As amateur golfers, our primary focus is usually to simply drop as many balls into that little white hole in as few strokes as possible. While true, focusing on this single goal often leads to overlooking smaller, and often equally important strategies to scoring, thus causing us to leave strokes out on the course.
A better method of thinking involves understanding and attacking smaller goals along the way towards attaining the final goal of putting the ball in the cup. For example, by simply focusing first on hitting the green in regulation on every hole, your chances of beating your best score go up dramatically.
Allow us to explain what we mean.
First, let’s understand what a GIR is. Hitting the green in regulation simply means that you put the ball on the putting surface with enough strokes to spare to give yourself a chance for birdie or better. Therefore, the object on a Par 3 would be to hit the green in 1, on a par 4 to hit it in 2, and so on.
So why are makings greens in regulation so important to scoring?
Let’s say you play a par 72 course and ended up hitting all 18 greens in regulation. If that were to be the case, chances are you will score a 76 or better for your round.
How does this work? Well for this scenario, let’s say you happened to nail every GIR. Unless you’re playing on the exceptionally large putting surfaces in Scotland, odds are you will one, two, and sometimes 3-putt on each hole. So, if you make every GIR, simple math states that it will take you 40 strokes (with four par 5s) from tee to green, then if you 1-putt 6 times, 2-putt 6 times, and 3-putt 6 times, you’ll end up with a 76.
Now before you say “I wish it were that easy,” let us first disclaim that we know this scenario is much easier said than done – heck, we’d be on the PGA TOUR if we could do it ourselves! But forget about the complexity of shooting that score and let this idea change the way you approach your golf game so that you can use it to your advantage.
When we talked about course management on a recent episode of The Golf Podcast, we highlighted the importance of managing the hazards, dangers, and obstacles on the course in order to get to the green safely with less shots. The concept we’re describing here follows those same ideas.
We will highlight many more effective ways to lower your score by raising your GIR percentage in our Golf Academy, but for now, here are few tips to get you started:
1. Short Par 4’s:
Standing over that 270 yard downhill par 4 can make the hairs on your back stand up with excitement. You know a perfect drive will get you on or close in one shot, but is the risk vs. reward really worth it?
Our answer is NO.
Try instead to give yourself the best chance for an approach shot to the green while incurring the least amount of risk possible. For many reasons, the driver is often the most inconsistent club a player’s. Additionally, most greens are protected by things like greenside bunkers, elevation changes, deep rough, or plenty of other hazards that can ruin your score in an instant.
So instead, try reaching for your trusty hybrid or mid-iron so you can more readily put the ball 175 – 190 yards down the middle of the fairway, leaving yourself a comfortable wedge shot in and staying well short of all those potential greenside hazards.
With your second shot it’s also important to adjust your focus from chasing the pin to instead simply getting the ball on the green. Here our advice is to set your aim for the safest and meatiest part of the green. The reason we do this is because often the pin will be located in a spot that can really hurt your score if you don’t hit your intended target.
Again, think risk vs. reward.
All that you should focus on is getting the ball on the putting surface where your putter, which is often the most trusted club in the bag, should finish the job for you. If you do miss the green a little to one side or just come up short, don’t beat yourself up. Try and stay focused and scramble to save par – even the pros miss the greens sometimes. Just remember, by going for the center of the green rather than chasing tucked pins, you’re giving yourself the best chance at a two putt par rather than a scrambling, recovery, up-and-down situation.
2. Par 3 Darts
Par 3 holes are considered by some to be the toughest to hit in regulation and it’s often been compared to throwing darts. Longer par 3 holes in particular present a real challenge because they often require you to hit long irons (or even woods) and land them softly on a relatively small target.
To help improve your success rate of hitting these long par 3 greens in regulation it’s a good idea to spend at least a portion of your range practice session hitting long irons (3, 4, & 5) towards set targets. To do this, pick a few targets at the range at varying distances between approximately 170 and 210 yards, then go after these targets visualizing them as though they were greens on the course. Keep track of how many “greens” you hit on the range and try to improve a little with each session.
Even the shorter range par 3 holes can present a GIR challenge because more often than not they’ll be protected by every type of hazard imaginable. To improve your success rate on these holes repeat the mindset we mentioned above and stop chasing pins in favor of setting safer targets such as the “fattest” part of the green. Remember, it’s better to be 30 feet out and putting than just off the green but buried in a bunker!
3. Long Par 5s
The sign says Par 5, so break out driver, right? Not all the time. Be sure to look at the course diagram or yardage book before every hole to get a feel for the layout. Sometimes driver on a hole is the biggest mistake, even if it’s a 646 yard hole. Again, effective course management will help navigate you to a successful GIR percentage.
If 200 yards up the right side of the fairway will give you a great look for your next shot, then go with it. You’re goal on a par 5 should always be to get the ball on the green in three shots, so set yourself up for the best third shot you can give yourself. If you’re “lights out” from 100 yards, get the ball there in 2 shots. Then hit the green and 2-putt to par.
The idea here is not to take any big risks either off the tee or with your second shot in an attempt to get there in two. As tempting as it might be to be putting for eagle, a lot can go wrong in between that will leave you scrambling just to save your par.
Putting These Concepts into Play
We understand that making more greens in regulation easier said than done, and odds are you’re not backing up that 91 you shot last weekend with a 76 after just reading this one article. But why not try a different approach to your golf game and play 18 holes of golf with the objective of hitting the green in regulation, and that’s all. We promise that this simple change in focus will help the rest of your game start to fall in place.
Remember, even the best player on TOUR hits only about 72% GIR, so even if you set your goal at 40% you’ll still be hitting 7-8 greens each round and putting yourself in a position to post a solid score!
For more on the importance of hitting greens in regulation tune into episode 45 of The Golf Podcast where hosts Frank and Mike talk about exactly that.