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What’s Luck Got To Do With It?

Don Guckenberger
GolfTEC Headquarters

Thanks to Dan Sniffin, GolfTEC Park Meadows, for providing the idea for this article.

Tip provided by Golftech of Maryland

A savvy gambler can walk onto any casino floor in Las Vegas and have a good idea of where the smart money plays. Slots are usually  the worst odds you’ll find, but those bells and whistles sure do make it fun to lose! Most players know that the best house odds can be found on the craps table. The trick is knowing what to bet and playing smart. Golf is no different. If you know what your own “house odds” are when you’re on the tee, you can avoid the sucker bets around the course.

Tee Box Strategy

For many golfers, the tee box is simply a chance to tee up a driver and swing for the fences. Sure, you may consider the trouble that faces you hundreds of yards down the hole, but generally you’re looking for a direction to aim. Ask yourself, what are the odds of me putting the ball right where I need it? What’s my ideal approach shot? What trouble comes into play on the hole?

You may find that dropping to a 3-wood, a hybrid or even a low iron will improve your odds. Let’s say you’re facing a 375-yard dogleg. Cutting the corner could leave you with a wedge or short iron into the green. But what are your chances of hitting that spot on the fairway? The better play might just be to lay up with a hybrid and give yourself a mid-iron from 160-170 yards out. Of course, the higher your golf skill, the better your odds, but more on that later.

Attacking The Green

Your first decision after the tee will be dependent on your remaining distance to the green. If you’re 250 yards out, you may have a 10-20% chance of reaching the dance floor, but at what cost? Or, you may simply grab the longest iron you can and try to get as close to the green as possible, but what are your odds of getting up and down from 60 yards? 30 yards? And will that half wedge come from the fairway or from the deep rough over a bunker? Most golfers are stronger with a full swing than with a half shot. Why not hit a shorter iron and leave yourself a full wedge into the green? You’ll improve your odds for success on both shots!

Most golfers tend to look at the pin when lining up their approach shot. Sure, they check to see if the greens are protected by bunkers or other hazards, but for most golfers, the pin is the target of choice. It’s easy to understand why…that’s where the hole is! Unfortunately for most golfers, that target choice results in a lot of losing bets. When the course was designed, the architect was certainly trying to raise the stakes by protecting the green. It’s your job to assess the risks wisely.

The best odds for success usually come from identifying a “good miss.” Statistical analysis shows that there is a high correlation between Greens in Regulation and better scores. Landing on the green, even if you’re far from the hole, is usually a better bet than risking a hazard by trying to get close to the pin. So, use the information available to you on the scorecard, in your yardage book or from your own memory. Aim for the biggest landing zone on the green with the least hazard and allow yourself some margin for error. Who knows, maybe you’ll “miss” your way into a great result!

Handling Trouble

Everyone has faced a tricky situation when a tree is looming, but a glorious shot is just over the horizon. You can almost picture the little golf angel and golf devil sitting on your shoulder. Your playing partners know that you should just punch out, but in your heart you really want to try to pull off the “perfect shot”. The real question to ask yourself is “what happens if I miss?” We’re not trying to undermine your confidence here, but odds are low that you’ll hit it perfectly, even if you avoid the immediate danger. Will you go from the frying pan to the fire by avoiding the tree, but finding a greenside bunker? Will you end up on the short side of the hole and still have to hit another miracle just to get close with your short game? If you’re trying to avoid immediate danger while also needing to find a small landing zone, you should consider a different approach. You may not want to simply punch out 90◦ to the fairway and leave a long-iron to the green, but you might be able to easily avoid the tree and find light rough and a reasonable angle of attack to the green. Think through all the aspects of each shot option and you’ll start to see where the smart money plays.

Know Your Own Odds

Of course, the biggest advantage a gambler has in a casino is knowing the odds. Sure, the house has the edge, but if you can stick to the best odds, you’ll keep the shirt on your back. In golf, the house odds vary by player. You need to know your own chances for success. In a typical round you may find the fairway 50% of the time with your driver. What happens if you tee with your hybrids instead? 75%? 90%? How does a shorter, but more accurate, tee shot affect your odds on your second shot?

The next time you go to the range, take 10 swings with each of the clubs in your bag and give yourself an honest assessment of your current skill level. Sure, you can pure that 7-iron once, but how consistently can you really swing each club? What you’re likely to do on the range will probably show up on the course. Don’t focus on the exceptions (good or bad) when deciding a shot, play your percentages. Put your own odds in your favor!

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