Aim for the middle

This stupid par-3 mistake was ruining my score. Here's how you can avoid it


A few weeks ago, I was playing in a scramble tournament. Scrambles are always fun because you don’t have many consequences to worry about. Your teammates are there to bail you out when your aggressive lines backfire.

My most successful reckless moments that day came on the par 3s. I took dead aim at each pin on the four par 3s, and won the tournament's closest to the pin contest on one of them. I hit it about a foot, and collected some sweet, sweet pro shop credit because of it.

Fast forward a couple of weeks and I had decided to make good on one of my resolutions to track my stats more intently. I installed Arccos on my clubs (PSA: You can get a free Arccos trial and sensors right here). As the results trickled in, I felt my pride take a hit.

My iron game, which I usually consider a strength, was the statistically weakest part of my game. Relative to a scratch golfer, my strokes gained/approach was -1.1. It turns out that all of these strokes were being lost on my par-3 tee shots. Another hit to the ego. Didn’t they realize I was a recent closest to the pin champion?


After a quick bout of soul searching, I realized winning that closest to the pin contest had lured me into a stupid, age-old mistake. One that was costing me strokes—and is probably hurting your game, too.

The good shot bias

My closest to the pin shot that day is the kind that I'll never forget. The feeling of pure contact; the sound of the strike; the way the ball flew through the air; thinking for a moment it might go in the hole. It was probably the best shot I'll hit all season.

Indeed, that shot was how I started this article. But there are four par 3s at Tamarack Country Club, my home course and the site of the scramble that day. Were you ever curious about where the other three went?

Well, one found the green, another the fringe, and the final one a greenside bunker.

Therein lies the problem.

I was suffering, quite simply, from a good shot bias. When I evaluated my performance that day, I only thought of the great shot I hit, not the three other decent-to-bad ones. I was still riding that high in subsequent rounds. Whereas from the rough I was playing safe and aiming for the middle of the green, on par 3s I was looking at the pin—even on shots from the same length.

This wasn’t helped by Tamarack having a couple of par - holes which really fit my eye: The third hole and the seventh. When I looked back on how I had played those holes in the ensuing rounds, I noticed a trend.

On the third hole (the top row below), when the pin was at the front I'd take less club and went straight for it. I short-sided myself twice in greenside bunkers, and rolled through the green once. Zero greens in regulation, three bogeys.

On the seventh hole (the bottom row below), when the pin was on the left side of the Redan green, I kept trying to hit a knockdown draw to release down a slope into that pin. I short-sided myself in greenside bunkers twice, and rolled through the green once. Zero greens in regulation once again, and three more bogeys.


It really was that simple. I wasn't, as golf stat king Lou Stagner likes to say, "managing my expectations." I was trying to be the hero. To be the closest to the pin guy. I was thinking of the best shot I could possibly hit, then leaving myself in terrible spots because of it.

Scottie Scheffler led the tour in both par-3 scoring average and in greens in regulation last season. That's not a coincidence. I asked him about his strategy earlier this year, and his advice was simple: Forget the pin. Aim at the middle. Don't be tempted by anything else.

"I'm almost always aiming slightly away from the pin," he says. "It's a very rare occasion that I'm aiming anywhere near a pin on the short side of the green."

Message received. I’ll park my pride and aim for the middle. If it's good enough for Scheffler, it's good enough for me. And it should be for you, too.