Course Management Basics – Part 7

Next Level Thinking

In the Part 6, I discussed the importance of knowing how far each of your clubs actually goes.  That’s a basic requirement for good course management.  Today, I’m giving you a more advanced lesson that will take your greens in regulation to a higher level and your scores to new lows.

This Series Is For You If:

You want to shoot lower scores with the swing you have

“A Shotgun, Not a Sniper Rifle”

That phrase is borrowed from course management/strategy guru Scott Fawcett, who uses it to describe shot patterns.  Everyone likes to think that they can zero in their iron play like a marksman zeros in his weapon, but it’s simply not the case.  Even on the PGA Tour, shots from driver through wedge cover a range of distances and a spread from left to right.  Obviously, that dispersion is smaller with shorter clubs, and it’s smaller for better players, but it’s still an area, not a pin point.

Learn Your Patterns

To properly understand your shot pattern, you need to get back to a launch monitor like we discussed in Part 6.  Trying to figure this out on the range is just too imprecise.

Hit ten shots with a club, just as you did before.  This time, instead of just looking at the distances, look at the whole picture.  Many launch monitors will draw a circle around all the shots you hit, and it’s that circle that you’re interested in.  You want to know three things:

How big is the gap from the shortest shot to the longest?

How big is the range from left to right? 

Does the pattern center on your target or is it skewed to the right or left?

Ideally, you would figure out your shot pattern with each club.  You will probably learn some interesting things about your game through this process.  You may find that one club stands out as being particularly good or bad.  Use this information to adjust your set, your practice habits, or both.

Adding Another Variable

If you are the kind of player who likes to shape shots, use your time on the launch monitor to investigate how that impacts your dispersion.  Aim at the center and hit ten “normal” cuts or draws.  What does that do your shot pattern?  Does it get bigger or smaller?  Did you eliminate long and left or short and right? Does the center of the pattern move left or right?

If you’re going to hit those shots on the course, these are all things worth knowing.  You may discover that playing one shape helps your accuracy and one hinders it.  This is great insight that will help you shoot lower scores.

Put Your Oval on the Green

Now you know that for each club in your bag there’s a certain distance range and left to right spread that you can expect.  If you apply this knowledge to your approach shots, your greens in regulation will go up dramatically.

Look at the picture above.  It shows a green with a fairly benign pin position, but if we center our shot pattern on the pin, we still have a bunker in play.

By shifting our target just a little long and a little left, the bunker isn’t in play.  Now all our shots – barring something aberrant – will end up on the green or in position for an easy chip.

This picture shows the same green but with a much tougher pin.  If we center our shot pattern on the pin here, almost half our shots are in the bunker or the water.  That’s unacceptable.

In might be hard to do, but when the pin is tucked near a hazard like that, we need to shift our target dramatically.  With our target in the middle of the green, almost all our shots end up on the putting surface.  It’s true that we will have some long putts, but over time this strategy will save a huge number of strokes.

The Takeaway

Here’s the one sentence takeaway: make sure that you’re picking a target that excludes stroke hazards from your shot pattern and puts the maximum number of shots on the green.

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Matt Saternus

Co-Founder, Editor In Chief at
Matt is a golf instructor, club fitter, and writer living in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. Matt's work has been published in Mulligan Magazine, Chicagoland Golf, South Florida Golf, and other golf media outlets. He's also been a featured speaker in the Online Golf Summit and is a member of Ultimate Golf Advantage's Faculty of Experts.


  1. Justin Poole

    Some really great takeaways here. For me, adding that extra element of shot shaping during practice could be huge. It’s something that sounds simple, but at the range I will more often just hit straight shots to different pins. I think if I actively attempted to hit a fade, I’d notice my dispersion decrease.

  2. cksurfdude

    Great info, thx! The shot pattern circles overlaid on the green is a very enlightening visual .. I’d previously been thinking either “go for the middle of the green” or go for the “fat part” of the green .. but now I can (literally) see how sometimes you may want to aim even further away from the pin.

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