Pro Golf Course Strategy Tips

By Matthew DeBord

Pro golfers play a different game from the rest of us. While amateurs just try to find the fairway, hit the green and stay out of bunkers and water hazards, pros can't be so low-key. In order to win tournaments, they must score. This means they need to size up every hole they play, figuring out the best way to avoid making a bogey, double-bogey or worse. However, there are many things that amateurs can learn from the ways that pros attack the courses that they play. These strategies can be used on easy or difficult courses to equal effect, although they pay the greatest dividends on challenging courses.

Instructions

Difficulty: Challenging
Step 1
Tee up on the side of the teeing ground that gives you the best chance to hit the fairway. A right-handed pro will tee up on the far left side of the tee box if she wants to play a hook or draw. For a fade, the pro will tee up on the far left. A pro will also recognize that the tee markers may not provide the best way to aim the tee shot and will make adjustments accordingly.
Step 2
Hit the tee shot to the side of the fairway that provides the best angle to the pin. For example, a back left pin position requires a tee shot to the right side of the fairway, which provides a better angle for the second shot.
Step 3
Never three putt. Assuming that the pro has reached green in the allowed two or three shots (one for a par three hole), he will then decide whether to go for the birdie or "lag" a putt close to the hole to avoid a difficult second putt.
Step 4
Keep the ball in front of the hole. Difficult courses are full of trouble: challenging rough, waste areas, water hazards, difficult bunkers. Pros know that if they stay in front of the hole and avoid having to play tricky hooks and slices, or play chips from behind the hole, they stand a better chance of shooting a good score. For amateurs, this may mean taking a few more bogeys but far fewer double- and triple-bogeys.
Step 5
Don't "underclub." Pros like to force more distance out of their clubs, because it means they are less likely to go over the back of a green and face a hard downhill chip (most greens slope back-to-front). Amateurs, however, tend to miss a lot of greens because they think they can hit the ball farther than they really can. Most pros will recommend that amateurs take more club and swing smoother.

Tips & Warnings

Take a playing lesson with your PGA pro. There's no substitute for having a seasoned teaching pro walk you through actual on-course strategy. When practicing, play holes rather than beating balls. Many pros practice by pretending to play actual holes. You can consult a scorecard for a favorite course and hit a drive, then an iron, and even imagine you have missed a fairway or green and practice recovery shots.
Take a playing lesson with your PGA pro. There's no substitute for having a seasoned teaching pro walk you through actual on-course strategy.
When practicing, play holes rather than beating balls. Many pros practice by pretending to play actual holes. You can consult a scorecard for a favorite course and hit a drive, then an iron, and even imagine you have missed a fairway or green and practice recovery shots.
Never get too ambitious on hard courses. The courses on which the pros play tournaments are tough. It's fun to play them, and even more fun if you adopt a conservative strategy. So lay up on all the par fives and play the long par fours as if they were bogey rather than par holes. Simple is better than fancy. Given a choice, a pro will usually putt rather than chip, and hit a basic pitch or chip rather than a tricky flop shot. By eliminating big numbers on the scorecard, they create the conditions to be more aggressive when they have a chance to go for birdie or even eagle. From a bad lie, just get the ball back in play. Bumping a sand wedge 10 yards back into the fairway is always better than trying to hit a dramatic shot off a bad lie. The pros will sometimes go for it because they figure they can recover from a bad shot. Amateurs will probably just make a bad situation worse.
Never get too ambitious on hard courses. The courses on which the pros play tournaments are tough. It's fun to play them, and even more fun if you adopt a conservative strategy. So lay up on all the par fives and play the long par fours as if they were bogey rather than par holes.
Simple is better than fancy. Given a choice, a pro will usually putt rather than chip, and hit a basic pitch or chip rather than a tricky flop shot. By eliminating big numbers on the scorecard, they create the conditions to be more aggressive when they have a chance to go for birdie or even eagle.
From a bad lie, just get the ball back in play. Bumping a sand wedge 10 yards back into the fairway is always better than trying to hit a dramatic shot off a bad lie. The pros will sometimes go for it because they figure they can recover from a bad shot. Amateurs will probably just make a bad situation worse.

About The Author

Matthew DeBord has written about sports, cars, and wine since 1994 for a variety of publications. Formerly the golf columnist for the “Improper Hamptonian,” he has covered major championship tournaments and played some of the best courses in America. He graduated from Clemson University and has a master's degree from New York University.

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