The rewards can be even greater when you avoid the risks

Funny how you get a little smarter on the golf course as you get older.

Not funny that it took so long.

For my entire golfing life, I have ignored the risk of trying to drive a short par-4 and rarely have gotten rewarded. Did that stop me from continuing that foolishness? Of course not! This time it might work!

It took a pro’s advice on a hole that has bedeviled me to finally get me to change my ways.

The fourth hole of a course I regularly play is the classic short par-4. It’s only 293 yards from the white tees, and there’s no water – just a lot of bunkers.

What could go wrong? A lot, as I have proved time and again.

The elevated green is extremely narrow, meaning that your drive is going to have to be nearly perfect to reach the putting surface. It’s shaped a lot like No. 4 at Spyglass Hill.

The greenside bunkers are long and huge. There just isn’t a lot of room up there.

But the biggest problem of all is if you hit driver and miss to the left or right of the fairway or up by the green.

Miss left and you have a terrible angle to a pin that hides behind a big hill when the flag is in its usual spot in front and is deceiving when the hole is in the rear of the unusually long green.

Miss right and you’ve got a flop shot off bare ground over a bunker with virtually no room to stop the ball on the green.

But because the fairway bunkers, particularly the one on the right, are very reachable if you lay up, I insisted on hitting driver time after time. They choke off the landing zone, I figured. Might as well go for it.

And, time after time, I would make bogey. I’ve never hit that green off the tee. And when I’ve missed to either side, I’ve either failed to traverse the big hill in front, or my flop shot has trundled off the green and down the hill or into the bunker. It was maddening.

Then I got an email from the course in which the head pro offered this advice:

“Number 4 is a great risk-and-reward par-4. It measures only 352 yards from the back tees, but it is well guarded by bunkers. You can choose driver off the tee, but missing the fairway will leave you with a dreaded 50-yard bunker shot. The green is narrow, so having a good angle is more important than proximity to the green. Playing safe off the tee might be the best way to leave yourself a chance at birdie.”

I don’t know why I needed those words to leave the driver in the bag, but I realized that all I needed off the tee was a 3-iron. That would leave me short of the fairway bunker, and I still would have only a flip wedge left to the green.

So I tried it … and made birdie. It was about as stress-free a birdie as I’ll ever make. Smooth 3-iron, gap wedge from 100 yards, 10-foot putt with a nice little right-to-left break. Nothing to it.

This fits with my newfound philosophy all over the course. I hit 3-wood every chance I get (any par-4 less than 400 yards). I hit one club more rather than try to press a short iron. I don’t take chances unless I really, really like my odds of converting the shot.

Yes, our great game feels a little greater when we heroically drive a par-4 and make the putt for eagle. But as we get older and our driving distance dwindles, that hardly ever happens.

This is the time for a lot of us to finally get a little smarter out there. It’s time for our game to grow up.

Leave a Reply