10 ways to own par-5s without having to overpower them

Smart shot placement can pay dividends on par-5s.

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Par-5s are simultaneously a challenge and an opportunity. Given they’re the longest holes, things can go south quickly if you don’t plan well. But on the other hand, short par-5s can provide excellent par or birdie opportunities — and one really good shot can make the remainder of the hole so much easier. The key, though, on any three-shotter is thinking your way through the hole. Here are 10 ways to better manage par-5s:

1. Map out the hole in your head before you tee off

While intent and execution don’t always intersect, you should still try to have a plan when you are on the tee box. How long is the hole? Where are the fairway bunkers or hazards? Having a plan in your head will tell you when to be aggressive and when to be more conservative with your tee shot or fairway shots. I’m a fan of GolfLogix GPS, because the app knows my club distances and can help with club selection. (GolfLogix is an affiliate of GOLF.com.)

2. Drive the ball in play

Hitting your drive in the fairway is a huge advantage. Finding the short stuff not only allows you to play more offensively but it also makes every shot thereafter easier. A drive out of play or into the rough just starts the domino effect of every shot being longer or more difficult

Something as simple as choosing a smart angle off of the tee box can make a big difference.  Don’t just place your tee in the ground without planning ahead. If moving to one side of the tee or the other can give you a better angle into the fairway or into the wind, take full advantage.  Sometimes you can even avoid having to cross hazards by teeing up your ball on the far side a tee box. This sets up a less stressful shot, and if you do miss the ball slightly, it’s more likely to stay in play.

Be strategic with your tee placement. getty images

3. Respect the fairway width

Consider the width of your fairway — both where it pinches and where it opens up. When the fairway gets narrow due to hazards, bunkers or just less short grass and more rough, take this into consideration. It may be smarter to dial back your tee shot and have your ball land in the wider part of the fairway to avoid hazards. Knowing layup distances and thinking ahead to avoid needing to thread the needle can make the hole play easier.

4. Your second shot is key

Assuming that your drive is in play, hitting a solid second shot is essential to setting up your approach.  You may think you always should hit whatever club will get you closest to the green, but this may not always be your best choice, especially if you’re not comfortable hitting, say, a 3-wood of the deck. You need to determine what is your longest club that you hit consistently.

5. Find the best angles for all three shots

How often do we split the fairway? Not as often as we’d like. But you can use that to your advantage when planning your par-5 strategy. With each shot you hit, you should also be thinking about the next shot. If, for example, aiming to one side of the fairway will allow your second shot to avoid a hazard or a narrow area, do it! Your second shot should allow you to have the path of least resistance into the green. Always plan one shot ahead.

6. Avoid fairway bunkers and hazards

While I realize this may be easier said than done and no golfer intends to find trouble, being mindful of steering clear of penalty strokes and fairway bunkers is important. If playing away from a fairway bunker or hazard may land you in playable rough, that may be the better of two evils.

7. Know when to take your medicine

When you miss a shot and get into trouble, you need to assess the damage and determine how aggressive or defensive to be. I get it! Playing the safe shot feels boring, but there’s also no glory in advancing your ball 10 yards from the rough or having a fairway-bunker shot catch the lip and roll back to your feet. In most cases, it is best to just take your medicine and put the ball safely back into play.

Bad lie in a bunker? Don’t get greedy. getty images

8. Plan for your preferred approach distance

You probably have a preferred distance or club into the greens. Keep this in mind when hitting your shot before your approach.

Also consider the particular kind of shot you want to play. For example, if I can get close enough to play a simple chip or bump and run, I will try to do so. But if the green is not able to receive this type of shot, I may intentionally leave by ball farther back to be able to take a fuller swing, giving me a better chance of holding the green.

9. A good short-game shot can save you

A timely up-and-down can save your score on a par-5 (or any hole for that matter), so think about what kind of shot makes the most sense to play around the green. Managing your risk by playing a chip rather than a pitch can save shots as your ball will get onto the ground more quickly and roll much more like a putt. Being a great putter obviously can save your score, too.  Extra practice time geared toward a solid short game can lead to more pars on even the longest of holes.

10. Take your time on your last putt

Patience is a virtue — especially on par-5s. You need to keep your focus until the very last putt. One big putting key: stay still throughout your stroke until the ball drops. This can be challenging as it goes against our instincts to watch the ball go into the hole. But stroke and then look. You will be rewarded with more made last putts and lower scores.

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