One of the hardest aspects of golf is not the physical challenge, but the mental challenge and within this mental challenge is the need to be able to manage oneself on the golf course, both with shot choice and character. A well-used phrase in course management is “play the percentages”, but what does this mean? Well it can mean exactly what it says, play the percentages, take the shot that offers the safest option, but for a high handicapper or an inconsistent ball-striker this may seem like a bad ploy, but it is not. What is bad is taking the phrase on face-value, percentage golf should be adopted for the vast majority of shots and in doing so you should see scores reducing.
But we need to look at what a percentage shot is; I will use an example of a golfer that receives two shots on a par 3; The par three measures 150 metres, in range for the golfer in question. To the right, there are 3 pot bunkers. To the left a steep slope which leads to a hollow in the fairway. To the rear water. Anything short will leave a simple chip onto the green. On this particular day, the golfer has 142 metres to the flag, which is located to the right and in the middle of the green, there is a gentle left to right breeze. The golfer has a natural left to right shape and decides that with their 6-iron can reach the green, offering up a chance of a par.
In this case, what is the percentage play?
You may think that if the golfer aims at the left edge of the large green and hits their stock shot that this is the percentage play, but I would have to disagree because the worst of the trouble is to the right of the green, especially as the golfer in question hates bunkers and the wind will accentuate any side spin applied to the golf ball. So, for this particular example the percentage play would be to hit a 9-iron short of the green and the bunkers to the right, leaving a straightforward putt or chip onto the green, leaving a very good chance of finishing the hole with a score of 4. Even if the golfer hits a poor 9-iron they will not be in any trouble, leaving the same shot as they would have had they hit a good 9-iron.
Alter slightly the wind direction, now coming from the right and the percentage play would indeed be a 6-iron played to the left edge of the green. A solid shot will result in the ball landing on the left half of the green, a slightly less than solid shot will find the front right portion of the green, leaving a good chance of a two-putt par. Percentage golf is misunderstood and is rarely the obvious shot.