How to avoid the trap and play this tricky par-3 like a smart golfer

Aiming away from the pin will often lead to the best results

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Golf is a game if misses, that well-worn cliche is one we’ve all come to accept at this point. Yet an unfortunate truth is that those who need to understand that message the most — to play to their misses, rather than plan for a handful good shots — often don’t know how to put it into action.

That’s why I love this practical tip from GOLF Top 100 Teacher Nick Clearwater on GOLFTEC’s YouTube channel, which golfers can put to use the next time they’re on the course.

Here’s the hole in question: A par 3 with the pin up front, bunkers left and right, with water short and flanking the right.

Most regular golfers look at this hole and see a reasonably accessible avenue to the pin. Take dead aim, and hope to hit it between the bunkers.

Right?

Take dead aim? Not so.

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Wrong.

It all comes down to dispersion patters, which is a fancy term which encompasses a grouping of shots. Hit 20 shots at one target; let’s say your leftmost golf ball misses 10 yards left, and your rightmost misses 10 yards to the right. That means you have a dispersion pattern 20 yards wide.

Clearwater has studied the dispersion pattens of golfers of all levels, and found that the average 90s shooter’s side-to-side dispersion pattern is 36 yards wide. And when your average shot could land anywhere within a nearly 40 yard-wide zone, taking dead aim at the pin means about half your shots will land in the water, and most of the rest of them will end up in one of the nearby bunkers.

The average 90s shooter hits this iron shot within a 36 yard gap

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The smart golfer navigates around the course in a way that their average-and-bad shots are still playable, and when a large bulk of those underwhelming shots end up in the worst possible spot (the water), it’s a clear sign you’re not doing it right.

That’s why Clearwater, says 90s golfers would be best served to aim just inside the right edge of that left bunker. 80s golfers, at the right edge of it, and 70s shooters on the left edge of the green.

Here’s where the average 90s golfer should aim

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Aiming at the bunker, rather at the pin, is somewhat counterintuitive, but the effect of it is a good one: It shifts the center of your dispersion pattern left. The result will be almost no shots ending in the water, and still about half of them on the green.

This is what playing to your misses looks like, and yes, it means that occasionally you may flush a perfect shot that ends up not flying at the pin.

This is what playing your misses looks like.

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Pair the unique shape of this particular green and the fact that most recreational golfers miss short, Clearwater suggests clubbing up multiple times when aiming at the spot.

Looking at it from overhead, here’s where you should actually be aiming to that front right pin.

Pretend like the pin is back left to get the best overall results

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It may not be the most glamorous, take-dead-aim-and-throw-caution-to-the-wind approach, but it works. Give it a try, and your scorecard will eventually thank you for it.

You can watch the full video right here or sign up for a lesson at GOLFTEC below.

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Luke Kerr-Dineen

Golf.com Contributor

Luke Kerr-Dineen is the Director of Service Journalism at GOLF Magazine and GOLF.com. In his role he oversees the brand’s game improvement content spanning instruction, equipment, health and fitness, across all of GOLF’s multimedia platforms.

An alumni of the International Junior Golf Academy and the University of South Carolina–Beaufort golf team, where he helped them to No. 1 in the national NAIA rankings, Luke moved to New York in 2012 to pursue his Masters degree in Journalism from Columbia University and in 2017 was named News Media Alliance’s “Rising Star.” His work has also appeared in USA Today, Golf Digest, Newsweek and The Daily Beast.