How do you know which shot to play – and when?

Shot selection is a fundamental element of the short game. How often are you selecting the right shot at the right time? 

For the vast majority of golfers, statistically, the most important shot on most holes isn’t necessarily the tee shot or approach shot but the third shot. That might come as a bit of a surprise when all we seem to hear and talk about is distance, but the reality is that your third shot will, more often than not, be the one that can either make or break your score. This is where you can really make a difference to your scoring and enjoyment of the game but it is sadly overlooked.  

Third shots can be crucial when it comes to the momentum of a round. They can either stop you dead in your tracks or allow you to keep a good round going. 

If you miss the fairway off the tee, you can generally get your ball back into play with your second shot. Once you get your second shot back into play and hopefully somewhere around the green or at least within striking distance of it, now is the time you can get back on track with a good third shot. 

It sounds pretty straightforward but you can only really make a difference here IF you have put your errant tee shot or second shot to the back of your mind. We’re not going to preach about the power of positive thinking because it can and will let you down. You can venture out on the course with the best of intentions, telling yourself that you will have a good day today. You will hit booming drive after booming drive. You will hit every green in regulation, and you will hole every putt you look at. Sounds great until reality kicks in and the chaos descends. As the former world heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson famously said: ‘Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth!” 

You miss the first fairway. You miss the green with your approach shot. You duff your first chip. You knock the next one forty feet past the hole. You finish off with a three putt. Within the space of 10 minutes, your positive attitude has left you, never to be seen again, replaced with the polar opposite, a totally negative one.  

There is no middle ground here and the journey back from negativity is a long, arduous and exhausting one. You cannot be a little bit positive. It’s akin to being pregnant: you either are or you aren’t. 

We’re not saying you should adopt a negative mindset, far from it. A positive mindset is always preferable, but rather than think positively, we would encourage you to ask positive questions. Questions focus the mind and keep you grounded in the present. 

Rather than saying I will do this or I will do that, why not try a slightly different approach?  

When assessing any and every shot, ask yourself: what is the shot here? what does the ball have to do? is it possible that I could play a really good shot here? what does a really good shot look like? what does a really good shot feel and sound like? 

By asking these questions, we go into problem solving mode. As human beings, we have come a long way since living in caves and hunting down lunch as a result of asking good questions about how we are going to solve a particular problem, coming up with a good answer, formulating a plan and then executing it. 

Taken from The Lost Art of the Short Game by Gary Nicol and Karl Morris – with a foreword from Bob Vokey, the godfather of wedges.

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