How to hang tough on long par 4s, take advantage of par 5s and transfer your smooth range swing to the course
Tour players feast on par 5s. You go home hungry.
Your scores get worse as hole length increases. That may seem obvious, but I’m referring to your score relative to par, not your total score. These are two different things and there’s a big difference between them.
Everyone shoots over their handicap in tournament play, and that’s to be expected. Even Tour pros do it. In fact, they average only 1 or 2 strokes under par even though their handicaps are +5 to +8 [Fig. 1]. Look deeper into these scoring trends, however, and you’ll see that the longer the hole, the better the pros play it relative to par [Figs. 2A-2C]. In other words, Tour pros lose the most strokes relative to par on par 3s, lose slightly less — but lose nonetheless — on par 4s, but feast on par 5s, where they actually gain strokes relative to par. You suffer the opposite: You drop more strokes relative to par on long holes.
Recreational players score less than two strokes worse than pros on par 3s.
The scoring gap between Tour pros and recreational players increases on par 4s.
The biggest difference between amateur and Tour pro scoring occurs on par 5s.
Why is this the case? Tour players hit longer clubs into par 3 and par 4 greens, but on par 5s they hit approach shots with wedges and even half-wedges unless, of course, they’re going for the green in two. Your scoring dynamic, on the other hand, always puzzled me, but data from our amateur scoring analysis using the Tour’s ShotLink system has provided an answer: On long par 4s and virtually all par 5s, amateurs try to hit “extra-long” tee shots. Focusing too much on tee-shot length causes swing problems and an unusually high percentage of drives hit into trouble. And since you don’t get out of trouble very efficiently, this increases your score on longer holes.
Hit your 3-wood off the tee using a three-quarter swing on every long par 4. This will leave you a slightly longer shot into the green, but it should be from the fairway instead of from the rough. Do the same thing on your first two shots on all par 5s. Again, this should keep you out of trouble. At the end of the day, see if your scores on the long holes improved. If they did, incorporate this strategy into your normal game plan on all long holes, and even on shorter ones when trouble lurks off the tee.
Take a conservative approach It’s far more important for you to stay out of trouble than for Tour players, because they can usually easily escape from trouble and they make enough birdies each round to outweigh their misfires. If your handicap is above single digits, it’s likely you don’t make many birdies [Fig. 3]. Until you start making multiple birdies each round, use an “extra conservative” strategy off the tee on long holes. By thinking “stay out of trouble” first in these situations, you can lower your scores and become a better player.
Q: I enjoyed your August research article in Golf Magazine. I’ve taken your advice and I do fairly well on the driving range but can’t translate it onto the course. It seems to be a game of mind over matter with the mind winning. I stand over the ball with doubts in my head and end up making bad swings. Can you help?
A: Your practice will transport to the course when you start practicing the right way. You must always practice exactly like you’re going to play when the heat is on. Develop a “Pre-Shot Ritual” which you use before every practice shot (for example, address ball, one look, one waggle, one more look, and go). Then you must also use that same ritual in exactly the same rhythm and sequence when you hit shots on the course. This takes a little more time during practice and you won’t get to hit so many shots, but it will help you take your “A” game to the course more often.