These 2 charts show why laying up is rarely the correct play


Laying up can be detrimental to your scorecard.

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“You’re doing it wrong.”

Admittedly, I’m guilty of saying this to students, albeit in a helpful way. Humor and fun — to say nothing of playful sarcasm — often are needed to elevate the learning experience. With that in mind, I’m fairly certain you’re doing it wrong as well. I’m not talking about technique, either. Regardless of how good your game is, you’re probably not spending enough time making good strategy decisions on the course. Selecting the best club for the shot, choosing a target and predicting how the ball will react in the air are actually significantly more important than hitting a “perfect” shot. Fact: Better interpreting the nuances of “course strategy” will lower your scores.

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This handy chart tells you when you should (and shouldn’t) go pin seeking
By: Nick Clearwater, GOLFTEC VP of Instruction

Case in point: the age old — and supposedly sage — advice to lay up to a comfortable yardage. The notion’s been around since sheep still cut the grass at St. Andrews, and, yes, intentionally hitting short of a penalty area or to avoid an obstacle can be a smart tactical move. However, while you may feel that laying up frequently is part of strong course management, the smarties in the GOLFTEC Stat Department say otherwise. 

Check the tables below. The one on the left shows the proximity to the hole following an approach from various yardages and across a variety of handicaps. Notice how the proximity to the hole always increases the farther the shot into the green, regardless of skill level. There are no significant “dips” in the data, indicating a zone when shots seemingly get simpler despite an increase in target distance. Also notice that the flattest rise for Tour pros happens between 50 and 75 yards, meaning that pros hit approach shots only one foot closer to the hole from 50 yards than they do from 75 yards. Insignificant, right? Before you answer, let’s see what hitting the ball one foot closer actually means. 

The second table shows PGA Tour players make 10 percent more putts, on average, for every one foot closer they are to the hole inside of eight feet. Herein lies a strategy against laying up: The closer you end up to the hole, the higher the likelihood you’ll sink your first putt.

There’s no range — for any skill level — where laying up to a favorite number, club or any other “favorite” makes mathematical sense if your other option is to send your next shot farther up the fairway (even if it ends up in light rough). The rub is that most golfers, especially weekend players, overestimate the potential success of hitting a 4-iron to a “preferred” layup yardage and underestimate the odds of hitting a 3-wood into a safe position nearer the hole. Send it when you can is your best strategy when you can lay up to any distance you want. After that, your next priority is to learn to hit your intended shots better because, ahem, you’re doing it wrong. 

Stats can’t help you with that, but a professional golf coach with some state-of-the-art tech definitely can. To locate the GOLFTEC learning and fitting center near you (there are more than 200 locations), visit

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