January 4,2024


Strategy is another ingredient of the components that make up the mental side of "playing the game". Very few average golfers have a tactical approach on how to play a certain golf course, or specific holes, or where to place your approach shot to give you the best angle to the hole. A professional caddie would generally help the typical golfer gain at least five shots a round. A Tour professional, before the round, has already mapped out his strategy on each hole, based on the pin location of the day, tee position, and course conditions. Strategy is knowing your strengths and limitations and playing within those perimeters.

Arnold Palmer and Dow Finsterwald were best of friends and in many ways very much alike. But on the golf course they were polar opposites. Arnold was bold and aggressively and went for the "hero" shot, while Dow was "Mr. Conservative" going for average driving distance and middle of the green. Dow's strategy was to make money and play to his strengths, which were putting and wedge play. This approach produced 72 consecutive tournaments, where he finished in the money, which is fifth on the all-time list behind, Tiger Woods, Hale Irwin, Jack Nicklaus, and Bryon Nelson. Palmer's aggressive style lost him tournaments, but also were the over-riding factor in him winning seven Majors and 62 PGA Tournaments. Who knows if a more aggressive approach would have added to Dow's eleven PGA wins and one Major?

When I was first in Colorado, I became friends with Dave Hill. I got to play with him a number of times and had a very interesting "one to one" strategy playing lesson on how to play Hiwan Golf Course, which was the home of the Colorado Open in the 70's and 80's. Dave's greatest achievement, in his mind, was winning the Vardon Trophy for lowest scoring average on the PGA Tour in 1969, along with his thirteen Tour victories. The Colorado Open in those days had a $100,000 purse and attracted players like Al Geiberger, Dave Stockton, Larry Ziegler, Bob Murphy, Kermit Zarley, and then amateurs like Phil Mickelson, Fred Couples, and Cory Pavin. Dave won it three times using the strategy that he mapped out to me. First, he felt the course was unfair and not enjoyable to play. (For those who knew Dave, this was vintage Dave. Brash and outspoken, but always truthful.) Most felt the greens were as fast and tougher than Augusta National. We plotted out each hole, based on pin positions. Unless the pin was on the front of the green, I was NEVER to hit past the first fourth of the green, or ever be above the hole. Augusta is the ultimate position golf course, while Hiwan was strategically defensive. His insight was very helpful and made me some money following his advice.

Pars are good scores and the typical golfer should plan on the best way to make that possible. Know your strengths and weaknesses and play to strengths. For most, the green should be the target and the pin secondary. Usually, one side of the green has less trouble. Realize that and plan accordingly. Golf architects entice you to chase for the pin, but a less than perfect shot will frequently result in disaster. Good players avoid those pitfalls that will not only ruin one hole, but the entire round. Jack Nicklaus was a smart golfer. He knew when to go for pins and when to play away from them. If he could reach a green, he would do so, but if not, he would not hit to 40 to 50 yards from the green. That was not his strength, so he would try to leave a fuller sand wedge from 80 yards, which was a strong point.

Think of your home course and the holes that give you trouble. Why are they tough for you and how can you make them easier. You don't have to hit driver on each hole. Hit a 3 wood or less to be in the fairway. Lay up to a green that is surrounded by difficult bunkers. Billy Casper won a US Open by playing a par three by laying up each day and chipping up and making a putt for par, while his opponents went for the green and had bogies and double bogies. It doesn't take a lot of time to come up with a plan, but surprisingly few will take that time. Now, hopefully, you realize the importance and how it will help.


Advance Golf School

VIP Golf Academy

Callaway Golf Company