Par for the course

I used to think that I wanted to birdie every hole! We all want to make birdies and I read (on here somewhere I think) that birdies are overrated. I don’t think they are overrated but I do think that everyone should be ok with par for most holes. In general if you can keep the ball in play then you have a good chance on making par on that hole. It may mean a good chip if you don’t hit the green on your approach or a good two putt from the other side of the green.

One of my strategies while playing is to try think par on every tee box. That gives me two shots on a par 3 to get close enough to make a putt, 3 shots on a par 4 etc. This mental strategy keeps me from firing at pins behind bunkers, and going for shots that I shouldn’t.

What is even better is when I hit one close or make a long putt a birdie allows me to have a bad hole coming up taking off the pressure! Does anyone else have this same point of view while playing? It may be hard for the golfers that are just starting out or really struggling with things but more so the people that can break 90. If you have a sound overall game, then think PAR!


Birdies are perhaps the most misunderstood parts of golf. Most PGA Tour professionals only average about 3-4 birdies a round. Scratch golfers only average approximately 1-2 per round. The key to their success in shooting lower scores is not making more birdies; it’s avoiding bogeys or worse.

My advice is not to start any hole with a score in mind. Commit to making smart strategic decisions that are independent of one another. For example, if you’re playing for birdie or par, and perhaps you made a mistake off the tee, trying to make up for your mistake is likely going to lead to a double bogey. Or if you are thinking about where the pin is on a hole while you’re hitting your tee shot, and chase an angle off the tee that brings more trouble into play, you’re not giving yourself the best opportunity to post the lowest score on the hole (again, bogeys).

I know that’s easier said than done (I’m not perfect at it) - but excellent expectation management and strategy pay is addressing the shot in front of you and trying to make the most optimal decision. Worrying about your score, or what will happen on the next shot tends to create problems.


The last three years I’ve played the same course probably 90% of my rounds. I’ve been keeping birdie/eagle stats along with all the other metrics I track. I’m a +1.9. I make 2.7 birdies per round.

What Jon said is right, most pros are making 3-4 per round. The reason for that is opportunity. These guys are smart and really really good. They know when to strike and know when to play for par. Most courses are only yielding about 7-8 real opportunities to play aggressive. Of course from time to time you’ll birdie a hole you had no business birdying. You bury that 60 footer. You chip in or hole out. Those happen. Most of the time, though you have to look at which holes you SHOULD play for birdy.

Knowing the odds, assessing the layout, pin position, elements - all of it is information. Knowing more in advance gives you a better chance to stand on the tee box and know ahead of time whether or not you’re going to be aggressive. Whether you can pick an aggressive line or not and will your miss put you in jail or still yield a good chance at par.

For amateurs like us maybe it seems like overkill to assess so much rather than grip it and rip it. But if you know true opportunity versus risk and potential blow up, I guarantee your scores will drop and you’ll make more birdies than if you’re just trying to birdie every hole.


I will definitely give some more thought on thinking about the process and the decision at hand! Like you said it is easier said than done sometimes and we are all guilty here and there. There are times when I feel like I need to ‘take my medicine’ chip back out onto the fairway and try my best to get on the green after a bad tee shot. I guess that is when I start thinking how can I make a par. But when you need to hit one close it can create bad decisions and then the bogey or worse comes into play pretty quick. -Make a good shot and focus on what is in front you you- That sounds like a good strategy.

It is not a habit of mine to think like this the whole round, but some days you are off a little and you have to take a lot of medicine haha. I break 80 on good rounds but I am trying to improve my game. I appreciate the insight from you guys!


My birdies come mostly on Par 3’s. If I birdie a par 4 is is usually with a chip in. With the way I hit the ball(hook) most of my pars come from up and downs. Played today with 3 pars and the only green I hit in regulation I three putted. My strategy is to hit Driver hopefully to the left side of the hole then aim at the trees on the right with a 7 iron then wedge to the green. How I score is dependent on how well I scramble. My best scrambling round was 11 one putts and a chip in for 24 putts and 11 over. My best months I have 1 birdie to every 10 pars.

you’re welcome, that’s what I was hoping to accomplish with this community - golfers learning from one another!

I think knowledge is great, but I never think of being “aggressive” of “conservative”. I try to do what @jon describes, to make the best choice for this shot, the choice that will yield the lowest score over the long term. My default is driver off the tee, unless there’s a specific reason not to hit driver, a narrowing of the fairway, cross-hazards, maybe terrain changes at driver distance. Driver isn’t necessarily “aggressive”, its simply the right choice, get as close to the hole as possible without taking on too much additional risk. I try to make the same evaluation for each shot, how do I make the best score (long-term) from right here. Sometimes the chip-out to the fairway IS the right choice to make the lowest score from “right here”, more aggressive choices will more often result in bigger problems and higher scores. I try not to let par or birdie get into the thought process.
I believe this is a part of the DECADE system, I know its part of the process described in Lowest Score Wins, both of which are rooted in the Strokes Gained analysis.

