Let the Birdies Come to You
It’s fun to think about the best golfers in the world taking aim at the flag stick and stuffing their shot to tap-in range, but that’s not reality. In truth, the smartest, best golfers aren’t hunting birdies, they’re letting the birdies come to them. Read this lesson to take a page out of their playbook.
This Lesson Is For You If:
You want to shoot lower scores
You find yourself in too many hazards
You don’t hit enough greens in regulation
“There Are No Birdies in Bunkers”
This distilled version of today’s lesson was driven home during my last round of 2019. I was playing one of my best rounds of the year when I walked up to a short par 3. The pin was no more than three paces from the front edge, just over a bunker. I played the pin yardage and came up four yards short, right in the sand.
As I walked up to the bunker shot, I had to laugh at myself. There were twenty yards of green beyond the flag! Even though the green was tilted back-to-front, any putt would have been better than being in the sand. Rather than making an easy par or possible birdie, I was going to have to struggle to keep a bogey off my card.
Get Lots of Lotto Tickets
Making putts is hard. On the PGA Tour, 2019’s very best putters made less than 30% of their GIR putts from 15-20 feet. Major champion Francesco Molinari made less than 9% from that range.
Let me put that a different way. You can aim directly at the flag, hit it to 17 feet (an awesome shot, by the way), and, if you putt like the average PGA Tour Pro, you’ll have an 18% chance of making the birdie.
The takeaway is this: you need to give yourself a lot of birdie putts if you want to make birdies, because making putts is hard. The way to give yourself more birdie putts is to hit more greens in regulation.
How do we hit more greens in regulation? Stop aiming at the flag. Aim at the middle of the green. Get the ball on the putting surface and give yourself a chance. Aiming at the flag is fun, but in most cases it raises your average score by bringing more hazards and missed greens into the equation.
Make Smart Decisions Easy
If you’re going to create the habit of making smart decisions, you need to stack the deck in your favor (more on that HERE). One of the easiest ways to do that is to swap your laser rangefinder for a GPS watch.
Consider this: if you use a rangefinder, you get a yardage to the pin. To make a smart decision from there, you need to calculate (or more likely, guess) how the flag yardage relates to the center of the green and then play to that. You’re asking yourself to remember to play smart, ignore that enticing pin yardage, plus you’re adding in the randomness of guessing how far the flag is from the middle of the green. None of that skews the odds in your favor.
With a GPS watch, smart decision making is easier: look at the center number, play to that. If the green is huge and the flag is way up/back, maybe you adjust that a bit, but the smart yardage is staring you in the face.
There’s a reason that greens in regulation is the one statistic that best correlates with total score: it’s the easiest way to make birdies and avoid bogeys. If we know that, then it’s only logical that we choose a strategy that maximizes our GIRs. You’ll have far lower scores when you stop chasing birdies and let them come to you.