A Lesson Learned: Laying back on short par 4s

By Suzy Whaley, PGA
Published on

Once again, it was great to see the world's best players visit my home facility, the TPC River Highlands. It's always exciting to see how the elite players take on the same course that you play on, teach on and watch so many other golfers take on. Without a doubt, these scores reflect how talented the golfers on Tour are.

But for tihs week's "A Lesson Learned," I want to talk about what creates low scores - namely, making birdies. Consider hole No. 15 at TPC River Highlands, a short par 4 that many golfers - amateur and pro - feel is driveable and an easy birdie opportunity.

Well, it's true it is short and it is a definite birdie opportunity. And it may be true that many golfers, practially all the Tour players and even many amateurs, CAN drive it. But should they try?

Not only is there water to the left of the green, but what many golfers fail to realize is, the fairway slopes to the left as well. It's somewhat of a design trick. Why not hit a shorter club off the tee to a safe spot and comfortable distance on the fairway - and you'll still have a easy wedge onto the green?

Roland Thatcher, the third round leader, came to the 15th hole one shot out of the lead on Sunday and went for the green. His shot went into the water and he ended up with a crippling bogey. His playing partner, Brian Davis, laid back into the fairway and hit a wedge close to make birdie.

So you tell me, how do you make birdies? Not only do you have to execute shots, you have to THINK your way through the round. Often that means thinking past the obvious choice and not falling for traps that the course designer seems to entice you into.

Of course, pulling off a heroic shot is special and I would never diminish that accomplishment for players. We hear stories all the time from our members and guests of those that have "reached 15" off the tee for the first time.

But if you have a score to reach or a scoring goal in mind, what's more imporant - pulling off a heroic shot or reaching your goal? How I counsel my students on such holes will depend on the circumstance, but I'm much more likely to tell them - if you need a birdie, make sure you find the fairway. Even on a hole like No. 15.

Suzy Whaley is a PGA teaching professional at TPC River Highlands.  In addition to a distinguished teaching career, Whaley was also the first woman to qualify and compete in a PGA Tour event in 58 years  - competing in what was then known as the Greater Hartford Open at TPC River Highlands. You can connect with Suzy Whaley at her website or on twitter at @suzywhaley 

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