Instruction: Par-3 strategies

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Taking a smart, less aggressive approach to par-3s will lead to better scores for most amateurs.
October 14, 2013
By Todd Jones, Master Instructor, TOURAcademy TPC Sawgrass

Most golfers view par-3 holes as an opportunity to post a low number on their scorecard, perhaps walk away with a rare 2 or 3 on a card chock-full of 4s, 5s, and 6s. But a quick review of stats compiled from TOURCaddie’s user database ( shows that the vast majority of golfers are having anything but an easy time with these shorter holes. Based on thousands of rounds of data, the 10- to 19-handicapper is averaging almost a full stroke over par (3.9) on par 3s, while the 20-plus handicapper is almost a stroke-and-a-half (4.4) over par.

Why so much difficulty? For one, golf course architects tend to design a lot of trouble around these greens, and pins tend to be less accessible; and secondly, most recreational golfers struggle to hit their mid- and long-irons consistently well. Poor course-management and club selection also play a part.

Following are three tips to help you take better advantage of these shorter, albeit not so easy, holes. Start applying these strategies to the par-3 holes the next few times you play, and I’m sure you’ll start to see those scores drop.

Tip #1: Create the Perfect Lie

How many times have you had to play an approach shot from an uneven lie (i.e., ball above or below your feet) in the fairway, or from a divot or other poor lie? But on the tee, it’s within the rules to give yourself a perfect lie, so do it. With an iron, you should stick the tee in the ground so its head rests just above the grass. That will line the ball up with the bottom third of the clubface, which is where you want to compress the ball with an iron. The lower you make contact on the face, the lower the ball will launch and the more spin you’ll generate, optimizing ball flight. If you tee the ball too high and catch it on the upper third of the face of an iron, the ball will launch higher with less spin and won’t carry as far. The ball will float as opposed to penetrating through the air.

Tip #2: Play to the “Back of the Green” Yardage

Quick quiz: How many times do you hit the ball to the exact yardage you think it should go with your 6- or 7-iron? Maybe one out of every 10 times? The rest of the time the ball is coming up short. That’s why I advise my students to choose a club that if they hit their best, will fly to the back portion of the green. This way, if they mis-hit the ball just a little, it will still wind up in the middle or even the front of the green. If you have 150 yards to the flagstick and that’s as far as you hit your 7-iron, then chances are you’re going to come up short. Take one more club and hit your 6-iron, knowing that even if you strike it perfectly, you’ll do no worse than find yourself putting or chipping from the back fringe.

If the pin is tucked, then look for the widest part of the green and choose a club that, if struck well, will get you to the back portion of that particular area. You don’t always have to try and stick it close to the hole; you’ll walk away with far more pars if you hit your tee shot to the middle green and take two putts from there.

Tip #3: Don’t Be Afraid to Lay Up

Billy Casper won the 1959 U.S. Open by one stroke, in part because he decided to play it cautious on the super-difficult par-3, 217-yard third hole on Winged Foot’s West Course. Four times he laid the ball up short of the green, which sloped severely from front left to back right, and four times he made par. (Casper one-putted a remarkable 31 greens during the tournament.) If you find you can’t reach the green or there’s a bunker or water hazard you simply have to avoid, then don’t be afraid to follow Casper’s strategy and lay up short of the green. Leave yourself a manageable chip or pitch shot that you can reasonably get up and down in three shots or less. On the most difficult of par 3s, it’s much more satisfying walking away with a bogey-4 than it is a triple-bogey 6.

Todd Jones is a Master Instructor at TOURAcademy TPC Sawgrass. For more game-improvement tips from the TOURAcademy instructors, on-the-spot club recommendations and 3D previews of each hole you play, download the TOURCaddie PRO app at