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Tiger’s best scoring year was when he changed his strategy to avoid bogey. He actually made no more birdies than normal but made fewer bogies. So the moral of the story is, forget about birdie and think how not to make bogey.


well said, Dave - I have an article I’m working on right this very second exploring this idea more


My dream round that I have yet to achieve in about 40 years of playing this game is 18 pars in a round. I am a true believer that course management is probably the single biggest factor in keeping the big numbers off the card. Risk / reward should be considered on just about every shot that is played during a round. Sometimes hitting to the center of the green to set up an easy two putt par is preferential over taking a chance and shooting at a tight pin where a slight miss brings bogey or even double into play.

I am on a current streak of 75 straight rounds of making at least 1 birdie during each round. My longest streak is 87 rounds. I would gladly break the streak or trade both of those long streaks for just one bogey-free round.


My swings are much more inconsistent now than when I was 20 and also shorter on distance, but my scoring now is similar (and with room for improvement) because of this type of strategy. I was trying to birdie every hole when I was a kid and putting myself in tough spots. These days I play the ball thats in front of me and try to make the best decision based on what I know of my shot dispersion. Has led to a bunch of pars, a few bogeyed, and very very little more than that. Even if I snap hook into the trees on a Par 5 these days, I’m still confident that the worst I’ll do is a bogey, where as the younger me would have blown up trying to hit a bunch of hero shots to still get the birdie.

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I love this perspective. A bogey free round is so impressive. I love watching MondayQ on twitter and his narration on what guys are doing in the qualifiers. Sometimes you get a guy with two days of bogey free golf and 62 for two days that miss the cut. It’s incredible some of the scores that are being posted by guys trying to get in on a Monday Q and are missing.

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As a pessimist i always play percentages so I’d rather avoid a double than chase a birdie.

My best round was a double free round vs my lowest ever score. Just that sense that you worked your way around the course and did everything expected of you.

Biggest thing i took (in Jon’s 101 mistakes book) is not to compound an error with an error by chasing.

Golf is a long game, plenty of time to recover a round!

I play a lot of WOLF or skins and have come to the realization that good golf strategy is good golf strategy. I’ve lost a few times even with the lowest score because birdies win holes, and that made me get overly aggressive for awhile until I realized that anecdotal evidence on a couple of rounds isn’t supported by the larger data set… Pars don’t always win holes and they usually push, but bogeys lose holes. I’m better off playing the best strategic golf possible, making pars, and letting the birdies happen when they do.

The biggest thing I’ve been working on is putting speed. Stop trying to hole every putt. Get it close enough to 2 putt, and take the 3 putt or the grinding 3-4 footers off the table, and it’s much more relaxing!

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I recently read Every Shot Counts, Broadie’s book about Strokes Gained. An interesting part of it dealt with putting strategy, and looked at Shotlink data from Tour pros. From short range, their putts averaged some distance past the hole. For longer putts, their distribution was clustered at just about hole distance. They’re not trying to run it 18 inches past coming from 30 feet out, they’re trying to stop it right at the hole. If you’re looking at 18 inches long, and miss that by 2 feet long, you’re looking at a 3-1/2 foot missable comeback. If you’re looking at the hole, and go 2 feet long, that finishing putt is a whole lot easier.


It’s funny… this tickled a nerve in my brain… I’m pretty sure the Simpsons have covered this exact topic. When Bart and Rod (? maybe Todd) are competing in mini golf, Rod talks about avoiding the high risk shot of going through the mechanical mouth and makes a hole in one going around the “hazard”. Or at least that’s how I remember it…

Realistically, it’s a simple concept. Put yourself into the best position possible to finish the hole.

In practice, it’s always a challenge for me. It’s harder to “play percentages” on one shot… and it’s really, really hard to separate results from process for me on the golf course.

I’m currently working hard to build a better process for myself (and understand my own strategy)… I think the DECADE system is probably a big help here, but one I don’t use… from there it’s actually trusting the process and implementing it!

The problem is, you still have to hit the golf shots… get on the green, make 2 putts… It’s more than just strategy, it’s actually putting all of it together and doing it on the course.

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I think one way of looking at strategy is every shot you hit has a pattern where the ball is likely to finish up. It’s a fairly big pattern. Every spot you end up in has an average number of shots to get in the hole. If you draw out the map then you can figure out which club and target gives you the lowest likely score. That’s what you should hit. It’s very unlikely that the likelihood is below par for most of us.

I think one thing people struggle to understand is golf scores are discrete. You make birdie, par, bogey, etc. You can’t make 4.87 on a hole. So when you’re in a spot that averages 3.85 to hole out and you hit it to a spot that takes 2.80 strokes to hole out, that shot gained 0.05 of a stroke. Every 20 times you do that you gain a stroke, but it’s really hard to see that incrementally. When it stands out to me is when I play with someone a couple of shots better than me. I’m a bit further behind them, I miss it by a few yards more. They chip it to 2 feet and I chip it to 4 feet. It’s like trying to run uphill. You’re always falling behind. Over time it adds up. Conversely when I play someone I’m a bit better than I feel in control. Normal variance is helping me and that feels much more like running downhill. I just have to keep going and those averages are pushing me along.

Incidentally - IMO DECADE is much more actionable than LSW.


Sound advice, it’s just what I was seeing in my head while reading it. :joy:

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I agree with everything in the bulk of your post. I haven’t tried DECADE, so I can’t compare, but I found LSW really clear, especially the “shades of gray” method of shot selection.

Best user name on the site by the way