Your approach shots into the green are very important. In fact, they are statistically the most important shot in golf for scoring. This is why iron play is so critical if you are looking to lower your handicap. However, in this article, I'd like to discuss another part of the equation - your decision making.
Golfers are needlessly throwing away strokes on the course because they are picking inappropriate targets with their approach shots. I am going to discuss a painfully simple concept that can help lower your scores.
This is one of those strategies that is hiding in plain sight, but if you make it one of your singular focuses on the course, good things are going to happen for you.
I am talking about avoiding short siding yourself.
What is Short Siding?
Most of you likely know what this term means, but I'm going to quickly recap just to make sure we're all on the same page.
Short-siding yourself is when you miss the green on the side that is closest to the pin. This goes for all directions - left/right and back/front.
Here are a few examples just so we have a visual representation:
Conversely, if you keep the ball on the other side, you'll be leaving yourself on the "fat side."
Why Is It So Bad?
When you short side yourself you are placing yourself in a precarious position. You have greatly diminished your chances of making a par, and now bogey and worse are in play.
It can force a golfer's hand and will tempt them to play an aggressive shot. Many times, they'll fail at even reaching the green and leave themselves in the same position, which ends up in double bogey or worse.
Recently, we saw Tiger Woods make this mistake at The British Open at Carnoustie. After short-siding himself with a difficult lie on the 11th hole, he tried to play the low-percentage shot and land the ball before the hole with a flop shot. After failing to get the ball onto the green, he made a double, which ended his chances of hoisting the Claret Jug. This was a surprise coming from one of the best strategic players of all time.
Understanding Dispersion and Pin Placement
Every shot you hit on the golf course will have two kinds of dispersions relative to your target: left to right and short to long.
This applies to every single golfer on the planet. No one is exempt. Many players assume that since they predominantly play one shot shape, then that one side of the course is not in play, and it's simply not true.
As your ball striking ability increases, the width of your dispersion will narrow, but only to a certain extent. Even the best golfers in the world have much wider dispersions than you think, which is the basis of Scott Fawcett's DECADE system.
What I'm getting at here is that as you adjust your target on the green, you will bring certain parts of the course into play.
Let's take a look at a few examples:
On the left side, you'll see your dispersion patterns if you aim at the pin. If you happen to pull the ball just a little bit you have brought a short-sided approach into play.
On the righthand side, you'll see dispersion patterns if you aimed at the right-center of the green. If you happen to pull it - great! you'll be pretty close to the pin. If you push your shot to the right of your intended target you might miss the green, but you will have plenty of real estate to work with. You can still make your par, and likely a bogey at worse.
The main difference between the two strategies is this - when you aim at the pin you are not really increasing your chances at making birdie. You are really increasing the likelihood that you will make bogey or worse.
No One Is That Good
I would tell any level of golfer it doesn't make sense to aim directly at a pin (unless it's in the middle of the green). Here is the reason why...
From 100-125 yards most PGA Tour players are leaving the ball somewhere around 20 feet from the hole (give or take 3-4 feet). Most golfers would assume that they routinely put the ball inside of 10 feet with a wedge in their hand, but they don't.
Do you know how often they make a putt from 20 feet? Only about 15% of the time. For a 90 golfer that goes down to 6%.
This is exactly why going for the pin is a huge mistake. The best players in the world can't get it inside 20 feet on average with a wedge in their hand, and on top of that their chances of making putts from that distance are minimal.
So what's your excuse for going pin hunting?
The Smarter Strategy
Hopefully, I have convinced you that aiming at pins will not lead to birdies. Additionally, based on your shot dispersions, you are bringing the short side into play and increasing your chances of making a double bogey.
So what should you do???
Aim towards the fat side
If the pin is tucked on the right side of the green, aim a little further left. If it's on the front of the green, take a little extra club. It doesn't matter if you play a fade or a draw either, that should not affect your target selection.
By doing this you are moving your dispersion pattern to the safer side so that you'll either hit the green or leave yourself plenty of room with your wedge shot.
I will guarantee you right now that if you start keeping the ball on the fat side of the pin more than you are now, your scores will drop.
Additionally, if you do happen to short side yourself - play the next shot to land beyond the pin. Give yourself a chance to make a par, but at worst make a bogey. This is another winning strategy that will save strokes in the long run. You must resist compounding your initial mistake with more risk-taking!
OK here is the frustrating part. Even if you pick the smarter targets you are still going to fail at keeping the ball on the fat side of the pin many times.
That is just part of golf. Even with the best intentions, you are going to make mistakes. However, if you make several fewer mistakes during a round it could save you as many as 4-6 shots on average.
I know plenty of golfers who would love to be shooting lower scores without making changes to their swings. You could be one of them!
Keep Track of Your Progress
For those of you who are not employing a strategy like this on the course, I am asking you to change a habit. As simple as it may sound, it probably won't be that easy for you during the heat of the battle.
One of the best ways to make a change like this is to make it a big deal and hold yourself accountable. I am a big fan of golfers tracking their stats, which is why I love devices like GAME GOLF and Shot Scope which can help make that easier.
The next time you go out on the course you can simply keep track of how many times you are short-siding yourself during a round. When you have approaches into the green, evaluate the pin position and use the strategies discussed in this article to choose the appropriate club and target.
Keep track of your progress over time. If you can get incrementally better at increasing your "fat side" successes, your scores will head in the opposite direction.
If It Sounds Too Easy, It's Not...This is About Discipline
Being a smart strategist on the course is mostly about discipline. Mike Tyson famously said that everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.
While golf is not a contact sport this concept is very relevant. Before your round, you can have a great strategy, but early mistakes will tempt you to abandon them very quickly. You could start your round by promising yourself to never aim at a pin, but a rough few holes could have you firing at every flag by the 6th hole.
You'll just be pouring gasoline on the fire.
These are the moments that separate the disciplined golfers who can save their rounds versus the ones who blow up and pack it in for the day. I know this doesn't sound like fun, but being able to maintain your focus and stick to the plan is really how you improve at this game in the long run.
The majority of golfers never really have their "A game," we're all just trying to manage what we've got on any given day. Stick with the plan and you will see progress.