By Paul Myers
When Jimmy Walker made his way to the 18th tee at Baltusrol in the final round of the PGA Championship, he knew that a par would be good enough to win. The 18th is a reasonably short par five (by professional standards), meaning a par would usually be no problem at all for one of the best players in the world. Of course, this was hardly a usual circumstance, and there was a ton of pressure on Walker’s shoulders as he decided how to play the hole.
Wisely, Walker played an iron from the tee to put the ball in play. With that shot out of the way, the next task was deciding what to do about the second shot. Should he lay it up, only needing a par? Or should he go for the green? In the end, Walker took a lash at the green with a three wood. While the shot missed to the right of the target, he was left with a chip on and two putts for the title – which he handled like a champion.
Watching this event play out highlighted the importance of making the right choice when hitting your second shot on a par five. A good drive will often leave you right on the edge of the ‘go zone’ in terms of going for the green in two or laying up with your second. When trying to make that tough choice, consider the points below.
Have to Make Par
Much like Jimmy Walker, you should always be trying to make at least a par on every par five. Sure, you would love to make a birdie or even an eagle, but you first need to lock up your par as securely as possible. That means, for the purposes of this decision, that you need to be safe and avoid any spots that could lead to bogey or worse. Is the green guarded by a lake or out of bounds stakes? If so, you should probably lay up and position yourself for an easy third.
Match Your Shape
You don’t want to be trying to hit a shot that you aren’t comfortable with when going for the green in two. If the shape of the hole matches your natural ball flight, go ahead and give it a shot. Otherwise, a lay up is the prudent and responsible play.
If you are playing in a competition, you should consider the circumstances of that competition when making up your mind. If you need a birdie or eagle to make a comeback late in the round, going for the green might be the best bet. However, if you are in the lead and need to keep making pars to assure a victory, your emphasis should be on keeping the ball in play as safely as possible.
Zach Johnson famously laid up on all of the par fives at Augusta National on his way to winning the Green Jacket. Why? Because Johnson is a player with a tremendous wedge game, and he lacks the distance of many of his competitors. Instead of trying to be something he isn’t, Johnson knew that a conservative strategy would benefit him in the long run, and he executed it to perfection.