How to dominate an island green, with tips from Top 100 Teachers

In today's Play Smart, GOLF Top 100 Teachers explain how to see more success when playing an island green on the golf course.

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Welcome to Play Smart, a regular game-improvement column that will help you play smarter, better golf.

Playing an island green on a golf course can be exciting, but it’s also obviously extremely difficult, requiring a lot of precision.

To put into perspective just how tough island greens can be, check out the video below, which shows how amateur golfers handled the famed par-3 17th at TPC Sawgrass — the site of this week’s Players Championship.

Uh, yeah, not such great efforts, huh?

Of the 95 players who came through the 17th hole, 102 balls were hit in the water (or an average of 1.07 per player). And, overall, there were more scores at quadruple bogey or worse (27) than pars (23), which led to a dreadful average score of 5.37.

But playing an island green doesn’t have to be so frustrating. In fact, with the proper technique and training advice, you can safely hit your tee shot closer to the pin, and actually see an improved score on these tricky holes.

How to have success on an island green

To help you dominate island greens, I reached out to several of GOLF Top 100 Teachers for today’s Play Smart lesson. Each provided some great tips for conquering island greens, which can also be applied to other aspects of your game as well. Check out their tips below.

John Dunigan

  1. Take a club where, even if you mishit it, it will still get there. But if you pure it, you won’t fly the green.
  2. A great thought is “let’s see what you can do.” Rehearse your swing, get your feeling for the shot, and picture the target. Step into address with a relaxed focus, and narrow your focus on your feel or picture. To release a bit of tension, squeeze the grip of the club, and then loosen it up a bit. Then see what happens. You don’t have total control of the outcome, but you do have control over your process of playing the shot. Take control!

Brian Mogg

  1. When hitting an iron shot, commit to hitting your ball pin high. Use the rhythm that will create an easy swing that allows you to hit your shot closer to the middle of the green or pin high.
  2. Only use your natural shot shape. If you naturally hit a small fade, then play this trajectory, and avoid forcing something that isn’t natural for you — like trying to hit a draw shot to a left pin.
  3. Focus on the mental game. Remember, the architect of these holes got paid to distract the golfer and put fear inside their head when hitting the shot. The mental focus should be on your target and yardage. Commit to more mental energy going positively to your target, rather than negative energy to the bad spots like the water. You want to bring a strong mental energy to your target and shot, so that the mental gremlins aren’t able to come out and destroy your rhythm and trust for these shots.

Jim Murphy

  1. The key to playing an island-green shot well is to narrow your focus — aim small, miss small. Your eyes see water and then green, and your focus goes to hitting the green — which makes the task more difficult. Aim smaller, focusing on a specific spot in the middle of the green where you want the ball to end up. Make that spot your target, so even if you miss it slightly, you are still dry.
  2. Recognize any nerves and take a deep breath, exhale, relax your body, and stay committed to the process. This means sticking to your normal routine and committing to the process of making a good swing.

Joe Plecker

  1. Select a full swing club, and always use a tee. Taking a fuller swing will do several things, like increasing your swing speed, which will help elevate the trajectory of the shot. This is crucial to getting a steep descent angle onto the green in order to hold the surface. Second, using a tee will also help get the strike of the ball at impact higher up on the clubface, creating more loft and spin.
  2. Do your best to focus. Your mind does well with a positive goal, so focus on one positive thing in your swing, and find a good starting direction towards the green to hit your ball over. I know this is easier said than done when you are faced with an island green-shot, but it works.

Todd Sones

  1. I give a lot of credence to the thought of picking a conservative line, then swinging aggressively and confidently — at least when the situation warrants it. Sometimes, the risk is warranted by the reward. Take the shot.
  2. The 80 percent rule is a good rule for any player. If you can’t make the shot you are considering 8 out of 10 times, you are making a strategic mistake if your goal is to shoot the best score you can.

Kellie Stenzel

  1. Aiming for the largest part of the green is a smart plan. Even if you have a slight miss in any direction, the golf ball will still have a good chance to be on the green.
  2. To carry the hazard, solid contact is a must! Make sure the clubhead gets down to the ground on a par-3 so that the ball can launch high enough to carry, and spin enough to hold.

Tina Tombs

  1. Prepare as much as possible! Practice a routine for the island green on the driving range by visualizing the perfect shot. Practice all kinds of emotional situations on the range as well, so that on the golf course you will execute the shot you want.
  2. Know what your carry yardages are. This will allow you to play the most accurate yardage to the middle of the green.
  3. Develop a sound and comfortable routine for yourself, which includes a deep breath in through the nose and out through the mouth. Breathing helps take the tension out of the shoulders and allows you to stay in the present.
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Nick Dimengo Editor