Adjusted Targets

Adjusted Targets

I would consider this simple idea one of the most basic in course strategy. Yet, the more I coach, the more I am amazed at how even some of the more elite players don’t understand (or, at least, don’t use) this. This idea could save you an incredible number of shots per round.

The strategy concept I am talking about refers to where your intended target is.


What Is Your Target?

Take a look at the below scenario. What is your target?

water right 1

This is what we would describe as a ‘sucker pin’. If you have poor course management, it is likely that you will answer this question by saying “The flag”. But in most cases, this is the worst target you can have. It is often too aggressive a strategy to allow for consistently good golf.

As humans, we have a great deal of variability. This is true even with elite players – no one hits the ball where they aim every time. As a result, our shot patterns will have a certain spread – some missing to the right of our intended target, and some missing more to the left. Great players know and understand this, poorer players continue firing at the flag as if they are holding a sniper rifle instead of a golf club.
It may offer more birdie chances if your game is firing on all cylinders, but if you are playing average golf (which, by definition, you are more likely to be playing), it will cost you more shots than it earns.

You have to be realistic about what is achievable with your shots. Even a top professional golfer averages around about 10 yards away from the flag with their approach shots. This could be 10 yards left or right, giving a 20-yard circle. So even the top guys don’t hit their target all the time, they just get ‘around’ their target more often.

For this reason, you should think in terms of a shotgun-like pattern, spread either side of your intended target. Below is the same flag, with a 20-yard shot spread overlayed.

So we can see, if the player aims at the pin, shots landing in the green zone may be birdie opportunities, shots landing in the yellow zone will be certain pars, but shots landing in the red zone will produce a one-shot penalty plus the cost of getting up and down – essentially 1.5 shots lost (if your up and down rate is 50%) .



By going aggressively at the flag like this, a player believes that they are going to make more birdies. But even for a top professional golfer, if they manage to pull off a great shot and knock it to 7 feet, there is still only a 50/50 chance they will hole the putt (based on tour statistics); a shot in the water costs them a whole shot and a half.

The risk outweighs the reward.

Think In Terms Of 100 Shots

Imagine playing this hole 100 times. If you were to hit 1/3 of the shots in the water, it would cost you 50 penalty shots – 33 shots X 1.5 in penalties (from the drop and the 50% up and down rate).

And the reward? The one-third of your shots which landed on the green area may produce some birdie opportunities – but when you consider that the average player is not going to hole many of those putts for birdie (even if they are around 10 feet from the pin), the reward is too small.

If 33 shots out of 100 land in the green zone, they may average 10 foot from the pin. But the tour statistics shows that, from 10 feet, professional golfers only hole about 40% of them. Essentially, you will earn back 13 shots.


Against All Odds

The math doesn’t add up, and on average you will end up worse off.

Essentially, each time you play the hole with this strategy, it will cost you 0.5 shots from penalties, and save you 0.13 shots with birdies. You are now 0.37 shots down, which doesn’t sound a lot, but do it 18 times and you might see why your handicap is high.

Yet people continue to use this strategy because they chase some kind of idea that this is what the pro’s do. Yet, often times when you see a professional stiff it close when the pin is positioned like this, it is either due to them being on their best form that week – or it is simply a mistake.

Professional golfers do not play this strategy all the time. People also hold on to the memory of the times when they have succeeded with this strategy and made a birdie, and then continue to play this strategy with no awareness of risk/reward or appropriateness (believe it or not, there are some times when this mentality is beneficial).


A Better Option

Now let’s overlay a more appropriate strategy onto the green.
safe strategy

In the above picture, our target is to the left of the flag (the centre of the green), taking the water out of play (barring anomalous poor shots).

What a difference this makes! Now, if we hit a good shot and hit our target (green zone), it is a certain par. If we double cross and miss further left, this may produce a longer putt and we may 3 putt a small percentage. However, the old ‘miss’ to the right (red zone) which produced a water ball, now becomes a birdie opportunity.

