Playing for center of green can pay dividends

My good friend Ken Moss, who recently succumbed to cancer, used to offer some valuable advice to golfers when he was working as the teaching pro at a resort in Costa Rica where I also worked: “Aim for the center of the greens.”

During most playing lessons, he would always start off by saying that the best way to lower scores was hitting more greens. Then he would talk about using green, yellow and red pin placements to designate a strategy to accomplish this goal and avoid some of the high numbers that always seem to crop up.

Moss would advice that the only time to take “dead aim” like the legendary coach Harvey Penick preached was when faced with a green light placement where the pin was located near the center with almost equal room on either side.

When faced with a yellow light placement where the pin was slightly favoring one side or the front or back of the green, Moss would advise to aim for the center of the green.

When faced with a red light placement with the pins on the edges, Moss would recommend playing to the center or to the wider side, depending on your lag putting rather than chipping to save par.

Moss would also preach that players should learn the true distances with their approach shot “Just because you can hit an 8-iron 150 yards doesn’t mean you can do it every time,” he would say. Then he would recommend that during the lesson that they consider hitting one more club than they usually did and maybe even two or more if they were playing uphill or hitting into the wind.

Touring professionals report that the biggest mistakes they see when playing in pro-ams is that the amateurs never seem to get their approach shots to the green. It could be egos getting in the way.

Playing in a member-guest once, my partner seemed to be having this problem. On the 17th hole, I told a little white lie, adding 15 yards to the distance needed on the par 3. So he hit more club and made a hole-in-one, winning a new auto. Of course, I never told him about my yardage mistake.

After attending a Fuzzy Zoellar event in Indiana a few years ago, I also recall hearing Nick Price talking about how he and most of the other pros back in his days on the regular tour used a more conservative plan of attack when faced with sucker (red) pin placements, but added this wasn’t the case for Greg Norman.

“He was more of a gunslinger and would attack pins no matter where they were located,” Price mentioned in an after dinner conversation and a few Corona beers.. “He was usually really accurate, but some times would end short siding himself and have an impossible task of getting up and down.”

Reading the last issue of Golf Digest, it was also interesting to see two completely different approaches to playing par 3s. Mancil Davis, the King of Aces with more than 50, advised to “aim for the pin” while noted teacher Hank Haney recommended a more conservative approach like the one Moss did. Davis’ suggestion might produce more aces, but Haney’s might be better in the long run on the scorecard total. Haney also thought players should use a tee, just off the gr4ound for irons and about half inch high for hybrids, while Davis thought hitting off the turf was better.

During the 1959 U.S. Open at Winged Foot, eventual winner Billy CAsper used a conservative approach on the 216-yard third hole, featuring a narrow green surrounded by bunkers. He used 5-iron to play short of the green and relied on his chipping skills to record pars all four days.

One added suggestion from me about following Moss’ advice if you are playing to greens where the backs are higher than the fronts–play to the short side as those downhill putts are no bargain no matter how good a putter you are.

Put Moss’ playing philosophy and tips into play for your next few rounds and see if you do not hit more greens and cut off a few strokes.

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