There was a lengthy discussion today on Twitter about this question: “Does the par of the hole have any influence over your decision making?” This was basically a teaser question intended to start a discussion about how players value par vs. how they value a single stroke. For years, I have preached to my players that the each shot has a value of one and that a 4 on a par three has the same value as a 4 on a par 5. In both cases, it is 4 strokes out of your total. Yes, one is a birdie and one is a bogey and the internal belief system we place on those words will effect us mentally.
I urge you to try and break out of that belief system. A 235 yard shot to a green surrounded by trouble is the same shot if it’s a par 5 or a par 4. Each of us has to decide what should I do to give me the best chance to shoot the lowest score possible. If you think you should lay up on the par 5 than you should lay up on the par 4. The only reason you would lay up is because you believe it provides you the best opportunity to shoot the lowest score on that hole. If you lay up on the par 5 and go for it on the par 4, you are not valuing your shots equally. You are valuing your shots based on the par of the hole you are playing which I don’t believe is a good idea.
Would the situation change if there was no such thing as par and at the end of the day you turned in your scorecard with just the total on it. Looking back on that shot from 235, does it look different now? In both cases, it is a shot from 235 yards with trouble all around. The par of the hole does not change that. Your attitude toward that shot does change because of the par.
I am not an advocate for always going for the par 5 in two even though going for it is a leading indicator of lower scores on the PGA Tour. All I am saying is don’t let par make your decision for you. Look at the bigger picture and see how this situation fits into the round as a whole.
Here’s a little skills test (made up by me @golfdonaldson and @jasonhelmanpga)to see if your skills are good enough to go for it. Take 10 shots from 100 yards from a green. Measure the distance each shot is from the pin and total the distances to get one number. Next take 10 more shots to the same green from 235 yards away. Go to where each of those shots landed and hit it again. Could be a putt, chip or pitch. Determine your distance away from the hole for each set of 2 shots and total the distances from all sets of 2 to get one number.
Compare the numbers. Which one gets you closer to the hole? Make sure you do it to greens with different severities of difficulty so you have more confidence in whichever decision you make on the course when the situation arises. I think it is a great skills test and be sure to include different starting distances from the hole to see how they compare.