole without spinning them back, but they will make it easy for short little pitches to stop quick and sit down. Attacking the pin from 30-50 yards with your third shot on a par five can be an effective way to make plenty of birdies, especially if you are playing on a soft golf course.
While the appeal of playing shorter approach shots will always be tempting, there are a number of potential drawbacks to this strategy which should cause you to think twice. The first, and most important, point that should be made is related to the design of the average golf course. Most courses include designated lay up areas on the par fives, and those areas are often located in the range of 80 - 120 yards. Those areas a usually a little wider than the rest of the fairway, and they may be a little flatter as well. So, if you decide to blow by this part of the fairway and you push your ball farther up toward the green, you will likely be playing toward a narrower section of fairway that is harder to hit. Not only will you be hitting a longer shot than you would be hitting if you laid back, you will also have a smaller target to attack - and that is obviously a difficult combination to manage.
The other problem with this approach is the fact that a poor second shot can put you in serious trouble for your third shot and beyond. If you happen to run the second shot into a bunker or even into some long grass, you may be left with an extremely difficult play up to the green. Depending on the severity of the lie that you run into, you might put yourself in a position to make a bogey on worse on a hole that is supposed to be a scoring opportunity. By laying farther back in the fairway, you will not only give yourself a decent chance for birdie, but you will also greatly reduce the odds of making a bogey on the hole.
Playing the ball as far up the fairway as possible is a strategy that is only going to suit a specific kind of player. The player that will usually benefit most from this strategy is one who has a nice blend of ball striking ability with the fairway woods and long irons, and short game touch with their half-wedge shots. If you consider yourself to be strong in both of those areas, this might be an approach that will pay off for you. However, if either of those parts of the game tend to give you trouble, it may be best to stick with another strategy on the par fives.
Approach #3 - Lay Up from the Tee
Most players will use one of the first two options we have listed to lay the ball up on a par five. However, there is a third option, and it is one that is not used nearly enough by the average golfer. Rather than automatically pulling your driver from the bag when you walk up to the tee of a par five, consider using less club for your tee shot to put the ball in play and set up a strategic march down the hole toward the green.
It might seem a little conservative at first to think about using a fairway wood or long iron from the tee of a par five, but your only real objective on this first shot is simply to put the ball in play. You want to hit the fairway above all else, to ensure that you will be able to hit a solid second shot and then reach the green with your third. If you hit your tee shot into the rough or into the trees, you are going to be scrambling right from the start – and a bogey or worse will become a very possible outcome.
Just as was the case when you laid up to a specific number in our first lay up option, you are again going to need to lean on some math when you use this idea. To start with, take the length of the entire hole and subtract out the distance that you want to have left for your third shot. So, if you are going to try to lay up to 100 yards as in the example above, and the entire hole is 550 yards, you will need to cover 450 yards with your first two shots. It doesn't really matter how you divide up that 450 yards, as long as you are able to keep the ball in play and in position for an aggressive third shot.
Sure, you could hit your driver 250 off the tee and then cover 200 with your second shot to get into position. But, in much the same way, you could hit a 3-wood around 225 off the tee, and then another 3-wood to cover the other 225. The exact math will depend on how far you hit your various clubs and how long the hole happens to be, but you get the idea. By dividing up the yardage that you need to cover with those first two shots into even chunks instead of trying to take care of more of it with your driver, you can avoid the need to hit the driver altogether.
This isn't a strategy that you need to employ on every par five or anything like that, but it is a good way to approach a par five that is heavily guarded by hazards. Remember, the idea on par fives is to keep your ball out of trouble and set up a birdie putt each and every time. There is nothing wrong with taking a conservative approach on a par five – especially when you know you don't have the firepower to reach the green in two shots anyway. If you think you can get home in two it will likely be worth the effort to use the driver from the tee, but blasting away with the big stick when you are only going to lay up anyway is a risk that you just don't need to take.
A Blend of the Three
As with anything else in golf, you aren't going to want to take a 'one size fits all' approach to your strategy on par fives. Using just one of the three 'approaches' listed above for each par five that you play would be a bad idea. Instead, you should be using a blend of the three in order to optimize your performance. Sometimes, it is going to make the most sense to lay up to a specific number and leave yourself with a comfortable yardage. On other holes, you may want to push the ball up the fairway as far as possible in order to set up a short pitch for your third. Or, on par fives that feature tight fairways and plenty of trouble, it might be best to lay back with a three wood or hybrid club from the tee. The key to playing par fives to the best of your ability is to assess each one individually, and then pick the strategy that is going to give you the best chance at success.
Being able to adapt to the circumstances in front of you is a skill that will not only benefit you on the par fives, but on the rest of the course as well. The average amateur golfer makes a number of bad decisions throughout any given round, and those poor choices usually lead to lost strokes. While it would be great to be able to improve your physical performance in terms of swing technique and execution, you can do just as much good for your game simply by improving the way you think. If you have a clear plan for your round before you ever step out onto the course, and then you adapt that plan as necessary as you go, you should see your scores start to fall.
It is easy to fall into the trap of taking the same approach to each par five once you get into a pattern of what you feel like works best for you. There is nothing wrong with having a 'default' plan – such as laying up to a certain yardage – but you must be willing to be flexible. The best golfers are always willing to change their plan based on what they find out on the course. Not only should the design of the course impact your decision making, but you should always be willing to 'call an audible' based on conditions such as wind or rain.
Par fives are a lot of fun, but they also can come with some degree of pressure as they have the potential to make or break your round. Post good scores on the par fives and you will be in great position to shoot a nice score. Make some mistakes on these easy holes and you just may find that your round starts to slip away in a hurry. Use the strategy points included in this article to refine your approach to the longest holes on the course, and there should be more pars and birdies in your future. Good luck!