Golf Approach Shot Tips

Approach Shot Strategy: When to Attack

Do you want to learn how to finally hit more greens and lower your scores?

The more greens you hit in regulation almost directly correlate to making more birdies and shooting lower scores. It makes sense, the more times you have to give birdie a run, the more that find the bottom of the cup.

Most golfers think that fairways are a premium but the fact is low scores aren’t about hitting fairways. Look at Tiger and Phil, two of the greatest players ever. Between the two they’ve won nearly 100 events yet neither of them is known for their consistency off the tee.

Low scores aren’t about hitting 14/14 fairways, but you should have a solid strategy for each tee box. Golf is about getting the ball in the hole in fewest shots possible. It’s about learning how to score. And if you can improve your approach shot strategy, you can start scoring better.

In this post, I’ll show you the best approach shot strategy for each type of hole and how you can give yourself more birdie chances each round.

Approach Shot Strategy 101

Before I dive into specific strategies, it’s important to understand what the goal is for your specific handicap. If you’re a 20 handicap, you shouldn’t expect to hit as many greens as your friend who is a 5 handicap. Having realistic goals and keeping a positive mental attitude is a big part of the game.

According to this golf study, here’s how many greens you should expect to hit based on your handicap:

  • >30 handicap: 6% of greens
  • 25-30 handicap: 10% of greens
  • 20-25 handicap: 12% of greens
  • 15-20 handicap: 20% of greens
  • 10-15 handicap: 27% of greens
  • 5-10 handicap: 36% of greens
  • 0-5 handicap: 47% of greens
  • Scratch or better: 64% of greens

This is important because most golfers are in the 10-25 handicap range. That means that statistically, you should hit between 3-5 greens per round! So if you’re hitting that now or even more but think you should be hitting 10-12, think again.

Even the best players in the world only hit about 60% of all greens in regulation. PGA players are the best golfers on the face of the Earth and average about 12-13 greens per round. While it’s not uncommon for them to hit all 18 when they’re on, it’s rare. They still have a strong short game and know how to get the ball in the hole, even when they miss the green.

Tour players understand when to go for the sucker flag and when to play it safe and hit toward the fat part of the green. They know when it’s time to take the risk and when it’s time to play for a par.

Here’s how you can do it too…

Approach Strategy for Long Range Shots

First off, before going into hitting each shot and how to play each type of hole, it’s important to know how far you hit each club. Even if it’s not perfect, you have to know how far each club will travel so you can plan accordingly. One way I’ve done that is by using the Gameskeeper app that allows me to track shots during the round.

For the long-range shots, anything over 175 or beyond, the goal is to hit toward the widest part of the green. Especially if you’re over the 200-yard mark and are coming in with a hybrid or fairway wood.

Also, know the best spot to miss so if you do miss the green, it’s an easier up and down. Plan accordingly and remember that it’s okay if you don’t hit the green from long range.

Approach Strategy for Mid-Range Shots

As you get closer to the green, you can start to get a little more aggressive with your approach shot. For mid-range shots, between 150-175 yards, stick to the middle part of the green. If you love the shot, you can get a little more frisky with it but don’t try and do too much.

Remember, knowing where to miss to give yourself the best chance at par.

For example, let’s say you have 165 yards to a back pin and a tough bunker long. If you miss long, it’s almost a guaranteed bogey or worse. Don’t play 165, play for 160 and hit that club. This will give you the best chance for birdie and eliminate the stupid bogey.

Approach Strategy for Short-Range Shots

Anything under 125 yards is your go zone, this is the green light to the flag. If you know your wedge distances, it’s time to give yourself a good look at birdie.

