I talk a lot about course management. I think it's the most overlooked aspect of shooting lower scores. So many teachers are focused on the full swing as the key to playing better golf. What is often not discussed is how you need to think your away around the golf course, and really develop a plan for success. The golf industry can’t really monetize this skill, so it is not promoted that often.
The one cardinal sin of the average golfer is that many of them view the pin as their target on the green. They assume because it's the only thing to focus their attention on, that is must be where they should be aiming.
Let's have a reality check here for a second. You need to be playing at the absolute highest level to be aiming at pins.
Scratch golfers don’t do it, why should you?
The funny thing is that players who are shooting in the low 70s and 60s know better than to aim at pins all of the time. They pick and choose their spots based on the risk/reward of each pin placement. Many times they are aimed at the safer part of the green because they know it’s not worth it to be aggressive.
I can't think of one good reason why any average golfer should be aiming at the flag with their approach shot. If you are a skilled enough ball striker, just getting on the green should be your goal.
Just get on safely, and get your two-putt par. Maybe a few birdies will drop here or there as a bonus. Par is a great score; let’s not get too greedy now.
The study I can’t find
I read a book about 15 years ago, and for the life of me I can’t remember the name of it (I promise I’m not making this up). The thing that struck me was that the author had done a study of golfers playing rounds with the flags removed from every green. The results were the same across the board for all different skill levels. Their scores on average decreased in the rounds they played without pins.
This was not really surprising to me at all. When you aim at the pin you are subliminally putting more pressure on yourself to pull off a great shot. You don’t need to do this!
What’s the point???
We learned in my putting article that PGA Tour players make less than 33% of their putts outside of 10 feet. If you are aiming at a pin then that means you have birdie in mind, whether you know it or not. I highly doubt anyone reading this article is going to be able to consistently place the ball within 10 feet of the flag, which would only give you an OK chance at making birdie.
When you think it through there is very little logic in aiming at the pin. It will result in more mistakes than it's worth, and my goal is to help you eliminate your blunders.
Here are two major factors I think you should consider when you step up to your approach shot.
1) Where is the trouble?
Start thinking about where you don't want to be with your misses. Maybe there are bunkers short of the green, or a large drop off to the left side. Favor the areas of the green where if you miss you won't be in serious trouble.
If the pin is situated towards the danger, then you are being fooled into missing there. This is known as the sucker pin. Greenskeepers can be diabolical sometimes, and they want to trick you into making mistakes. Don’t let them.
2) Where is the “meat" of the green?
All greens are shaped differently. Some greens have narrow areas, tiers, and false fronts that make certain spots difficult to hit. You should be aiming at the largest part of the green, the “meat" so to speak. If you focus on those inaccessible areas because the pin is there, then you are setting yourself up for a score higher than par.
Stop looking at that pin! Just pretend it’s not even there, and focus your mind on the safer part of the green. You will rack up more pars, and eliminate your big mistakes.