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The Wedge Guy: Birdie holes and other myths

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I am an ardent observer of self-destructive things I see golfers do and hear golfers say, and one that really gets me is when I hear someone stand on the tee and proclaim, “This is a birdie hole.”
Really? How do you know when you haven’t even hit your drive yet, much less your approach? If you’re a 12 handicap, let’s say, there are really only 5-6 “par” holes out here; how can you think this one is a “birdie hole”?

This game is tough, and making birdies is the toughest achievement out there. Very few are made without hitting two better-than-average shots, or at least one remarkable one, whether the approach or the putt. Think about that for a minute. You could be a scratch golfer and never make one! Eighteen pars and a bogey or or two will get you to scratch on most courses. If you are an 8 handicap, that means you average about 82 or so, which equates to 8 pars and 10 bogeys in a round – what are you doing thinking about making a birdie at all, much less while on the tee?

My advice is that if you are a 10 handicap or higher, your singular thought on the tee should be to not make a double or higher. Chances are you don’t hit the driver 280-plus and you don’t hit even half the fairways. If you track your rounds, I’d bet you will find a high relativity of drives out of the fairway to doubles (or worse) put on the scorecard.

So let’s assume you got off the tee well, now what? When you face your approach shot, my advice is to figure out which side of the green gives you the best chance of getting up and down and the least odds of facing a short-side difficult pitch. And there’s never anything wrong with targeting the fat middle of the green, regardless of where the pin is located. On most courses, a ball in the dead center of the green will give you a half dozen or more reasonable putts, and the rest will not be overly long or difficult. The next round you play, just stand in the middle of the green after you are done and survey the putt that ball position would have given you.

Here’s another interesting and enlightening drill for you if you find yourself out for a day of learning on the golf course. On each hole, after your drive and approach, play a second ball from the “safe” side of the green, just as if you had missed your approach to this safe side. Then hit a pitch or chip and putt it out. Keep that score on along with the score you actually made and see how you come out.

I’ve been blessed to have played to a low handicap my whole life, and I am an entrepreneur…but I really do not have a gambler personality. On the golf course, I want to have fun, and I’ve learned that trying to save pars from the short side really doesn’t deliver that. If I’m tuned in to my game, I play the safe side of fairways off the tee and the safe side of the hole with my approaches. I make my share of birdies, and keep big numbers and bogeys on short holes to a minimum by taking this approach.

Of course, I find a 73 or 74 with only one or two birdies more fun than a 78 with 3 or 4. You might not.

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Terry Koehler is a fourth generation Texan, a native of a small South Texas town and a graduate of Texas A&M University. He has had a most interesting 40-year career in the golf industry. He has created five start-up companies, ranging from advertising agencies to golf equipment companies. You might remember Reid Lockhart, EIDOLON, or SCOR, but you would certainly know his most recent accomplishment: the reintroduction of Ben Hogan to the golf equipment industry in 2015. Terry has been a prolific equipment designer of over 100 putters and several irons, but many know Koehler as simply “The Wedge Guy”, as he authored over 700 articles on his blog by that name from 2003-2010. For almost 25 years, his wedge designs have possibly stimulated other companies to also try to raise the CG and improve wedge performance.

5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Greg

    Nov 19, 2019 at 9:13 pm

    Let’s not ourselves, birdies are made by skilled players striking accurate shots and precise putting.

  2. ChipNRun

    Nov 19, 2019 at 1:40 pm

    A birdie hole is one where you score one under-par. Birdies just land where they do.

    My home course is Nicklaus-signature layout. And, the little “risk-reward” par 4 holes trip me up all the time.

    Of the top six HDCP holes, five have decent-size greens. I got twice as many birdies there as I do on the little “risk-reward” birdie (?!) holes with the amoeba-shaped greens that bounce approaches off into bunkers and worse.

    • BP

      Nov 20, 2019 at 1:47 am

      What course? My home course is also Nicklaus designed.

      • ChipNRun

        Nov 21, 2019 at 10:32 am

        Stonewolf Golf Club in Fairview Heights, IL. It’s a mile north of the I-64 and Hwy. 159 intersection.

        A mile northeast is Far Oaks Golf Club, designed by 1968 Masters champ Bob Goalby. (Goalby is the uncle of PGA tour veteran Jay Haas.)

        Each course is the centerpiece of a residential development. Both ended up as semi-private clubs because not all of the lot-buyers were golfers.

        • STLgolfer

          Nov 21, 2019 at 4:45 pm

          Stonewolf is an incredibly tough layout and I am a 2 hdcp. Hole 7, 11 and maybe 10 and 17 are on the easier side but that course doesn’t let up. Far Oaks is much easier.

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