Lao Tse Player asks, ‘Is strategy the same for high handicappers?’

By: Jeffrey D. Brauer

In our last piece, we detailed how tour pros used strategy to lower scores with their skill. There are some comparisons to good amateurs in that younger Nationwide Tour players hit it the longest, and birdie the most par-5s. Surprisingly, they don’t have the lowest scoring average, suggesting a lack of strategic maturity.

Senior Tour players retain most skills at similar levels to their youthful counterparts, losing tee shot distance but hitting more fairways. They birdie fewer par-5s, but have similar scoring averages to younger players on other holes. PGA Tour players have slight advantages in scoring skills of putting and scrambling.

Below, I detail the lowest ranked Champion Tour stats, assuming that they reflect good club players (because, if their stats were better, they would be on tour themselves!) to estimate how amateur players might fare using different strategies.

While there is wider variation among amateur skills, your club champion might have a typical round like this:

Lowest Rank Champions Tour  

Fairways Hit 45.6%
Greens in Regulation  
…..Overall 47%
     From fairway Not Available
     From Rough Not Available
Short Game* 62.5%
     Sand Saves 22.9%
     Scrambling 42.7%
Putts per GIR 1.9
Birdie Ave. 1.65
Eagle Ave. .015/Round
Drive Distance 240
Scoring Ave. 76.85
Par 3 3.21
Par 4 4.34
Par 5 5.20
Ave. Course Length  
Ave. Approach Length* 194 Yard
Ave. First Putt ** 58 feet

* Hit seven of 14 fairways (five par-4s and two par-5s)
* Nine of 18 greens in regulation or better:
· Two from par-3 tees
· Three from fairways on par-4s (missing two)
· Two from roughs on par-4s (missing three)
· One from second landing area fairway on par-5 (missing one)
· One in under regulation on par-5s (missing one)
* Scrambles for six pars and three bogeys
* Two birdies (One two-putt par-5, 1.9 putts per GIR - greens in regulation, averages about one birdie per round by one putting)
* Averages 29.5 putts and 73 strokes.

For good club players, “just below Tour level” long-game accuracy, consistency, and ability to convert birdie putts (from longer first putts), coupled with wider shot dispersion, suggests aggressive tactics be limited to holes that fit your shot pattern, and at just the right time, a daring shot can be a difference-maker.

In this way, classic strategy as envisioned by golf course architects is probably unchanged for good and average amateurs.

If higher handicap golfers wish to reduce their handicap by a few strokes, hypothetically, they benefit from more conservative strategies, i.e. playing for the middle of greens and fairways, and especially aiming away from hazards. This is because your chances of making birdie are substantially less than chances of bogey – or more. *

* Pro Tour players hardly look at most hazards. They shape their approach shots looking at the contours within the green, never allowing themselves to believe they could find a green side hazard . . . must be nice!