Thursday, June 16, 2011

Thoughts on Tweaking My Approach Shot Strategy

This past Sunday I played Rio Pinar Country Club and shot 73 (+1) and 71 (-1) in 36 holes of golf. On the first round I only had 27 putts. The second round I had 31 putts. Goes to show the importance of ballstriking over putting.

However, it’s still disconcerting because if you want to go low, you have to combine good ballstriking with good putting. That’s unless you impart some phenomenal ballstriking and you’re left with tap ins. Or if you are JB Holmes long (who is currently leading the Tour by 7 freaking yards in driving distance) and you just happen to find fairways that day and just dominate the par-5’s and get some help on the rest of the holes. But for the common golfer, even the Tour professional, it’s:

Good Ballstriking + Good Putting = Going Low

Thus, shooting 73 and only having 27 putts really meant that my ballstriking was off. Which was indeed true. However, it wasn’t all that bad as I did hit 11 greens (which ain’t Hogan in ’53 by any stretch, but it’s not awful either).

I’m thinking that my golf strategy could use some tweaking. Remember, for a golfer of my caliber, playing the course lengths that I play and hitting it as far as I do, I separate each approach shot into 3 different zones:

Birdie Zone= 110 yards and in on par-4’s and par-3’s, 60 yards in on par-5’s

Safe Zone = 111-174 yards on par-4’s and par-3’s, 61-174 yards on par-5’s

Danger Zone = 175-225 yards

For those who don’t recall, my main strategy on the Danger Zone approach shots is what I call ‘The Watson Strategy.’ Tom Watson said on longer iron shots he just focused on hitting the ball on the sweetspot and just finding the green. I actually still find this to be a very good strategy because it’s so easy to miss the green on a Danger Zone shot. Furthermore, it’s very easy to miss the green and leave yourself in a bad position when you hit from the Danger Zone.

My belief with ‘just find the green’ is that you want to generally find the easiest spot to hit…which is usually the middle of the green. Occasionally there will be a green where say the left side of the green is very big and easy to find and the right side of the green is very small, like #17 at North Shore GC.

It’s important to understand a green like that. However, those types of greens are more of the exception than the rule. So in general, on Danger Zone shots we probably want to aim at the middle of the green.

I also recommend that we *consider* the middle of the green from a distance standpoint as well. Meaning, if we have a back cut pin that says we are 190 to the pin, but it’s 175 to the middle of the green, we should *consider* playing to the middle. So that may mean taking 1 less club than the actual yardage to the pin…just so we can find the green. The same applies if the pin is cut up front.

However, the key word here is *consider.*

We have to judge what our chip/pitch will be if we miss short or long.

#17 at North Shore is a great example. We have a very average chance of getting up and down if we miss short. However, the hazard is there and we don’t have much room for error. Missing long will make for a difficult up-n-down.

So, we really need to aim for the middle of the green. If the pin position is at #1, we really need to play for the yardage on pin position #4 (you’ll see the pin positions on the top left corner of the yardage book overview). And the same if the pin position is at #2, we want to play for the yardage at the #4 position. That way if he flush one, we won’t go too long and if we miss it, we have a good chance at clearing the hazard.

However, if the pin is cut in the back and missing long is not that difficult of an up and down or if you miss pin-high but right or left is not that difficult of an up and down, take the club you need for that yardage.


Generally, I aim at the flag stick in the Birdie Zone. Although I think I still needed to aim at it even more often than I did. My thoughts on the Safe Zone were to consider leaving myself with an uphill putt.

I do believe this actually worked. I was able to score some rounds in the 60’s, despite hitting 12 or so greens. However, I think there is probably an even better way.

I think in the Safe Zone I need to aim at more flagsticks. The reason being is that it’s too difficult to pinpoint uphill and downhill putts from that distance. And here’s a graph from 3Jack Top 20 Putting/Short Game Instructor, John Graham, showing the % of putts made on average by the PGA Tour pros.


This past Monday on The Big Break, Petey and Justin were in an elimination. Essentially, Petey had an 8 foot uphill putt. Justin had a 13 foot downhill putt. Petey had to decide who would putt. Whoever makes the putt, wins. If they miss, they lose.

Petey chose to have Justin putt. The hosts and the other participants, Russell and Robert (and probably Justin) thought Petey made a bad decision. But I think he made the right choice.

As we can see from the chart, the PGA Tour average from 5 to 10 feet is 55%. But from 10-15 feet it is 30%. Also, according to Mark Sweeney and David Orr, their studies show that golfers make more uphill putts than they do downhill putts. So the odds of making an uphill putt from 8 feet is probably a bit higher and conversely, the odds of making a downhill putt from 13 feet are a bit lower.

Let’s say those odds increase and decrease by 5%. That would putt Petey at 60% and Justin at 25% chance of making their putts. To me, it’s like saying this….Petey could take choice A of having a 60% chance of winning or choice B of having a 75% chance of winning. He chose B. He played the odds correctly. And Justin missed his putt and Petey won.

Where this all ties into is on the Safe Zone approach shot. Odds are that I’m not going to be able to pin point a shot from that distance and leave myself with an uphill putt. So if I can, shoot at the flag. That is unless there’s too good of a chance of leaving myself with too difficult of an up and down. If I can hit some shots to 5 -10 feet, I’ll take my chances on those downhill putts. And I should come away with par. Sure, I’d love to have a 7 foot uphill putt over a 5 foot downhill putt. But, it’s not that easy from that distance.


I think this is still a good idea. I also think that this is very good on 3-5 foot putts. And where do I get most of my 3-5 foot putts from? Chips, pitches, flops, lobs and bunker shots.

So my feeling (at the moment) is that if I’m going to consider leaving myself with an uphill putt, do it on those shots. The Rule of 12 chipping method is a good example. Here’s 3Jack Top 50 Swing and Top 20 Short Game Instructor Brian Manzella, showing how that is done.

Let’s say I’m in between an 8 iron and a 9 iron according to the Rule of 12. I should consider the club that will likely leave me with a uphill putt.

I just think that typically when I miss 3-5 foot putts, it’s usually downhill putts that don’t roll quite like I expect to. Mainly because the ball is rolling so slow and they are now at the mercy of the ‘Wobble Effect’ and things like spike marks and indentations on the green.


The key with all of this strategy talk, whether it be on the approach shot or the tee shot, is to think…from a strategic standpoint…1 shot ahead. You want to keep your swing thoughts with the shot at hand. But you also want to think, strategically, 1 shot head. That will allow you to have easier shots and put you in a better opportunity to score.

So, my general strategy now is:

1. Danger Zone = just hit it solid and just find the green.

2. Safe Zone/Birdie Zone = go for the pin, but determine your chances of getting up and down if you miss short, long, right or left.

3. Shots Around the Green = consider leaving yourself with an uphill putt



geoff said...

My game is still based on the "percentage" system for want of a better description. With a 13 hcp my accuracy and ballstriking is still evolving. Hence changing my play from the simplest shot option with least risk, to a more aggressive game requires me to practise more on the range to become confident enough to shoot for the pin. The advantrage from reading your post is that now I can incorporate into a template to change my game on. Thanks.

Rich H. said...

Thanks, Geoff. That's really the crux of the strategy, you have to gauge your percentage of being able to hit the shot. I do think it's easy for people to attempt to 'hedge their bets' and actually hit a worse shot. I think golfers need to look at it like 'what happens if I take a decent swing at it?' instead of looking at it like 'what happens if I make a bad swing?'


Damaris Boylan said...

My main dilemma with golf lies with stroking in full swing; which I think plays an important role at the start of the game. But then, thanks for sharing your key points!