Middle of the Green

Many great golfers, including Phil Mickelson, are notorious for aiming at almost every flag. No matter where the pin is placed, they zero in on it with practically every iron shot.

These players tend to make lots of birdies, but also put themselves in precarious positions several times each round.

Pros can get away with over-aggression thanks to their superior chipping, pitching and putting. For most golfers, though, a more cautious approach yields better results. In fact, playing to the middle of the green is a wise choice on most occasions.

Here's why:

The average golf course green measures approximately 25-30 yards from front to back and 20-25 yards across. For everyday play, pins are rarely placed less than five yards from the edge. That means a ball in the very center of the average green will be no more than 40 feet or so from any pin -- and will usually be much closer.

Having this knowledge can make you think twice about aiming for flags that are tucked behind hazards or nestled against the rough. Play for the center of greens and you'll have more birdie chances, fewer three-putts, and put less pressure on your short game. In other words, it's an easy way to lower your scores, – and your stress.

Aim for Middle of the Green to Lower Your Scores

Aim for Middle of the Green to Lower Your Scores

When the average golfer thinks about shooting lower scores, he or she usually first thinks about technique. Golfers are obsessed with technique. The thinking here is simple – by improving your technique, you will be able to hit better shots, and shoot better scores. And, without a doubt, there is some correlation between scores and swing technique. If you can make a solid swing time after time, you are more likely to shoot low scores than if your mechanics were all over the place.

With that said, there is a lot more to low scores than just making a pretty swing. Course management is a skill which is not to be overlooked in golf, and it is what we are going to be discussing in this article. Specifically, we are going to be talking about aiming your approach shots at the middle of the green. Rather than aiming at the flag each time you attack the green, this article is going to ask you to instead aim for the middle of the putting surface. While this plan might be a bit counterintuitive at first, you will quickly come to see just how useful this method can be. It is possible to shoot low scores without ever aiming at the flag, as long as you execute your shots toward the middle of the green properly throughout the day.

One of the nice things about using this technique is the simple fact that it will force you to think about course management as you play. Many amateur golfers never give a single moment of thought to course management as they head from the first tee to the last green. Instead, they play on 'auto-pilot', just picking clubs and targets based on nothing more than habit and expectation. On the tee of a par four or five? Pull the driver, of course. Hitting an approach shot? Take dead aim at the flag. This kind of thinking is common in the amateur game, but it is also costly. If you willing to think on a higher level, you can quickly rise above your competition.

In the world of professional golf, you will find a far more advanced way of thinking than you see on the average public course on a Saturday morning. Pro golfers have a lot on the line each time they tee it up, so they take time to think through all of the options for every shot. Some pros are more aggressive than others, but all of them consider a variety of choices before they play the ball. Take your lead from the pros and work on thinking more carefully as you play. No matter what style of golf you like to play – aggressive, conservative, or somewhere in the middle – you will benefit from taking a thoughtful approach to every round.

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.

The Advantages of Aiming for the Middle

The Advantages of Aiming for the Middle

On the surface, you might think that it sounds crazy to aim anywhere but directly at the flag. After all, you are trying to put the ball in the hole, so shouldn't you aim for the hole with every approach? Not necessarily. Remember, you need to position your ball properly for the next shot in golf, until you finish the hole by knocking your ball into the cup. If you don't think you are going to make a given shot – which you wouldn't expect to do on an approach – it is smarter to think more about positioning than anything else.

The following list contains a number of advantages which can be enjoyed when you decide to aim for the middle of every green. After reviewing this list, you may find that you are excited to try this tactic out for yourself.

