I think most amateurs dread playing a 180-plus-yard par 3 even more than a hard par 4. Part of it is psychological: You think you should be getting a breather, distance-wise, and instead you get hit with a long iron or hybrid shot over trouble.
The rest seems to come from an impulse to try to muscle the ball because of the distance you have to negotiate. Swinging harder with a longer club almost always leads to bad shots. If the card says a hole plays 182 and you hit your 4-iron 185 when you catch it perfectly, a 4-iron is not the right club for the shot. Take this hole as an example. If you come off it even a little, you'll hit it short and right—directly into the bunker (1). Then you have a short-sided sand shot, and 4 would be an unbelievable score.
The better play is to take your hybrid, make a smooth swing and aim for the run-up area__(2). Hit it short or right and you still have a relatively easy chip. Go a little long and you're on the back fringe(3)__, where you can even putt it if you like.
Hybrids have definitely changed the game. Any player can hit them much higher and more consistently than long irons, and that makes a huge difference when you've got a demanding hole like this one. Check the card before you play. If you have a couple of long par 3s, put an extra hybrid in your bag. You'll be glad you did.
Hardest Par 3s
No. 4 / Augusta National
For me, par was always a good score, even before they added 35 yards to make it 240. When it's stretched out, I have to hit a wood to a tricky, small green.
No. 16 / Carnoustie
Into the wrong wind, this is just an impossible hole—245 yards to what looks like a 10-foot-wide landing area, with sand and brush guarding the green. I'm happy to make par.
Els writes instruction articles only for Golf Digest.