Mastering Your Course Management
Success on the golf course entails more than physical talent. It requires planning, persistence, and patience.
There are picturesque golf swings that produce majestic drives, but players perform their best when each swing has a purpose. Managing your game around the course can be the difference between having potential and realizing your potential.
As the great Jack Nicklaus said, “A lot of guys can go out and hit a golf ball, but they have no idea how to manage what they do with the ball. I've won as many golf tournaments hitting the ball badly as I have hitting the ball well.”
Course management begins on the first tee box and closes on the 18th green. Need help managing your game? Here are a few tips from tee to green.
CLUB SELECTION ON TEE SHOTS
Tee shots can be the start of a great hole or a potentially disastrous hole. Club selection is very important and the club that you hit the longest isn’t always the best choice off the tee. Distance is a factor, but accuracy, consistency, and comfort are all critical components to a great tee shot. Ask yourself these questions before pulling a club out of the bag.
Where do I want to hit my tee shot?
Where do I want to avoid landing my ball? (i.e. – water, bunkers, downhill lies, difficult angle to the green).
What club am I hitting well today?
What club would I like to have in my hands for a second shot?
Your second shot should also factor into your tee shot. Even if you’re hitting your driver well, it may not be the right choice. For example, if you’re struggling with shots that are within 100 yards of the green, land your second shot 100 yards or more from the hole. So if the hole is 330 yards in length and you’re hitting your driver 250 yards, you’ll have an uncomfortable, 80-yard approach shot into the green if you hit driver. Opt for the fairway wood or long iron.
DESIGN OF THE HOLE
The easiest hole to play is a straightaway, but dogleg rights and lefts appear on every golf course. A dogleg is when a hole-layout starts out straight, but turns hard to the left or right about 170 to 220 yards from the tee. The ideal position for your second shot is an area that provides a direct angle into the green. Do you hit a natural draw or fade? This can make things tricky on doglegs. If the layout is a dogleg left and you’re a right-handed golfer who hits a fade, it’s a tougher hole for you and will play long. Trust your ball flight and start your shot towards the tree line or out of bounds.
The location of the hole on each green is essential to planning your approach shot. Consider these variables before selecting your club.
Depth — Holes are placed in one of three locations of depth on each hole – front, middle, and back. (On many courses, a red flag means the hole is located near the front of the green, a white flag is middle, and a blue flag is towards the back.) The difference in yardage from front to back location can be 30 yards or more, which significantly impacts your club selection. If you strike your approach shot perfectly, having the right club in hand can result in an 8-foot putt, instead of a 40-foot putt.
Lateral Position — The hole placement can be set in the middle, right, or left portion of the green. Wherever the hole is located, factor in the danger areas that come into play if you target the hole. The presence of water, bunkers, and out of bounds areas creates risk for your approach shot. Targeting a safe area on the green, rather than the hole itself, is often the best way to manage risk.
Leave an Uphill Putt — The slope of the green should always factor into your approach shot. Leave yourself an uphill putt whenever possible. That means target an area that sits below the hole and not above the hole. It’s must each easier to control pace and read the break of an uphill putt.
SPEED OF GREENS
Putting greens are where everyone wants to be, yet they’re the most temperamental areas on the course. The speed of the greens varies from course to course, day to day, hole to hole, and even the time of day. Weather also factors into how the greens are rolling throughout your round.
Here are four factors to consider on the putting green.
Factor in the pace of the green on approach shots. If the greens are hard and playing fast, you may need to play a higher (more lofted) approach shot or land your ball to the front portion or before the green to allow for bounce and roll. Soft greens allow players to target the hole.
It’s better to leave your putt short when putting uphill. Putting past the hole leaves you with a downhill putt, which makes it tougher to judge both the speed and break.
On severe downhill putts, survey the green to see if there is an option to hit sideways and use the break to reduce the speed of the putt.
Greens typically play slower early in the morning. Morning dew or a heavy dose of watering the greens can slow your ball down early in the round. As greens dry throughout the day, they will start to play quicker.