Golf Approach Shot Strategy (5 Tips)

Approach shot strategy to take your game to the next level:

  1. Make sure your next shot is a putt
  2. Develop a stock shot – Miss in the right spots
  3. Understand how far you carry each iron
  4. Stay patient
  5. Be decisive

The game of golf is filled with strategy.

There are many opportunities over a 4-5 hour round of golf where golfers are put to the challenge of making a quality decision.

I have seen golfers that hit the ball like a 16 handicap, shoot 75.  They don’t seem to hit many solid shots, but when the score is added up they have a 75.

At the same time, I have seen golfers who hit the ball like a 3 handicap, shoot 90. These golfers seem to hit every shot solid with a quality ball flight, but when the scores are added up haven’t even broken 90.

So what gives?

It is rather crazy when you sit back and think about the range of scores from two different types of swings.

Other than short game ability, the other major factor is the strategy they use, specifically when they are hitting an approach shot into a green.

Golf Approach Shot Strategy – 5 Tips

Update: This past season I really focused on hitting the green and making my next shot a putt (#1 strategy). This starts with being able to hit the ball clean (low point control) and knowing the distance you hit each club. Golf becomes really fun when you can hit many greens in regulation!

Before we dive into the 5 tips above, let’s talk about some common areas where I have seen quality golfers make high scores on a hole, even when in position off the tee.

Missing this approach shot in the right spot is key to avoiding double bogeys.

Situation #1: On A Par 5

They have hit a tee shot that travels 260-300 yards leaving them within distance of reaching a par 5 on the 2nd shot.  They have a 200 yard carry over a small water hazard with a bail area to the right.  They grab their 3 iron and over draw it and come up short in the water.  They end up making bogey or worse and struggle on the next 3 holes because of the frustration caused from the poor 2nd approach shot into the par 5.

So that could the golfer have done differently? I am fine with staying aggressive and hitting the 3 iron, but if they are going to miss, they need to miss in the right spot and this often starts with the start line intention and the curve of the ball.  If they draw the ball, they should aim far enough right that even if they do overdraw it, it carries the water and lands on grass.

Golf strategy for high handicappers

Controlling the misses is key!  This is related to tip #2 listed above and detailed below.

Situation #2: On A Par 3

They step up to a 155 yard par 3 and have a pin that is only 148 yards, but must carry a front bunker at 144.  They take their 9 iron because that is their 148 club and catch it not quite perfect.  They end up in the face of the bunker and make a double bogey.

This poor score is a result of pulling the wrong club.  The golfer should have hit his 8 iron and and at worse had a 30 foot putt from above the hole vs being in the face of the front bunker.

How to become a single digit handicap golfer

The golfer must know his or her distance with each club and pick the right club.  This is connected to tip #3 above and detailed below.

Situation #3: Through 5 Holes

The golfer has played 5 holes and has made 4 pars and 1 bogey.  They are feeling fine about their round, but their playing partner is 1 under par.  They arrive at a short par 4 and the golfer is ina  great position off the tee.  They are left with a 105 yard shot to the pin.  The pin is sitting on the back of the green with a severe slope behind the green.  The golfer gets impatient and tries to hit it exactly 105, but catches it really well with a touch of wind causing the ball to fly 108 yards, landing over the green and rolling down the hill 20 yards past the hole.  The golfer chips up and struggles to make a bogey.

This is a result of not staying patient.  This is connected with tip #4 listed above and detailed below.

The golfer needs to ensure that if they miss this shot, they miss it right and with enough distance to clear the water.

Golf Approach Shot Strategy – Tip #1 – Make sure your next shot is a putt

Unless you are a plus handicap and can be aggressive with certain pin locations, a key factor in your strategy is doing whatever it takes to make sure your next shot after the approach shot is a putt.  The chances for a quality golfer to two putt from 45 feet is higher than saving par from a difficult location.

Find the fat part of the green, taking into consideration your shot pattern, pick the right start line and ensure that the next club you pull is a putter!  If you can hit 12 out of 18 greens, you are hitting enough greens to play at a scratch level if you can save par 54% of the time that you miss a green in regulation.

Golf Approach Shot Strategy – Tip #2 – Develop a stock shot,  Miss in the right spots

This is a combo tip.  Developing a stock shot, for example a draw or a fade, allows a golfer to control his or her misses.  My stock shot is a draw.  In the situation described above in the first example, on this par 5 I would aim plenty far right and if I hit an overdraw I would be on the green, if the ball had a slight draw I might catch the fringe, it it flies straight I am going to have a 10 yard chip shot from the fairway.  

