To Break 90: Play Smart, Not Flashy Around the Greens

Mariah Swigart Mariah Swigart
8 minute read

As much as we all want to hit a chip that rolls in, or sink a 20 footer, in most cases playing it smart around the green will better your overall score. Use the techniques below to play smart, not flashy around the green. Soon enough, you will have a short game routine that will save you strokes and improve your game. 

Notice the “No” Zones 

The first rule of smart golf is to avoid trouble. Naturally, we will want to take a moment to assess where we want to avoid. Any water around the green? How about the bunkers? Is there a steep slope on the green? 

Now, this does not mean you need to aim so far away from the hole that there is no chance of the ball going in. Instead, think about getting the ball in the hole in 2 strokes, rather than the ball rolling into the bunker and having to make up strokes from the hazard. 

Some trouble may not be noticeable until you watch other players hit their ball, so pay attention to your group’s shots. Watch where the ball is rolling on everyone’s chips and long putts. Just by observing, you can have an advantage on knowing what areas to avoid around the green. 

A+ Aim  

Since we are talking smart golf, if you want to score an A (and maybe break 90), your aim is key.   

Choosing a target before every shot will help you execute a smart shot around the green. However, this does not mean that choosing a safe target is easy. If you have ever heard Bryson Dechambeau talk about putting, then you know what I mean. Short game is where you have the chance to dial in the shot, and it can sound like rocket science when you factor in every element that comes into play when getting the ball into the hole.  

To start, remember the first step is to notice the areas to avoid. If there is water on one side of the green, plan your shot to land on the safe side of the hole. 

It’s important to not overthink this or be fearful of the hazard. We want to play safe golf, not scared golf. Too many times I have aimed aggressively away from a hazard and regretted it. A modest awareness of the dangers around the greens is usually enough to prevent your ball traveling right for the hazard. 

Short game aiming is much like trusting your answer to a math problem. When you input the data on the areas to avoid, factor in the slope and speed, then you have all the information to execute a target to trust. 

Walk the Line 

The biggest problem when putting is typically the speed. Unless you are playing on professional level greens, the majority of the time, your aim will not be that far off. The big variable of the distance of a putt is what we need to spend time on. 

There are some tips to figure out the correct distance to hit your shot. One way to help determine the correct distance is to walk the putt or part of the chip shot. Some professionals recommend pacing out your putts, which means you roughly measure the distance of your putt and use that information to determine how far back you need to take your putter. I personally walk my line to get the feel for the green. When I am standing in the middle of the line, I can feel if there is a slope that I was missing. I can also see the break from a different angle. This usually gives me more insight into how I should putt or chip based on the slope and break. 

Of course, it’s important to keep the pace of play in mind. Walking your line should not take more than 20 seconds. You should also choose your line while everyone else is hitting. You do not want to slow the pace of play by trying to figure out the perfect spot to aim for every putt. 

Choose Your Shot

There are several different options when choosing a shot around the green. To choose the best shot, it’s important to look at the lie and line of your ball. Using the information of where you want the ball to land, or the line you want the ball to travel on, then you can choose the best club for that trajectory. 

Typically, it is easier to control a putt. So, if you can putt a shot, that will be the most consistent and controlled option. However, notice if the ball has a lot of thicker fringe or grass to get through. Because the putter does not have a loft, the ball needs to have a clear path to get to the green. Putting off the green can be unpredictable if the ball cannot glide over the grass to get to the green. 

If you cannot putt the ball from off the green, but the ball has a long way to roll on the green, pitching the ball may be the best option. A pitch shot is a simple putting stroke, but you will use a wedge or even a low iron if you want the ball to roll out even more. The pitch shot is helpful to keep control of the ball, and simplify the shot so that there is less room for error. 

Know the Basics of Set Up 

Having a basic knowledge of the little adjustments for specific lies, can make a big difference around the green. For example, if your ball is in thick rough around the green, there are a few little adjustments you can make to ensure you make solid contact with the ball. First, you will want to choose a club with a lot of loft. A gap wedge, or sand wedge will be 53 to 55 degrees loft, which will work for getting out of the rough if you have 60 to 90 yards to the hole. If you are around the green in thick rough, a lob wedge is the best choice, which is 56 to 60 degrees loft. After choosing the right club, then your setup will change slightly. Grip down on the club, play the ball back in your stance, shift your weight to your front foot, and take a steeper backswing. All of these little adjustments will help in making contact with the ball in thick rough, and give you the confidence to trust the shot. This tip and several more are in the Swingminder Quick Reference Cards. 

Make it a Routine 

Watch any pro and you will see that they have a pre-shot routine for every stroke. A pre-shot routine aids in checking off all the boxes of smart golf, as well as supports your feel and confidence in the shot. Continue adding these smart short game techniques to lower your golf scores.

Trust Your Stroke 

In the book (and movie), “Seven Days in Utopia: Golf's Sacred Journey” one of the lines used is “see it, feel it, trust it.” I love this line because it sums up and simplifies short game.  If you do not trust your shots, there is a high likely hood that it will not go where you want it to. 

I understand that trusting a shot can be hard, especially if you are just starting out. One way to train yourself to trust the shot is to hold the follow through and keep your head down. You do not need to look up immediately around the greens to see where the ball went. Often when we are too eager to see where the ball goes, we end up lifting out of the shot and “topping it”. If you hold the follow through a few extra seconds, and keep your eyes locked on that spot where that ball was, it builds trust that your swing got the ball where you wanted it to go. 

Be Confident 

We end with the reminder of confidence. Confidence is extremely beneficial for your mental game.  Have your “go to” short game shots, study up on techniques for difficult lies, use the strategies in this article, and let all of that work fill you with confidence when you play. 

Forget the days of carelessly walking up to a shot and hoping for the best. Create a smart plan around the greens to avoid those double bogeys or more.  Eventually playing it safe around the greens will come naturally. Before you know it, the routines you’ve created for smart golf will pay off and breaking 90 will be a breeze.

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