Play Smart: How to decide whether to lay up or take a shot on
In almost every round of golf, we find ourselves in a position where we can either take on a risky shot or play safe. Of course, if we are just knocking about with mates the temptation to pull off a 'worldie' is generally too strong. But with a scorecard and consequences, the decision becomes a lot more serious. After all, the shot presents the opportunity both to make your score or to ruin it.
This is why, when you find yourself in this position, a clear thinking process designed to elicit an equally clear strategy is very much in order. Make 2019 the year you finally make smarter decisions by addressing these five issues; they will guarantee your best decision.
#1: Get the measure
You can only make your best strategy decision when you know the yardages involved – and it's shots like this that show the true value of owning a distance measuring device. Here, my laser shows me I have 235 yards to the flag, 220 to the front of green, 210 to fly the bunker and 180 to carry the water. My favoured lay-up is 165 yards into 30-35 yards of fairway. Armed with this information I can start to make the right decision... though of course, an understanding of how far you hit each club is equally important.
#2: Do the ground work
Of course, there is more to your decision than simple distance; your stance and the ball's lie can determine strategy. Compare a perfectly level stance with the ball sitting up to a situation where the ball is well below your feet and in a depression; the former invites a braver play, the latter a safety-first approach. So assess how comfortable you feel over the ball before pulling a club. Understand, too, that ball-below-feet encourages a fade while ball-above-feet promotes a draw.
#3: Get wind of the conditions
In making your decision, it's vital to be sure how the wind could affect the shot. I use the fluttering of the flag, bend of the trees, cloud direction, maybe ripples of water on the lake as an indicator before I finally throw a little grass into the air to help me make my final decision. On this occasion the wind is blowing left-to-right, neither helping nor hurting. But right-hander faders need to be aware of how a wind like this can bring the water more into play.
#4: Clear plan, clear mind
Even more important than the strategy you choose is that you choose one at all. A clear mind and shot selection gives you your best chance of success, whichever option you choose. On this occasion, the shot to the green needs a fairway wood or strong hybrid while the lay-up is around a 5 or 6-iron – quite a difference. Do not fall into the trap of picking a club in the middle and attempting some sort of vague 'aggressive safety' – be decisive, choose your play and stick to it.
#5: Pressure game
Going for the green means you must be prepared to finish either in the water or the beach bunker short of the green, which might mean a bunker shot of between 25-40 yards – not one of golf's easiest shots. Whenever penalties for failure are severe, the pressure grows... and that makes the shot harder to pull off. The golden rule is "don't take on a shot you are not confident you can pull off". If you are in any doubt at all, lay up.