Mathematically, if a yellow zone shot costs us 0.1 shots (we 3 putt 10% of the time), and a red zone shot creates a 40% birdie chance (saving us 0.4 shots each time we play), we now end up 0.3 shots better each time we play this hole.

Compared to aiming at the pin, that is a whole 0.43 shots better.

That could be a whole lotta shots saved per round.

Take Home Lesson

Sure, aiming away from the flag is not the most exciting way to play, but your scorecard will thank you.

You can still make birdies aiming away from the flagstick

In Next Level Golf, I teach a system for improving your course management that is unlike anything you have seen before.

By quantifying your shot patterns (using my unique quantification method), you can build your own personalised strategy, allowing you to shoot lower scores without improving your swing.

Next level golf also explores technique, drills, psychology, motor learning, training and much more. Click the image link below to learn more.

And while improving your strategy is one of the

And while improving your strategy is one of the quickest and easiest ways to lower your scores, the best players in the world combine great strategy with exceptional ball-striking skills.

My online program, The Strike Plan, has sold to thousands of golfers worldwide – and is helping them lower their scores through

  • increased driver distance
  • more consistent and pro-quality strikes
  • tighter dispersion patterns and more greens hit

If you want to learn more about The Strike Plan, click the image link below.


  • Bryan Baz

    absolutely correct, and still it's amazing how hard it is to play away from pins sometimes. for me sometimes it's a concern i'll be on the green but far enough away that a 3-putt is a possibility.

  • admin

    True Bryan, course management can get far more complex than this, when you take into account a player's up and down rates from different situations. However, in general, even the top professionals perform better with a long lag putt, than they do with a water ball. Not to mention, a water ball usually results in more than just one dropped shot, as they then have to get the next shot up and down. Add to that the fact that, a player who generally three putts a lot will not be the type of player to take advantage of birdie chances when they arise. This all translates into a safer strategy overall.

  • admin

    the only real times that a more aggressive strategy can work is when a player has a combination of a small dispersion pattern (shot circle), a great short game from 15 yards from the rough, and an excellent hole out rate from 5-8 feet. There are very few players in the world who come under this category though. Would be interested in hearing your thoughts further.

  • Tom Duncan

    Hi Adam,
    You made a very interesting and true point about amateurs who think that the Tour boys always attack this type of pin.And as we know thats not true, Its playing the percentages and if the lucky shot come off, then be it.
    I played all my career, amateur and Professional with a strong draw, but that didnt stop me from holding my own (as they say)..Talk soon…Tom

  • Gary Gladwin

    This reminded me of the shot that Jerry Pate played on the last hole of the 1976 US Open (see here: Why did he take such a risk? After the round he told the truth: he was aiming at the middle of the green and mishit it coming out of the rough!

  • Jim

    Great article and aligns with Scott Fawcett’s Decade approach. On an early blog post he basically said: send it with driver unless penalty for driver miss is too costly; aim for middle of green from over 100 yds; under 100 to 50 aim between pin and middle. Take out of play any shot that might cause a double. No heroics. Dull but better scores.

    • admin

      Yes, it’s amazing how similar our approaches are, using math to determine aim points. This article was actually written in 2012 before I knew Scott – it’s amazing how people can converge on similar ideas separately. He has done a great job at promoting math and strategy.

  • Steve

    This is true for a right hander. A left handers dispersion pattern is more likely to be skewed further left (as a fade). So a left hander could, arguably, aim more aggressively on this green compared with a right hander. Probably still not at the flag, but somewhere closer to the flag than the right hander.

    For me (a right hander, who predominantly hits fades and rarely pulls the ball), if the flag (and water) were over on the left hand side i’d be very comfortable going right at the flag, and probably would end up middle ish. But if the flag (and water) are as per the image, i’d probably play it exactly as if it was the other way around, i.e. start on the left edge and likely end up somewhere middle.

    A great example of this thinking is the 12th at Augusta…

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