When to take a chance

I have always been an over aggressive player, bordering on dumb on more than a few occasions.

During the second round of the Long Beach Open, I didn’t try to drive the green on a hole (325 down wind with water short) when I could have easily done it and there was no reason to “protect” my score.

I don’t subscribe exactly to the risk/reward factor to the letter. There are always many factors involved. Is there any chance of success? Does the success give you an advantage and how much of one?

In the case of this par 4, there was a 100% chance the ball was going over the green because of the wind, and over the green was worse than 80 yards short.

On some holes, there is no reason to drive the ball 30 yards short of a 380 yard par 4, if the shot from 100 yards is easier because of the pin position.

There are also momentum and opponent factors. Maybe you are struggling in a round and pulling off a 1 in 5 shot may jump start you to save the round when you really can’t ruin it much worse.

The point is, risk/reward is not the only factor. You need to take in the entire situation and see what a success can do for you that might over ride the straight risk/reward percentages.

…and a huge factor that is almost never taken into account and through my struggles, became a huge part of the decision. If you are having a rough day, you are just as liable to screw up the safe shot and that will make you want to break all your clubs, quit golf and curl up the the fetal position in a bunker on 18. When you try the hero shot, you either pull it off, or at least your tried. When you screw up the safe shot, you are a chop and a coward.

I once hit a pitch a more difficult way on purpose in order to unnerve an opponent. I will tell that story tomorrow, along with good answers to any comments to this post.




  1. Wally

    Not enough balls is the top reason for not achieving in both life and golf, go for the fences, the ride is more fun.

  2. Damon

    I am a decent player. I can shoot anywhere from 75 to 82 most rounds, regardless of difficulty of the course. Anything over 85 I consider a bad day.

    I get to practice chipping and putting more than anything (couple hours week on average), and play 2x/month on average.

    Because of this, I am not very consistent. Meaning, I can play 6 holes where I hit the ball like a +2, and then 6 holes where I hit the ball like a 12.

    All this being said, because I don’t play that often, I prefer to “go for it” more than not, even if it means a chance for a higher score. I will go for the green in 2 on a Par 5 even if it means I will likely short side myself and have little chance of getting up and down. I will try to cut most dog legs with my driver instead of hitting a hybrid out to the middle of the fairway. I will shoot at every pin no matter where it is cut.

    The other thing is, more often than not, I screw up the “safe” shot. So my feeling is, I would rather be 50 yards closed to the hole screwing up a 3-wood than laying back with a 7-iron.

    Why do I do this? Because I find it a fun way to play. I like the feeling when I pull off one of these miracle shots, and when I don’t, I like the challenge of trying to chip it close to save Par. If I played more often, I would take game management more seriously, and make the prudent play more often than not.

    For fun on Sunday morning, I did just this on a 90* dogleg right par 5. I normally hit driver and either hit it through the fairway, or push slice it into the water. The reason I do this is that there is a small window where if I hit that line, I will leave a mid-iron into the green. Instead this time I hit 3-wood about 225 straight into the fairway, choked down 7-iron layup, choked down (since I was already holding it I did not feel like changing clubs…) 7-iron about 30 feet left, and 2-putt for Par. I was playing alone and this took all of 5 minutes to play the hole. Easy peasy par, but I’m not sure if it was fun or not.

    • meateater

      Damon, I am exactly the same way, even down to how much we play, practice, etc. Logically, if you don’t play a lot, you should play more conservatively, but I feel like I want to get as much out of the day as possible. This brings me to another point, the scolds who say you shouldn’t play from the tips unless you are shooting close to par or whatever. Now of course you shouldn’t be back there if every par four is too much for you, but I don’t get much of a rush from hitting driver-wedge all day. If I’m not holding up play, it’s no one’s business which tees I play from.

  3. Doug B

    Damon – good point about the frequency of being able to play determining how aggressive you get when you do play. I’m the same way. I play once a week on average. On the courses I normally play, the smart play strategically would have me leaving my driver in the bag about half the time on the par 4’s and 5’s. But I just feel like it’s more fun to let the big dog eat.

    • Damon

      Exactly. We sound like we are on the same page. Fun to me is not necessarily shooting a low score (although shooting high scores is definitely not fun…). I know I won’t shoot par from the tips how often I play and practice, so getting to the next level is not in the cards right now. But every now and then I can hit a shot that makes me and my playing partners go “Nice Shot!” – and that is what makes me come back next time.

  4. Christian

    My driver is coming around (plus the ground is like a parking lot…) so I have a lot more opportunities to go for par fives these days. I have to say a lot more have ended badly than well :-). I put two three irons OB right in a row the other day. Turned what I thought looked like a good birdie opportunity into a 10 :-(. So… going for it can be fun, but it can also really ruin your day. Yesterday I had a marginal shot at the green over water. My angle wasn’t great and I was a little farther than I would have liked. I decided to lay up. I ended up hitting it close on my third and had a decent birdie putt that I unfortunately missed. But I walked away with a par, which was a lot more fun than what would likely have happened if I had tried to pull off the long shot. I find that sometimes laying up takes more “balls” than going for it. My first instinct is to swing for the fences, but sometimes the smart play is the way to go.

  5. BernardP

    I agree there is nothing more disappointing/infuriating than screwing up while playing safe.

  6. Mike Z

    Before a golfer can make a good decision to take a chance with their choice of shot, they need to have a clear understanding of what the risks actually are. In my observation, a lot of players overestimate the risks of a more “aggressive” shot and get scared into a more difficult position than if they had gone for it, or sometimes and fail to see all of the dangers of playing a shot they think is more “safe” and end up in big trouble.

  7. kbp

    IMO, risk/reward is still only factor. As Monte and others have suggested, the definition of “reward” (and “risk”, for that matter) is not universal for all players at all times. Nor should they be.

    For a lot of folks, bunting it safely down the middle, shot after shot, to shoot their handicap, twice a week, every week, season after season is not much reward.

    For some guys, dropping even one stroke a round from hitting in a hazard or what not in a three dollar Nasau is unbearable risk.

  8. Calvin

    Sometimes a sand trap is the best possible miss.


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