Taking a long walk to the green with your putter in hand is such a good feeling. Hitting more solid approach shots simply makes golf more fun – and it lowers your score, too.
Here’s how proper planning, good technique and specific practice can help improve your ability to hit greens and enjoy more of those stress-free walks.
1. Know your carry distances
Proper club selection is huge when determining whether your approach shot will hit the green. It may sound obvious, but so many golfers don’t get the message.
When you’re calculating your distance averages for each club, it’s crucial to know how far each club carries in the air before it lands. This is how you’ll know if you’re able to carry a bunker, or a hazard.
It may be a little depressing when you find out those numbers, but remember: It doesn’t matter how far you hit each club, it matters that you know how far you hit each club.
2. Make practice swings ‘real’
The time and attention you pay to your practice swings pays off. One of the challenges of golf is that each shot requires a different length club that requires adjusting to. Taking a practice swing that allows you to adapt, quickly, and hitting the ground with your club to simulate ideal contact, will help your shot turn out the way you want.
3. Practice on similar lies
Along those lines, make sure you take your practice swings on a lie similar to the one you’re about to hit from. If your ball is on an uneven or varying lie, you should try to replicate this as much as possible, so you can adjust as necessary.
Practice swings are often your one and only time to adjust to the situation at hand, and when solid contact is a necessity, make sure they count.
4. Understand your aiming tendencies
Being a laser-like aimer is really important on approach shots, as is knowing your aiming tendencies.
Assuming you hit the ball relatively stright, your clubface should be pointing towards the target, and your feet, hips, shoulders, forearms and eyes all parallel to it. Most right-handed golfers tend to aim too far to the right and come over-the-top. That’s my tendency, but I now know that when I aim correctly, it feels a little more left than I might expect.
5. Know when to play safe
There is a time and a place to aim directly at the pin, but consider when you may be able to gain a stroke without taking on the risk of disaster.
For example, when a pin is tucked behind a bunker, it’s often smarter to just play to the center of the green. When in doubt, play to the middle.
6. Proper ball position is key
Ball position is one of the most important fundamentals in golf, because it directly affects contact and direction. Your swing could be perfect, but if your ball position is too far forward, it would be very common to hit the shot fat or pull it. Having a repeatable set up routine can be a big help in assuring perfect ball position for your approach shots.
7. Never short-side yourself
Short-siding yourself (where you miss the ball on the side of the green that is closest to the pin) is one of the biggest course management mistakes. When you don’t have much green to work with between your ball and the pin, you are typically forced to play a difficult pitch that stops quickly, rather than a simpler shot with more room for error.
Unless you know your approach shot is going to be perfect, always favor the side of the green that is the most open, and will lead to a short game shot that has lots of green to work with.
8. Know which clubs launch, and which clubs roll
Some clubs are better at launching high with more spin, which means they’ll roll less. Others tend to hit and run more, based on your clubhead speed.
Clubs that tend to fly higher and softer would be a higher-lofted fairway wood, hybrid or short iron.
Lower-lofted irons are more likely to land and release, so you may need to plan to land the ball a bit shorter to allow for this roll. There’s a time and a place where both can help you, so make sure you stock your bag with a couple of each.
9. Use the grip as an aiming reference
All clubs in your bag have different lofts, so when you set them on the ground, they all look different.
Lofted clubs tend to look more open, in my opinion, and because clubface is the most important factor in direction, it makes setting your club properly on its bottom really important.
If you struggle with this, I’m a big fan of using the markers on the grip, or shaft, as a reference point. Sometimes looking at the leading edge can confuse some golfers; the grip, if it’s aligned correctly, can be a better reference point.
10. Know the slope
Greens are built with drainage in mind when it rains so that the course can return to playable as quickly as possible. If you know the tilt of the green you can use this to have your approach shots roll closer to the pin. Knowing this tilt in advance can be extremely helpful to have more short putts.
There are lots of great GPS apps out there, but I’m a GolfLogix ambassador (an affiliate company of GOLF.com) and that app really helps me find the different slopes on the greens, and use them to my advantage.