124th U.S. Open

Pinehurst No. 2



Tour Intelligence

What a tour player is really looking for when he scouts a new green complex

Bailouts, rough thickness and roll out are just a few of the usual suspects greenside

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Max Homa of the United States plays a shot during practice prior to the Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial Country Club.

Sam Hodde

APGA Tour course is like a riddle: It has an optimal way for a given player to make his way around. The strategy to do that starts with the player understanding his tendencies and getting real data from a stats expert about the danger areas off the tee and on approach shots—and it ends with diagnosing the challenges of each green complex.

The risk-reward discussion begins at the tee box. Where can you be off the tee and still have a reasonable shot at the green? Is it better to be in the fairway bunker on the left or in the rough on the right? Which pins allow some opportunity to get close, and which ones force you to aim at the center of the green? If you do make a mistake, which greenside areas offer a simple recovery and which ones do you need to avoid?

Meticulous tour caddies will keep a record of where pins have been during previous events, which gives practice rounds a more focused approach. Given the hole location, where is the easiest place to get up and down? When judging that, you're looking at everything from the amount of landing area and available run-out to grass thickness to green contours that can help or hurt you. At Augusta National, for example, there are banks and bowls that can send a shot toward the pin or reject it away. Understanding that topography can give a player a much different (and much larger) potential target.

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Smart greenside prep means reading how your club gets through the rough and how the ball runs out.

When a course has tight run-off areas and short rough, the ball will behave a certain way based on the firmness and speed of the greens. But if the rough is thick and deep, like at a U.S. Open venue, you have to get in there and practice not only the technique you'll use to get the ball out but how the ball will release from given locations. Because conditions are always changing, your intel has to change as well. A foot more or less of run-out really does matter in the scheme of things, as shown in the make-miss percentages from different putting distances.

Individually, these little details might seem trivial, but I stress to my players that good golf is a compounding of positive, sensible micro-decisions. Just being a tiny bit better in where you leave your full shots and a touch closer to the hole with your short-game shots is how you save a stroke here or there or gain an eighth of a stroke on the field. That can make a significant difference over 72 holes.

If you play most of your golf on a home course, there's no excuse not to have a good "book" on each green. And before you say that course management is easier for players who flush it, it's actually more important the more shots you hit that are less-than-perfect. Your club selection and aiming strategy should be taking into account your own particular scouting report of the greens. For example, is it flat and plush short and left on a given hole? If so, you should favor that area versus, say, the steep-faced bunker on the other side—no matter where the pin is.

If you follow an organized approach to "reading" green complexes, you'll start shooting better scores not because you hit fewer bad shots, but because the bad ones you're hitting aren't biting you quite as fiercely.