Why mastering your third shot is the most important scoring key in golf

April 3, 2020
The key to crisp pitches: Match the length of your backswing to the length of your follow-through.

I was born in South Africa but have lived in the USA for over 24 years. During that time I have fallen in love with football (the American version).

Amidst all of the strategy, planning and movement, football is as simple as moving the ball down the field by not turning the ball over and gaining ‘First Downs’. In that effort, success on ‘Third Down’” is a definer of success in every football league.

Convert on ‘Third Down’ and you are basically unstoppable.

What does this have to do with golf? Because the same concept applies. On the golf course, your third shot is your third down. And if you train yourself to convert on third down on the course, you will be unbeatable.

Throughout my career as a teacher I have preached this mantra: “If you excel on shots one and two, you will make fewer ‘big numbers’. If you excel at Shots three and four you will make more ‘small numbers’.”

Simply, drive the ball well and you will make fewer sixes and sevens. Recover and convert withyour third and fourth shots, and you will make lots of 3’s and 4’s, and pretty scorecards.

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I understand that Mark Broadie’s Strokes Gained metrics have proven that driving the ball powerfully enhances the probability of better golf. Indeed I agree with the observation as the closer you get the ball to the target the easier the shot becomes.

However the ugly truth is that a great driver of the ball will never parlay that skill into good scores if they cannot hit the scoring shots well. From my experiences at the highest levels of the game, I soundly maintain that a powerful driver only becomes a real weapon if it is partnered by a good driver, because its your wedge that actually allows you to take advantage of those booming drives.

And the results prove this.

There is a statistic that measures “Third Downs” on the PGA Tour. We just call it “Strokes Gained Around the Greens”. Let’s consider that metric and ranking of the recent FedEx Cup Champions, and you’ll notice that they all are well above PGA :

2015 – Jordan Spieth – 7th
2016 – Rory McIlroy – 37th
2017 – Justin Thomas – 24th
2018 – Justin Rose – 6th
2019 – Rory McIlroy – 19th

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It is apparent that the leading players are all good on ‘Third Down’. I would recommend that you devote some time to those shots too. Especially during this time when we are housebound due to the global Coronavirus pandemic.

You can use this time to work on chipping, pitching and putting technique. If you are able to find some golf balls, real or whiffle, that is helpful, but in truth you can improve your skills by taking your wedge, marking a spot, or line on the ground and striking that mark consistently as you make your practice swing. If you have access to a mirror for visual vs. feel reference that is even more helpful.

Remember, as with any shot in golf, crisp contact leads to good control of spin, trajectory, distance and accuracy. This is especially true on ‘Third Down’.

Good luck.

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