Course Management Basics – Part 5

Distance Control for Better Angles

In Part 3 of this series, I introduced the concept of angles.  I showed you how, with a little planning, you can take many hazards out of play and turn your mishits into greens in regulation.

In Part 4, I talked about the value of laying up.  While it’s not the most fun way to play, hitting a shorter shot can sometimes make the game easier and lower your scores.

In this lesson, I’m going to put those two concepts together and talk about creating the best angles through distance control.

This Series Is For You If:

You want to shoot lower scores with the swing you have

More Than Left or Right

Creating great angles is about more than choosing the right or left side of the fairway.  How far up the fairway you are is a key part of the equation, too.  Let’s jump right into an example.

On the hole above, you’ve hit a good drive and are in the middle of the fairway.  You now have to decide where to land your second shot.

If you play to 1, you risk landing in the bunker.  Regardless of whether you’re in the sand or on grass, your approach fly the small bunker short left.  On the positive side, you’re giving yourself a lot of room short and long from this angle.

From 2, you have the advantage of being able to run the ball onto the green, assuming you’re accurate.  Both front traps are in play if you’re short, but you have a lot of room to miss right and left if your distance control is good.  The biggest negative is that this position creates the longest approach.

Getting close to 3 brings the large fairway bunker into play, and it also makes your landing area more narrow.  The benefit here is that your approach is much shorter.  The line is the same as playing from 2 with the same pluses and minuses.

4 is the riskiest lay up with a bunker right and rough, cart path, and desert left.  It doesn’t make the approach a no brainer, either.  You still have to contend with the little bunker short and the U-shaped bunker to the right.  On the plus side, it’s the shortest approach and it gives you tons of green long or short.

So what would you choose?  I’m going to order off the menu and say I’d pick 2.5 – something between 2 and 3.  I’d pick a club that would never get to the bunker past 3, but I’d want to shrink the approach as much as possible.  1 and 4 bring a lot of trouble into play, and the benefits aren’t worth it.

In this example, we’re thinking about where to land our tee shot and what club to hit.  We’ll assume that reaching 1 or 2 would require a hybrid, 3 would require a fairway wood, and 4 or 5 need a driver.  Finally, we’ll assume the flag is in the center of the green.

Hitting hybrid off the tee is a very conservative play, which isn’t a bad thing.  However, the angle from 1 to the green is pretty ugly.  You don’t have much depth or width to work with, and both bunkers are in play.  You’ll also be hitting a longer club and hitting it over a group of bunkers.  Playing to 2 isn’t any easier.  You’ve made the approach even longer and brought a fairway bunker into play.  You do have the advantage of creating more width on the green, but it’s still not a play I would recommend.

Going for 3 seems pretty reasonable.  You’re hitting a fairway wood to an area where there are no bunkers.  The angle you’re creating gives you some room to miss right or left, and your approach is shorter than it would be from 1 or 2.

If you want to hit your driver, play to 5.  From 4, you have an angle that’s nearly as bad as 1, and you might find yourself in that cluster of fairway bunkers.  From 5, you have the best angle into the green – maximum space left and right – and you can run the ball up between the greenside bunkers.

My recommendation here is to hit driver if you can stick to the center or right side of the fairway.  If you’re not confident with your driver, hit your fairway wood right down the middle.

Consider the Flag

I’m going to write an entire lesson on the importance of the pin position in the future, but I want to offer a quick example of how it affects angles.

In the picture above, position 4 is ideal.  It’s the closest to the flag, and it gives you plenty of depth to work with.  There’s not a lot of room left to right at the level of the pin, but that’s true of any line because of the shape of the green and the location of that bunker.

When the pin moves to the right side of the green, the situation is quite different.  The shot from 4 is longer, and it has to carry the bunker in the middle of the green.  With this flag location, I’d take a shorter club off the tee and play to 1.

Things to Consider

In closing, I’ll offer two bits of “common sense” to keep in mind.

Shorter clubs are more accurate

This seems true, and has been shown to be true in our testing.  Its importance in this context is that you shouldn’t plan to land the ball in the same windows with a 3W that you would with a PW.  It’s reasonable to pick a small landing area if you’re hitting a short club.  If you’re hitting a long club, make sure to give yourself ample room.

Closer is better

“I’m going to lay up to my favorite number” is crap.  Getting closer is better, period.  If you want to argue about this, go read Mark Broadie’s Every Shot Counts first.  Unless getting closer brings stroke hazards into play or will require a flop shot approach, do it.  Your scores will be lower for it.

Thanks to Ryan at Independent Golf Reviews for the drone photos.

Matt Saternus


  1. Great write up, Matt. I look forward to reading your Pin Placement post in the future. I think this is one of the most overlooked aspects of golf, but not only in the case of course management. About the course management, how do you think a player should think about strategy for a specific hole? Lots of people start strategy with the tee shot, but could starting from the pin/green and thinking backward toward to the tee be better?

    • Matt Saternus


      Great question. Short answer is that I think it depends. Long answer is going to be a future post in this series. :)



    • Obviously you’re looking for more detail from Matt, but since I’ve given this a lot of thought as well I figured I’d throw in my two cents. For the better player, planning your route from pin location on the green backwards to the tee will likely provide the best results. However, the less-skilled would be better to take it one step at a time starting from the tee box. Reason being quite simply – higher handicapped players are less likely to put the ball where they want/need to. I look forward to hearing Matt’s thoughts on this as well.

  2. Thanks for these, I’ve enjoyed each of them, and I like that you reference other interesting book etc to justify the reasons in some cases. To me it validates the logic that much more.

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