When you have a stock shot and understand you miss, you can stay aggressive, yet smart with your strategy on approach shots.

Why do I hit my irons so short?

Golf Approach Shot Strategy – Tip #3 – Understand how far you carry each iron

I would highly recommend each golfer create a distance chart like the sample below:

ClubCarry Distance (100%)90%80%
2 Utility Iron210
4 iron190
5 iron181
6 iron171
7 iron163
8 iron153
9 iron143
P Club130123115
Pitching Wedge118110102
SW Club1059791
LW Club908274

This might be the most important information you can use to help you play quality golf.  I have heard so many stories and have seen it first hand where golfers completely over estimate how far they hit each iron.

Instead, create a chart and print it out.  Carry it with you in your notebook as your take notes on the course and create a quick reference chart to help you eliminate emotions or ego overtaking your club selection process.

How can you create your own chart?

Best Option: I would highly recommend a launch monitor!

These portable devices can be used at the driving range, golf course or set up in your home net or golf simulator.  These devices are game changers not only on being able to map your bag and know your distances, but they also provide quality feedback after on every shot and provide the following information:

  • Carry Distance
  • Spin Rate
  • Launch Angle
  • Spin Axis
  • Total Distance
  • Ball Speed

This information will help you map your bag, decide on which clubs are best for your game, develop a stock shot and much more.  I love using my SkyTrak 365 days a year in my golf simulator setup.

The process for mapping your bag can looking something like this:

  • Hit 5 shots with each club in your bag.
  • Log the carry distance and total distance for each shot.
  • Eliminate any outlier numbers (poor hits or low spin rates).
  • Take the average and create a map of your bag.

If you visit any PGA Tour event you will see plenty of golfers utilizing their launch monitors.  While most can’t afford a Trackman, there are some very affordable options in the 500-2000 dollar range.  I own the SkyTrak and think the world of it.  

Here are the top 3 options to check out:

Golf Approach Shot Strategy – Tip #4 – Stay Patient

Too many golfers get off to a slow start and then change their game plan while standing on the 3rd or 4th tee.  Instead, stay patient and let the round develop.  It is ok if you get off to a slow start, settle in, hit some quality shots and stay patient.  

Whether it is being too aggressive off the tee, being too aggressive with a pin location or trying a shot you haven’t practiced in a long time a golfer can find themselves in worse shape standing on the 6th or 7th tee if they change their plan and start making reckless decisions.

Golf Approach Shot Strategy – Tip #5 – Be Decisive

When a golfer hits a poor shot, they often automatically blame it on a poor swing, when it fact it could be from indecision while standing over the ball.  I have spent a lot of time recently listening to a Hal Sutton podcast and he is rather convincing about the importance of committing to a shot and playing with decision.  A lack of commitment to the shot can cause a poor swing.

Go through the process, select your club, stick to your routine and step up with confidence. . Give yourself a shot to actually produce the shot that you are planning on.  Manipulation in your swing because you fear a certain result or lack confidence that you can hit the shot will destroy a round of golf and a potential career.

The strategy on this hole is to actually aim over the middle of the bunker.

Final Thoughts: Golf Approach Shot Strategy

Don’t forget to have fun.  Are you playing golf to hit 1-2 great shots per round or do you play golf to shoot your best score possible?  If you are trying to score your best round, stay committed and follow the 5 tips above.  

Enjoy the challenge and the journey of trying to shoot a quality score and keeping the ball in play during the 18 holes of golf.  The putts will eventually fall and you will hit a close shot or two for hopefully a tap in birdie.  Stay patient, enjoy the journey and make quality decisions!

Take Action – What You Can Do Today to Get Better

What does this mean for you?  I believe in the following recipe to get better:

1 – Improve your motion in the golf swing by identifying a golf instructor.  Here are some options:

Here is a list of golf instructors that we have reviewed:

2 – Train to swing faster and improve your swing speed.  Here are some options:

Looking to gain more Speed and Distance in your swing. Two Options:

3 – Understand course strategy and work to break through your next barrier.  Here is a series on breaking through:

We have provided guides on how to break 100, 90, 80 and 70. Check out more below, if interested.

4 – Practice Frequently

Did you know that I build a golf simulator in my garage and have played over 500 rounds of golf on my SkyTrak system?  It has been a game changer and one worth checking out. Here are some of my other posts on golf simulators frequently asked questions:

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