Aggressive or Safe? Determining the Right Play

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This week the PGA Tour heads back to Florida for The Players Championship. Last year Martin Kaymer lead the field at TPC Sawgrass with a finishing score of -13. TPC Sawgrass is located in the Florida swampland, containing narrow fairways lined with hazards like marshes and waste bunkers. The course also features dozens of deep pot bunkers, strategically placed to catch a slightly misplaced shot. This is no easy test of golf because there’s also thick rough, obstructing palm trees, and rock-hard, lightning-fast greens.

With all of these hazardous obstacles to navigate on the golf course, many golfers struggle when determining to take on a difficult shot or when to play it safe. There are a number of variables that go into trying to figure out which strategy to employ, which may include your experience with the shot, the lie of the ball and if there are any obstacles in your way, and the necessity of escape. Here’s my advice for when to play aggressive or to lay up.

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Stuck In The Trees

If you’ve just hit it in the trees and you’ve never attempted the shot you’re faced with, the best solution is to play it safe and put the ball back in play. But, before you hit the ball back in the fairway, take a look at where you want to play the next shot from. Far too many golfers quickly grab a club out of their bag and hit it back in the fairway. Be smart and select the club that gives you the best chance of getting up and down from your next position.

Taking the extra couple of minutes before you hit can pay big dividends. If you don’t you’ll be staring a bogey or double bogey (or even worse) right in the face.

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Divots

If this happens, taking the safe route and chipping it out is a good idea if you’ve never attempted this shot before. However, if you have experience hitting from a divot, I’d tell you that going for it is an option. The lie for this scenarios dictates the situation and needs to be good enough so you can hit the ball clean. To pull this shot off you’ll want to play the ball slightly towards your back foot and concentrate on hitting down on the golf ball. Remember that the golf ball will have a tendency to come out lower with more top spin.

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Winning Positions

Every golfer (PGA Tour to the casual golfer) must decide which route to go based on the outcome they are trying to achieve. The decision is easy if a PGA Tour player is in a playoff and has to hit a miraculous recovery shot for a chance to win. Similar to the casual golfer who will go for it if he/she is playing in the Club Championship with a chance to win.

You can still face this dilemma in a casual round with family or friends. A good way to practice the decision making process is to play a casual round of golf and put yourself in difficult situations. Play out both scenarios, go for it and play it safe from the same location. See how you preform so you’ll know next time you find yourself in those situations.

Quick Recap

Deciding between going for it and playing it safe depends can depend among many variables. This includes the lie of the golf ball, if there are any obstacles in your way, necessity of escape and if you have experience with the golf shot. If you’ve attempted the golf shot with success, you might just go for it. However, if you have a poor lie and a tree in your way you’ll want to play it safe. And depending on the necessity of escape, you’ll either go for it or play it safe.

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Emmett Brantly

Emmett Brantly has been a Class “A” member of the PGA of America since 2003. He graduated from Campbell University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Professional Golf Management. He has worked in Public, Semi-Private, Private, and Resort golf facilities in Raleigh and Pinehurst North Carolina. He has also worked in various retail settings, as well as holding positions of PGA Teaching Professional at various academies including the Pinehurst Golf Academy. Emmett has a strong passion for growing the game of golf by displaying his extensive knowledge in club-fitting, teaching, fitness, and product knowledge.