  • Hit more greens. One of the main advantages of aiming for the middle of the green is the fact that you will almost certainly hit more greens in regulation. That means more putting and less chipping in every round. By hitting the green in regulation, you greatly increase your chances of at least making a par, and you may even walk away with a birdie. A missed green can quickly turn into a bogey if you hit a poor chip or draw a bad lie, so never underestimate the importance of hitting as many greens as possible. This is a low-stress way to play golf, and all of us could stand to experience less stress on the course.
  • Avoid major mistakes. This point goes along with the previous point on hitting more greens in regulation. When you place your ball on the green with your approach shot, you will not only be setting up a birdie putt – you will also be avoiding the potential for disaster. For example, imagine you are playing a hole where the green is guarded by a large water hazard. If you aim for the flag and make a small mistake, you might hit your ball in the water, and a double bogey is very likely to follow. By aiming at the center of the green, you reduce the chances that you are going to hit the ball in the pond, and you therefore make it far less likely that you will walk away with a double or worse. Playing good golf is often about the mistakes you don't make. Keep your ball safely on the grass, and away from the hazards, and your score will look better when the day is over.
  • Simplify the game. As was mentioned in the introduction, you need to think about course management as you play your rounds. However, if you start to think about too many things all at once, you may get overwhelmed and struggle to make a clear decision. With this game plan, there is no indecision at all – you simply locate the distance to the center of the green, pick the appropriate club, and fire away. Many golfers enjoy the 'mental freedom' that this method offers, as you won't have to worry about getting bogged down by the decision making process. Feeling free and relaxed, you may find that you make great swings as a result.
  • Play well under pressure. Even if you aren't a professional golfer, you certainly find pressure on the course from time to time. Maybe it comes from trying to beat your playing partners in a friendly match, or maybe you are simply trying to beat your own personal best score. Whatever the case, you need to be able to hit good shots when the pressure is on if you hope to reach your goals. By aiming toward the middle of the green on all approaches, you can reduce some of the pressure you feel because you will always be playing toward a safe target. Should you decide to aim for a hole location near the edge of the green on an important shot, you would only be making yourself more anxious than you were already. With the comfort of a safe target in the back of your mind, you may be able to make great swings even while feeling the heat.

It is easy to see that the method of aiming for the middle of the green has a lot to offer the average golfer. The points listed above are items that each and every golf can benefit from over both the short and long term. Even though you will be aiming away from the hole location in most cases, this plan is almost certain to lower your scores thanks to an increased number of greens in regulation and a reduced number of errant approach shots finding bunkers, hazards, and more.

Giving It a Try

Giving It a Try

Unlike a swing change, you don't need to wait a period of time before you try this new method out on the course. If you would like, you can give it a shot during your very next round. While it might seem like an easy enough strategy to execute, there are a few things you should keep in mind before you get started. Review the list below and keep these points in mind while on the course.

  • Find a precise yardage. Since you will be aiming for the middle of the green, getting a yardage should be pretty easy. After all, most courses are marked with yardages to the center of the green, so locate a number and then pick a club to match. Remember, while you don't need to adjust for the front or back of the green while using this plan, you do still need to adjust for elevation change. So, if you are playing uphill or downhill on an approach shot, add or subtract a certain number of yards to leave yourself with an 'effective' distance.
  • Plan for your ball flight. The goal with this method is to have your ball finish in the center of the green. That means, based on your ball flight, you might not actually aim toward the center of the green at address. If you play a draw, you will need to aim to the right of the green's center in order to let the ball curve back toward the target. The opposite is true of a fade. If you always aim at the center while ignoring your ball flight, the ball is sure to turn toward the edge of the green – and it may miss altogether. Use your practice time on the range to become familiar with your ball flight and then take it into consideration when aiming any shot.
  • Evaluate the shape of the green. To determine which part of the green is actually the center, you will need to take an overall look at the green as a whole. Greens come in all shapes and sizes, meaning it won't always be an easy task to decide on the center. And, to be sure, the 'center' you use for your shot doesn't need to be the actual, technical center of the putting surface. Instead, it can simply be the easiest section of the green to hit. If the actual center is a dramatic slope that could kick your ball into trouble, it wouldn't make much sense to aim for that spot. Instead, you want to pick out the most forgiving area of the green and use that for your target.
  • Commit to the target. This might be the single most important point in this entire article. Once you have picked out the center of the green, and you have settled on a yardage, you need to make a fully-committed swing toward that target. You should not be thinking about the hole location in the back of your mind, as that will only cause problems within your swing. It is not a good idea to 'help' the ball in the direction of the hole while aiming for the middle. If you are going to do that, you might as well aim for the hole location in the first place. As long as you are committed to aiming for the center of the green, you need to go 'all-in' on this plan. Pick out your target and make a confident swing without any concern for the actual hole location.

