A Lesson Learned: When laying up is your best option

By Josh Nichols
Published on

What a great honor it was to welcome the golf world to TPC Sugarloaf -- where I've been privileged to serve as PGA Head Professional since 2011. It was the inaugural year for the Greater Gwinnett Championship and we couldn't be happier with how the week unfolded. So many people deserve recognition and credit for the magical week, I'll try to include them all with a collective "Thank You!" -- and they all know who they are.

There were two lessons to be learned this week. One wasn't instructional, but it was very educational. As golf professionals, we are all charged with growing the game. Have you taken your young golfer out to watch a Champions Tour event?

As I watched the faces of the youngsters as they followed, talked to, received autographs from or simply received a smile or wave from the legends of the game, I could see the proverbial light flip on. Tom Watson, Jay Haas, Bernhard Langer -- the kids out here this week watched more than golf, they watched golf history. And they left here with a better understanding and spirit of the game. It was a great sight to see and quite a lesson for me to learn.

But back to golf instruction.

This course is not new to hosting championships at the highest level. As the host of the PGA Tour's AT&T Classic from 1997-2008, TPC Sugarloaf was specifically designed to host events with up to 30,000 fans. Those fans come for many reasons -- most of all a dramatic finish. TPC Sugarloaf's 548-yard par-5 18th hole provides just that. It's one of the best finishing holes in golf. And that provides the perfect setting for this week's, "A Lesson Learned."

Our new champion, Bernhard Langer, aptly provided the tutorial. As Langer stood on 18th tee box with a 3-shot lead on Sunday, Tom Pernice Jr. was ahead of him on the green with a 20-foot eagle putt that would pull him within one shot.

Langer's drive sailed right of the fairway finishing in the rough. However, he saw up ahead that Pernice had missed his bid for eagle. Even with Pernice's tap-in birdie, Langer knew that a bogey would still win him the championship.

The second shot on this classic par 5 plays dramatically downhill, with many players able to give the green a go in two. Langer now faced a decision. With only 215 yards to cover the lake fronting the green, it was time to evaluate not only the shot, but also the circumstances that surrounded it.

Situations like this face every golfer, of every skill level at one point or another. At 215 yards, depending on wind, it was no more than a 3-hybrid and no less than a 5 iron. A lay up would require a shot no more than 120 yards... 120 yards! Nobody -- even the best players in the world, like to lay up with a wedge.

But here's the lesson, this is what the separates great players from really good players -- the ability to think rationally under even the most intense circumstances. Langer kept the BIG picture in mind, laid up with a wedge, and then wedged it to three feet. Yes, he still made birdie to win by three.

Sure, you may not be playing for a $278k winners check in your Saturday Nassau with the boys, but you can benefit from this lesson. When faced with a difficult decision during a round, remember to ask yourself three questions:

1. Will this guarantee me the result at the end of the round that I want?

2. Have I pulled this shot off before during competition (not just on the practice tee)?

3. Can I live with the worst case scenario?

If the answer to all three is "yes" then go for it! If even one is a "no" then choose the safe option.

Thinking your way around the golf course, while not as sexy as adding 30 yards to your tee ball, will save you more shots. At the end of the day anyone who has ever touched a golf club will admit: lower scores are more fun than a miracle shot.

Josh Nichols is the PGA Head Professional at TPC Sugarloaf in Duluth, Ga.