I understand why fans want to see the players in the hunt on Sunday attempt difficult shots, but it’s ridiculous to pass judgment on guys for laying up instead of going for it. The 3-wood that reaches the green on a par-5 and wins the tournament is like the big bottom-of-the-ninth home run or the three-pointer at the buzzer to win the game. They are exciting and fun to watch, but they are not always successful. The same is true in golf.
Consider David Toms on the par-4 18th at the 2001 PGA Championship at the Atlanta Athletic Club. Toms laid up on 18, hit a wedge to 12 feet and made his par putt to win the tournament by one over Phil Mickelson. That was obviously the right play. The key is that if you’re going to lay up, you better do it right, as Zach Johnson did on every par-5 at the 2007 Masters on his way to a green jacket.
At Torrey Pines back in January, Michael Sim caught some flack for laying up on 18 when he was probably within a 3-wood of the green and one stroke behind the eventual winner, Ben Crane. The decision to lay up or go for it is based on a lot of factors, including the lie, the situation and especially how a player is playing. In fact, Mickelson went for the green from a similar spot on Saturday and ended up in the water.
Sim was struggling with his ballstriking that day, and he was at a distance from which he’d have to hit a perfect 3-wood. If you’re going to criticize his play, talk about his poor wedge shot, but don’t think for a minute that Sim wasn’t playing to win. It doesn’t make sense that someone would battle for 71 1/2 holes and then decide he’s fine with a second-place check. That doesn’t cross a player’s mind. They want to win.