How to Play a Drivable Par 4

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Everyone loves a good drivable par 4.  Whether you’re playing one on your local course or just watching on TV, these holes provide plenty of excitement and drama.  Often, there is a short par four included in the back nine layout of Ryder Cup courses to present the players with a difficult choice at a crucial time – go for the green, or lay up and hit a wedge?

As an average amateur golfer, you will face the same difficult decision from time to time.  When you step up onto the tee of a short par four, the temptation is obvious – pull out the driver and let it rip!  There’s no denying it; it’s fun to test yourself by trying to reach the green with your tee shot, and you could potentially make an eagle if the tee shot lands perfectly on the green.  Of course, this kind of shot is not without its risks, and you could just as easily drive the ball into trouble.  Remember, a poor drive on a short par four could take an otherwise easy hole and turn it into a mess on your scorecard.

Can You Really Reach the Green?

The first thing to consider is whether or not you can actually reach the green of the short par four that you are playing.  Sure, 300 yards is awfully short for a par four, but can you actually hit the ball that far?

Keep this in mind:  during the 2015 season, there were only 26 players on the PGA TOUR who averaged 300 yards or better with their drives.  So let’s be realistic, it’s most likely that you can’t hit the ball 300 yards on a regular basis, and you almost certainly can’t carry the ball that far through the air.

Now, depending on the shape of the hole and the condition of the turf, you might not need to hit the ball 300 yards (or whatever distance the hole happens to be) in order to reach the green.  If there is a wide runway up to the green and the turf is firm, you might be able to get to the target even if it is outside of your usual range.  Of course, a downhill short par four will also bring the green into reach a little easier.  However, as you are deciding whether or not to go for the green, it is important to also consider what kind of shot you will be left with if your drive falls down 20 or 30 yards short.  Pitch shots from 20 or 30 yards can be incredibly awkward, so you might not be doing yourself any favors by putting the ball in that position.

Hazard Problems

Are there any hazards waiting by the green to catch a wayward drive?  If the answer is yes, you will want to think carefully about laying up and playing this hole safe rather than taking a risk.

Some short par fours are designed basically as a trick – they look enticing, but the chances of actually knocking the ball on the green are slim at best.  With a water hazard – or worse, out of bounds – waiting near the target, you would have to get somewhat lucky to have your ball wind up in a safe place.

When a hazard is looming close to the green, let others take the risk while you play it safe and wedge the ball onto the green for a birdie opportunity.


Photo via Flickr

Hole Location

You should also take the hole location into consideration when you are deciding on your course of action.  If you do pull off a great drive, are you going to have a chance at a reasonable eagle putt?  If not, there isn’t any point to take on the risk of pulling your driver from the bag.

There has to be a major reward to justify the risk, so only go for the green if the hole is located in a position that will allow you to make a great score.  Often, short par fours will have tricky greens with big slopes, meaning the hole can be placed in spots that make is nearly impossible to access from long distance.

Take Your Lay Up Seriously

If you do decide to lay up from the tee, make sure you give that swing just as much attention as the rest of the shots you hit all day long.  There is a tendency among golfers to just “go through the motions” on a lay up swing, thinking that nothing bad is going to happen with a simple lay up shot.  Of course, there are plenty of bad things that could happen, so go through your full routine and execute a solid swing.

When choosing a club for your lay up, pick one that isn’t going to get you in trouble even if you miss your line slightly.  In other words, you need to commit fully to the lay up and take a club that is going to hit the fat part of the fairway.  Some golfers will get stuck in between by picking a three wood or hybrid club that still puts them pretty close to the green.

You need to make a clear choice between going for the green and laying up, and then pick a club that is perfect for the decision you have made.

Remember to Have Fun

There is one other consideration that you should make while on the course – having fun.  If you are just playing a casual round with your friends and nothing is on the line, you may want to go for the green simply because it is a fun thing to do.  Or, if you’re playing in a scramble format and one of you’re playing partners has already laid up nicely in the fairway, why not grip it and rip it for a chance at an even bigger score?

Remember, golf is a game, and sometimes it’s okay to have fun just for the ‘heck’ of it.

There is no one right answer for whether or not you should go for the green on a short par four.  Sometimes, you will be feeling great with your driver and the hole will fit your eye, and it will be a good choice to go for it.  Other days, your swing will be off slightly and the lay up will be the wise play.

Use a combination of logical thinking and gut feeling to make your choice when you come across a short par four, and focus on making your best swings and always be confident in decision that you have made.

Good luck!

Cover Photo via Flickr

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