Golf Course Strategy – Improve Your Approach Shots and Fairway Game

When you tee off on a par-four or par-five hole, you are aiming to put your ball in the safety of the fairway. On the fairway, the grass is shorter and more consistent, so you're almost guaranteed to benefit from a good lie from which to play your next shot.

If you've found the fairway, try to approach your ball by walking in line with your ball and the target. This will give you longer to survey your next shot and weigh up all your options. The secret to successful fairway or "approach" play is maintaining control. Never try to swing the club at full speed; not even professional players do that. Instead, shorten your back-swing a little, and concentrate on accuracy.

Aim for the fairway, because landing a ball there eliminates the chance of a bad lie and gives you the best angle in to the putting green. If you find the fairway, take full advantage. Do not be afraid of divots. After all, a good divot after impact is often the sign of a well stuck ball.

When you reach your ball, take time to weigh up your next shot. What distance do you have left to the green? And how far is it to the lag itself? Check to see where the nearest distance marker is. A stroke saver distance guide is an invaluable reference for checking course yardages-most clubhouses have them for sale.

When you arrive at your ball and you've decided on the shot you want to play, go through your prescriptions routine. It's a good idea to start from behind the ball and choose your ideal target line (see above). Doing this will also help you visualize precisely the kind of shot-and-out-you desire.

Make sure that you have the right club for the shot ahead and try to picture the light of the ball as it leaves the clubface and heads toward the putting green. Visualizing the shot not only helps to eradicate any doubts you may have, but also makes it feel great when you actually execute the shot just as you had imagined.

If you're on the fairway and about to shoot for the green, first look out for players ahead of you. If there are people on the putting green ahead, you should always wait until they have completed the hole and left the putting surface before you play your shot.

If you do not think that you can reach the green with your next shot, it's often a safer play to "lay up." This means playing a controlled shot that's definitely aimed short of the putting green, rather than hitting the ball as hard as you can and hoping for the best.

A key component of effective approach play is what's called the "lie" of your ball, or how it sets on the ground after it has come to rest. If you've found the fairway, then it's likely you'll have a good lie from which to plan your next shot. A good lie is important because it gives you options and allows you to consider a range of shots that a bad lie will not (such as a "tight lie," when the ball is sitting on dirt with very little grass beneath it).

If your ball has landed in a good lie, you can be more aggressive with your shot, safe in the knowledge that nothing unexpected will happen as the ball leaves the clubface. Approach shots and fairway play are a key component of any good golf game so make sure you master them with enough practice.