To Golf For It Or To Lay Up: How To Score On Short Par 4s

Almost every course has it. A chance to make birdie with a well struck driver or 3 wood, drivable par 4s present you with an important decision off of the tee: To go for it, or to lay up? Choosing an iron off the tee for shorter par 4s is a safe way to get away with par, as you’re generally left with a short wedge in and a good chance at a green in regulation. But what if you want to take advantage of a scoring opportunity and make birdie, or better yet, eagle?Let’s look at the pros.

In recent years, nearly the entire field at PGA events will go for the green on a drivable par 4s. Why? Because from 20-50 yards, pros generally hit their shot between 9 and 12 feet. From 75 to 100 yards, pros hit their shot to 20 feet on average. The make percentages on those subsequent putts are 30% (10-15 feet) and 18% (15-20 feet). By having a shorter approach to the green, pros will have on average, a 12% better chance at making birdie. The closer you are to the hole, the closer you will hit your next shot. This is true for all golfers, even high handicaps. It is why over the years; players have chosen the aggressive route more often on short par 4s.

The 10th hole at Riviera is a great example. In 2004, 64% of the field chose laying up off the tee, whereas in 2022, only 3% of golfers did not go for the green. A a result, the scoring average on the hole went down. Similar strategies will be seen at the 2023 U.S. Open, where the 6th hole gives players a chance to be on or around the green with a well struck 3-wood. The pros will take advantage of this shorter 4 despite the bunkers surrounding the green. Taking the aggressive approach will be paramount to those looking to contend for the championship, as scoring opportunities are few and far between on such a difficult course.

But that is what the best players in the world do, and not always what an average golfer should do as well. Playing a reliable iron shot off the tee into the fairway will relieve any stress of getting hung-up in any hazards if you are having a poor driving day. If you feel confident with your long game however, attacking the green will leave you a better chance, on average, of making birdie- regardless of you playing ability.

Next time you approach the tee on a short par 4, think about scoring statistics. To make at least a par, you only need 1 good shot when going for the green- that is, the tee shot. If you place your tee shot within a 20 yard radius of the green you have room for error in not making the up and down. If you lay-up, you will need 2 good shots- off the tee into the fairway, and either a good approach shot on the green, or a good up and down if you miss the green. Regardless of your playing ability, a short par 4 is a great chance to get aggressive and make birdie.


Golf Digest. ‘The Smart Scoring Hack Pros Use on Drivable Par 4s | The Game Plan | Golf Digest.’ YouTube, uploaded by Golf Digest, 12 June 2023, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sP_Vniqo8tM.

Come see for yourself.