The only way to see if this plan is going to work for you or not is to give it a try on the course. During an upcoming round, commit yourself to aiming at the middle of the green for all 18 holes. It would be best to do this during a casual round when you have nothing on the line, as you might be tempted to break from the strategy if you were playing in a tournament. After you see what this method can do for your scores, it is very possible that you will adopt it in every round you play.

Moving Back to the Tee

Moving Back to the Tee

If you are going to aim for the middle of the green on every approach shot, that strategy will actually have an impact on how you play your tee shots. Each shot you play on the golf course affects the next one, and that relationship is particularly strong when it comes to tee shots and approaches. The tee shot you hit will not only determine the distance of your approach, but it will also dictate whether you play from the fairway or the rough. Setting yourself up with a good opportunity on your approach shot is the best way to stay on track all throughout the round.

One of the first things to consider with regard to your tee shots while using this method is the fact that you might not need to be as aggressive off the tee. Since you are aiming for the center of the green with your approach shots, you should be able to hit the target even if you are playing from farther back. That means you can use less club from the tee, taking on less risk and putting the ball in the fairway more frequently. By reaching for your three wood rather than your driver on a narrow hole, you can increase your chances of playing from the short grass. Golf is an easier game when played from the fairway, especially if you are then aiming the approach shot toward the middle of the putting surface.

Of course, that doesn't mean that you have to banish your driver to the back of your golf bag forever. There are plenty of times where using a driver makes a lot of sense, especially if there are no major hazards lurking alongside the fairway. As you stand on the tee, evaluate the risks in front of you and pick a club appropriately. If you are confident that you can hit your driver and keep the ball in play, then feel free to go for it. However, if there is any doubt in the back of your mind with regard to using the driver, put it away and opt for a shorter club. You should always feel confident anytime you are making a swing, and you won't be confident if you think you are holding the wrong club on the tee.

For any given tee shot, the right club for the job is the one which gives you the most confidence. It is hard to stay confident on the course, as there are always plenty of hazards and other obstacles lurking just off the beaten path. Don't feel like you have to hit a certain club just because that is what the other players in your group are hitting. If you don't feel confident, step back and think about other options. There are multiple ways to play every hole in the world, so use your creativity and chart your own path from the tee to the middle of the green.

The Putting Piece of the Puzzle

The Putting Piece of the Puzzle

Placing your ball in the center of the green hole after hole is a great accomplishment – as long as your putting stroke is up to the task. The only problem you may find with hitting the middle of the green could come in the form of poor lag putting. If you aren't able to roll the ball from the center of the green out to the hole location with great consistency, you will find that you have too many three putt bogeys as a result. To make this game plan pay off, it will be necessary to sharpen your lag putting skills.

The following tips are meant to help you master the art of the lag putt. Learn how to lag putt and you will enjoy the maximum benefit from this course management strategy.

  • Stay still. No matter how long you need to roll the ball across the green, it is important to keep your body as still as possible as you make the stroke. Set up over the ball in a balanced position and then swing the putter freely back and through. If your body is moving all around during the stroke, you will have trouble hitting the sweet spot of the putter – and your distance control will suffer. Do your best to hold still while moving only your shoulders in order to propel the club.
  • Relax your grip. Some golfers tend to hold on to the putter tightly when hitting long putts. Doing so is a bad idea. When you hold on tight, you lose feel for the club and it becomes more difficult to control your speed. Even a long putt is not hit with a big swing, so you don't need a tight grip to maintain control over the putter. Keep your fingers light on the grip while the putter swings.
  • Practice! Simply put, many golfers fail to practice their lag putts. When you get out to the golf course for a practice session, include a period of time where you do nothing other than roll long putts across the green. Find a stretch of putting green where you can hit long putts without interrupting other golfers and roll a few back and forth. This is a good idea as part of a regular practice session, and it is also important prior to every round. Working on your lag putting pre-round will help you get a feel for the speed of the greens that day, which is naturally an important piece of information.

Aiming your approach shots for the middle of the green is a great way to position yourself for lower scores. This might not be quite as exciting as aiming for the flag with every shot, but this plan is almost certain to lead to a better outcome. With more putts for birdie and fewer difficult chip shots, your rounds will seem easier and your scores will add up to a lower total. After a period of adjustment, you may wonder how you ever played golf any other way. Good luck!