One important thing here is to make sure your wedges are spaced out equally. Let’s say your pitching wedge in your iron set is 46 degrees. Ideally, you want to space your wedge 3-5 degrees apart. So if you have a 46 you should have one of the following setups:

4 wedges

  • 46* pitching wedge
  • 50-52* gap wedge
  • 54-56 sand wedge
  • 56-60* lob wedge

3 wedges

  • 46* pitching wedge
  • 52* gap wedge
  • 56* sand wedge

I think the four wedge setup is best as you will hit your wedges way more than your hybrids or long irons in most rounds. Four wedges will make scoring easier as you will have less distances between wedges.

Think about it, 60% of all shots happen from 100 yard and in. What’s going to help your game more, another hybrid or long iron or another wedge?

With four wedges, you can have different shots around the green, different bounces for different conditions, and fewer shots that require half swings.

Finally, don’t think you always have to hit your wedge with full force. When you master the 50 to 75 yard wedge shot you will find that is a tool you can lean on.

Golf Approach Shot

Approach Shot Strategy for Every Hole

Now that you have a game plan for each type of shot, let’s break down some approach shot strategies on each type of hole as well.

Par 3’s

According to the PGA Tour, the average score on all par 3’s in 2018 was 3.22. PGA guys even struggle on par 3’s. So don’t try to do too much and think you should always make 2 or 3 on these ones.

If it’s over 150 yards, play for the center of the green and know where to miss. Even a bogey won’t kill you on long par 3’s.

Par 4’s

According to the PGA Tour, the average score on all par 4’s in 2018 was 3.22. PGA players dominate the par 4’s but this is going to be different for most amateur’s games.

On the tee, think about what your approach shot will look like.

If it’s a long par 4 that you’re going to need a hybrid or fairway wood for your approach, a bogey won’t kill you. Again, bogeys aren’t life or death, it’s the triples and quads that kill your round.

If it’s a mid-iron shot, then you can afford to be a little more aggressive but stick the widest part of the green. And if it’s a wedge, then you can get more aggressive and go flag hunting.

Having the awareness to know when to go for the flag and when not too will give you a huge edge over your competitors.

Par 5’s

According to the PGA Tour, the average score on all par 5’s in 2018 was 4.22. Basically, the guys on tour love the par 5’s as it’s almost a guaranteed birdie. Especially for the big hitters like Rory, Dustin Johnson, and Brooks Koepka.

The same goes for your game. Instead of fearing par 5’s because they’re long, think of them as the best way to make birdies throughout the round.

Before you always pull out drive to grip it and rip it, decide on the tee if you’re going for it in two or choosing a three-shot approach. Maybe it’s a tight fairway or there’s a lot of trouble on the hole.

Choose whatever strategy will give you the best chance at birdie which may not always mean driver. It’s so important to think about your approach shot strategy from the tee box.

If you choose to layup, make sure to focus on a small target on the second shot. This is one of the hardest shots for golfers to focus on as there isn’t a specific target. Think about what shot you want for your third, do the math, and commit to a target.

If you’re going for the green in two, make sure you know where to miss and know where you can’t afford to end up. Remember, the goal is to hit the green in regulation and give yourself the best look at birdie.

Final Thoughts on Your Approaches

Hopefully, this helps you create a solid game plan on your approach shots for your next round and beyond. Few things to make sure to remember…

First off, know how far you have to your target by using a rangefinder, yardage book, pin sheets or GPS device. Then, you must know how far you hit each club. Whether you notate with an app on your phone, use a launch monitor for golf or use some other distance tracking device, this is a huge part of hitting more greens.

Secondly, play within your game and don’t have unrealistic expectations. If you’re a 15 handicap and get mad anytime you don’t hit at least 10 or 11 greens, you’re setting yourself up for frustration. Know when you should go flag hunting and know when you should hit middle green and give yourself the best chance for par.

Lastly, don’t let your playing partners convince you otherwise. Stick to the game plan you create on the tee box and don’t waiver. If you know you can’t reach a par 4 or 5 in two and there is a hazard short, make it a three shot hole. Worked pretty well for David Toms back in the PGA championship didn’t it?

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