The best golf players start every round with a plan for how they’re going to approach the course. This brief overview of “tactical golf” gives you three common situations; you’ll come across each one at least once in almost every round you play.
You can apply the thinking and strategy behind each one to many other problems that you’ll encounter. So don’t get too wrapped up in the specifics of each scenario — think big picture.
Don’t be a sucker
You’re playing a 170-yard par-3 hole. The hole is cut toward the left side of the green, behind a large bunker. If your first inclination is to fire straight at the flag, think again.
Only if you happen to be an exceptional bunker player should you even try to go for the flag. Otherwise, you risk getting a very high score for a small chance at a very low score.
If you decide to be a middle-of-the-green shooter, practice your long-putting a lot. You’re going to have a lot of 30- to 40-foot putts, so be ready for them. In the long run, you’ll come out ahead.
Think before you drive
Say that you’re on a par-4 hole of just over 400 yards. This hole's fairway narrows at the point where your drive is most likely to finish.
When this situation comes up, tee off with your 3-wood, 5-wood, or whatever club you can hit safely into the wide part of the fairway. Even if you can’t quite reach the green in two shots, that’s the best strategy. If you risk hitting your driver and miss the fairway, you’re going to waste at least one shot getting the ball back into play — maybe more than one if you get a bad lie.
Pay attention to the layout of the hole and plan accordingly.
Play three easy shots
The par-5 hole is long, just over 500 yards. Your first inclination might be to reach for your driver. Most of the time, that’s probably the correct play — but not always. Look at this hole. You can break it down into three relatively easy shots with the same club.
Say you hit your 4-iron 170 yards. Three shots can put you on the green. Breaking down the hole is usually easier for the beginning player than trying to squeeze every possible yard out of the driver and getting into trouble.
No law of golf says that you must use your driver from the tee. If you don’t feel comfortable with your driver, go with your 3-wood. If your 3-wood doesn’t feel right, go to the 5-wood. And if you still aren’t happy, try your 3-iron or a hybrid club. Don’t hit until you’re confident that you can hit the ball into the fairway with the club that’s in your hands.