Was Zack Johnson Reading My Blog?
As you know, I’m consistently writing about using your head and short range skills to play golf, rather than always relying on seeing how far you can hit it off the tee. Any golfer can learn to hit accurate short range shots. Solid shots from inside 100-130 yards are within anyone’s grasp, but few will ever learn how to hit massive drives in the fairway. Playing courses smart, leaving yourself quality scoring shots from the fairway, makes this game much, much easier to master. So does Zack Johnson read “The Wedge Guy”?

In this morning’s golf news I read a short story on Zack’s good first day at Royal Lytham yesterday. I really like the way Zack plays golf, relying on his skills and accuracy to take golf courses apart. He has to, because he’s 158th in driving distance. By the way, world #1 Luke Donald is even further back at 183rd.

The story pointed out that he seemed to be applying his strategy from the 2007 Masters, where he decided going in that he wasn’t going to try to hit any of the par 5 holes in two, rather choosing to lay up to wedge range and taking his chances at birdies from there. The result of his tactic? He played the par fives better than anyone in the field and on that Sunday afternoon was wearing the famed green jacket.

Back to yesterday at The Open Championship (we Americans are the only ones who seem to call it the “British Open”), Zack opened with a 65. What the story in Golf World’s online edition pointed out is that he chose to lay up on the short 336-yard 16th hole, while playing companions Ernie Els and Darren Clarke tried to drive the green. Zack then hits a wedge to three feet and makes birdie. That kind of smart play might just get him a Claret Jug to go along with his green jacket.

What amazes me is why tour professionals don’t play this way more often? Most of them seem to reach for the driver instinctively on each tee, particularly on the shorter holes that are tempting them to try to drive the green. The PGA Tour keeps statistics on nearly everything, but I can’t find one for “bogeys or worse on ‘drivable’ par 4s”. I would bet the big hitters lead that category if there was one.

What I can find are two statistics that I think are rather meaningful. On par-5 scoring average, the tour leader is Bubba Watson at 4.46 strokes. But in third place is Zack Johnson at 4.53. In other words, he gives up almost nothing in scoring on par fives to a guy that is on average outdriving him by 35 yards!

I’m just sayin’...
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[ comments ]
SteveMM says:
Kind of makes me rethink my concern that I don't hit the ball far enough in the fairway on par 5s. Right now, since my 5W and 3W are shaky, when I'm faced with a second shot of 250+ yards, I hit my 150 club and then reach for the pitching wedge and try to put it on the green. Based on this article, it sounds like that's the right strategy regardless of whether I can get my 5W or 3W working properly.
onedollarwed says:
I like the opening premise: "...few will ever learn how to hit massive drives in the fairway." While hitting massive drives in the fairway is a viable part of my game (not on the pro's level of course), it's rare that I play with anyone who can do that. And most people will have a shot at getting on or close to the green (not in sand and chipping) from w/in 130.

Most public courses do not feature heavy green-side rough or fully bunker-ed greens, so lace 'em in there, right? On the flip side, going for a par 5 in two is often much easier as well.

Q: Should caddies or coaches get more credit for the smarter approach? Do you think golfers feel the need to hit big to please the crowds/ make highlight reels? Do sponsors look at driving distance stats to promote their products? Seems like that works for Bubba.
gpickin says:
Steve, when I was battling the 100 mark, there was plenty of more concerning things than my 3w approach on the par 5s :)
If you are struggling with the bigger clubs, getting your 150 and 100 clubs working is a great idea. I left my 3w at home until i was hitting my irons better. I thought better to have 5-AW working well, then 3w and 5-aw working ok. I put the time in on the irons, and worked on the sweeping wood/hybrid later, and my game improved quickly. Once my irons were more consistent, then I went back to the hybrid and now its a solid club too. You might need the 3w 5-6 times in a round, but your other clubs you use a lot. Work on what you use the most.
Good luck.
And Terry, playing smart is always a good idea, not just laying up, but hitting shots where a miss is less punishing is good too. If there is not much punishment for going for par 5 in 2, i do... if its littered with trouble, i play smart.
Minimize your bad shots. Make your next shot easier.
accarson3 says:
There is something to said for using a strategy to get around a course rather than trying to muscle every shot. As a high handicapper who doesn't hit it far, I made a conscious decision to layup to a comfortable distance rather than trying to nail a 3 wood to the green-which usually disastrous. This approach has worked wonders with my scoring. I now consistently break 100 and many times shoot in the low 90's and even managed to break 90 not long ago. My short game has improved as well by using this strategy.
Backquak says:
Zach is 3 over so far today, so it doesn't look like his strategy is working today. That's the great thing about golf, there are lots of different strategies to get the ball in the hole, but some days it just doesn't matter what you try to do, it just doesn't work. being able to get out of trouble and being able to pull off the shot that is needed when the pressure is on will help anyones score. Not putting yourself in trouble in the first place certainly seems like it would help too.
SteveMM says:
gpickin: You're right -- there are probably bigger problems to deal with. My 100 and 150 clubs actually work pretty well. My biggest issue right now is mental breakdowns and stupid decisions. I'm more than capable of playing like a 95-or-below golfer ... I just don't do it on 3-4 holes in each round, which keeps me around the 100 level.
cicero says:
I think being long can be a disadvantage at times for a high handicapper when it comes to course management; it seems like the shorter you are, the more clear cut the right choice is. When you know you can reach the par 5s in two, and can get inside 100 yards on the par 4s, it can be challenging to make a more prudent decision in the heat of the moment. Course mangagement becomes as big a factor in their improvement as actual skill development.

That said, it does help that you can still hit the green when you invariably hit the ball onto an adjacent fairway, or you're behind a tree or in a deep fairway bunker and you can still use a short iron or wedge to get the ball up and on the green.
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Terry Koehler is "The Wedge Guy" and President of SCOR Golf- The Short Game Company.

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