PGA Championship

Valhalla Golf Club



Instruction

Why pros use this disaster-avoidance greenside strategy—and you should, too

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JARED C TILTON

I'm not a professional player (not even close), and I'm not immune to mistakes myself. But every time I play with my fellow amateur golfers, I can't help but notice golfers make the same greenside mistake on repeat:

The second they get around the green, they grab their wedge.

Yes, sometimes it works, and they succeed in hitting a nice, high, fluffy shot onto the near the hole. But more often than not, things go horribly wrong. They hit a chunk that doesn't go more than a few feet, or a thinned shot that sails way long of the green.

Which brings me to last week's RBC Heritage, where all week I noticed pros doing this. From various points around the lower-cut runoff areas around Harbour Town's greens, time and time again pros were opting to putt from off the green. And we saw it often, because Harbour Town's greens rank as the second-smallest on tour behind only Pebble Beach).

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Yes, putting from off the green may not be as glamorous as floating a high wedge onto the green, but it's almost always the smarter play. It's not always possible, but whenever it is, go low, as two-time Masters champion Jose Maria Olazabal told Jon Rahm.

For two good reasons.

1. Disaster avoidance

First, and most importantly, taking the low route effectively takes the worst case scenario off the table. You're *hopefully* not going to chunk a putt, or thin a chip long of the green. As the cliche goes: Your worst putt is better than your best chip. That may not be literally true all the time, but it's mostly true, most of the time.

Chipping your ball close is nice, but from tour players down to amateur golfers, the most important goal of every chip is far simpler than that. It's to hit the green.

As golf strategy genius Eduardo Molinari explains:

“Priority number one, for every golfer, is that when you’re in a bunker, just hit the green. If you leave it in a bunker, that’s a stroke lost right away. The same is true chipping around the greens. I see this in pro-ams every week. They’re three yards short of the first green, and they pull out a lob wedge and they’re thinking, ‘hit it close’ when they really should be thinking: ‘hit the green’”

Hitting the green is the goal, simple as it sounds, and rolling it up there will help you do it.

2. It's more effective

It's hard to find clean cut, one-to-one comparisons for putting off the green vs. chipping off the green, but there's lots of evidence that shows going low is generally better than going high. One easy way to tell: Looking at putts of putts and chips hit from roughly the same distance.

Again, it's not perfect, because hitting chips usually means the ball is resting in rough with less green to work with, whereas putting (or hitting bump-and-runs) from off the green almost always suggests the ball is shorter grass. So, take all the below with a big, heaping handful of salt. Nevertheless...

The stats!

  • Tour players average a make rate between seven percent and two percent on putts from 30 to 60 feet.
  • From this distance, they two putt (or less) about 85 percent of the time.

  • When chipping from 30 and 60 feet away, tour players take two strokes (or less) on average 65 percent of the time.

  • On chips from 30 to feet away, pros hit their first shot on average to about seven feet away.

Again, not a perfect apples-to-apples, but hopefully a somewhat helpful illustration. Putt whenever you can. The pros d. You should, too.