In this article let’s take a look at 7 simple strategies that pros often use to help them score birdie in golf. Although every course and every golfer is unique, these general strategies will give you an idea how pros attach a golf course.
7 Birdie Strategies Pros Use in Golf
#1 – Going For the Green Under Regulation
Hitting a green in regulation means that the golfer leaves himself two putts to make par. This first strategy takes it a step forward by trying to get the ball on the green while leaving two putts to make birdie. This strategy takes elite length on shots, and therefore is usually used by the group of golfers who can hit the ball the longest.
This strategy can only be used on par 4’s and par 5’s (because on a par 3 hitting the green with you first shot is expected). So on a par 4, let’s remember that the number of strokes for birdie would be 3. And so under this strategy, if a golfer is attempting to leave himself the ability to two-putt and still make birdie, that means he will need to hit the ball on the green with his first shot to properly execute this strategy.
But there aren’t a lot of drivable par 4’s on the PGA Tour. The par 4’s that are actually drivable usually have small greens that have a lot of slope to them. They will either be surrounded by bunkers or water to make going for the green a risky decision. These types of holes can be some of the most exciting holes in all of golf.
Professional golfers who are attempting to drive the green on short par 4’s will be very mindful of where the hole is cut on the green, knowing that if they miss the green they will want to leave themselves a chance to still get up and down to make birdie. (My article explaining in detail what is an up and down in golf.)
For example, if the hole is on the right side of the green, they will play a shot where if they miss, they miss (hopefully) to the left of the green (because they want to leave themselves plenty of green space between their ball and the hole so they have room to execute and stop a shot). Sometimes, if a bunker is nearby, they are comfortable missing into the bunker.
To reach a par 5 in regulation a golfer must reach the green with his third stroke, so under this strategy golfers are trying to reach the green in two shots. For the long hitters on the PGA Tour, almost every par 5 can be reached in two shots as long as they hit their tee shot in the fairway.
Just like the drivable par 4’s we discussed above, par 5 greens will usually be small greens with a lot of slope. Missing the green on a second shot can be a very bad miss for a golfer if they miss in the wrong spots. So going at the green with a second shot (to reach the green under regulation) does carry risk.
The shorter hitters who can still get to the green in two shots will hit driver off the tee and some type of fairway metal for their second shot. These types of players absolutely have to hit the fairway with their tee shots or they will be forced to layup.
The longer hitters, depending on the length of the hole, might choose to hit less than driver off the tee for accuracy. They will choose to do this because they can still get to the green in two shots without having to hit driver and will want to give themselves a greater chance to hit the fairway off the tee.
Most of the time though, even the long hitters will hit driver and then use an iron or fairway metal on their second shot. These longer hitters will have a big advantage because they will hitting their second shots will a shorter club, which will allow them to be more accurate.
#2 – Using the Slope of the Green
Professional golfers will know every detail of each green on the course. They will play practice rounds before the tournament and will also rely on their yardage book notes to remind them of the nuances of each green. One of the most important details they will know are the slopes of each green.
When holes are cut near slopes, golfers will use those slopes to get the ball close to the hole. By using the slope, it gives the professional golfer a larger landing area to hit. Instead of just having a small landing area around the hole, professional golfers will hit the ball into the slope of the green knowing that the slope will take the ball back to the hole.
One such example is when the hole is cut near the front of the green with a slope right behind it that slopes back down towards the hole. Often times, golfers will refer to this type of a slope as a “back stop”.
In these situations, it is tough to get the ball close to the hole if you don’t use the back stop behind the hole (because the hole is so close to the front of the green there is not a lot of natural landing area unless you use the back stop). If a golfer chose to not use the backstop, they’d only have a tiny small landing area right around the hole.
Using the backstop as an addition to this landing zone allows golfers to increase the landing area and gives them a better chance at executing the shot and sticking the ball close for birdie. Under this strategy, professionals will hit the ball into that back stop slope behind the hole, and let gravity pull the ball back down to the hole.
The great thing about using the slope is it is designed to help no matter what part of the slope you land it on. What I mean is this: if you hit it at the bottom of the slope, it won’t roll back that far but you won’t need it to as it is already close to the hole. If you land it closer to the top of the slope, it will roll back farther which is what you need because it landed farther away from the hole.
So if a hole is cut anywhere near a slope on any part of the green, professional golfers can use that slope as a sort of back stop to help them get their approach shots to stop closer to the hole, increasing their chances of making birdie.
#3 – Shaping the Ball on Approach Shots
If there isn’t a slope that a professional golfer can use to get the ball close to the hole, they will often use a certain shot shape to get the ball to curve to the hole. For example, if the hole is cut on the right side of a green, right-handed professional golfers will hit a cut (a shot shape that curves from left to right) to get the ball close to the pin.
They do this for a few reasons. The first reason is it gives the golfer a lot more room for error. They can aim for the middle of the green where the ball would land on the left side of the hole. They know that if they over cut the ball a little bit, instead of landing just to the left of the pin it will land on the right side of the pin (which still will likely end on the green, so risk is low). And likewise, if the shot doesn’t cut as much as intended and lands farther to the left, it will still be safe but just stop a few more feet away from the pin.
The next reason why a golfer will want to use a certain shot shape to get the ball close to the hole is once the ball hits the green it will roll in the direction that the shot shape is. So if the ball is curving from left to right, once the ball lands on the green it will roll from left to right on the green.
This allows a golfer to aim for the bigger part of the green and shape the ball to roll out back to the hole. This is important because it reduces the risk of missing the green while also allowing a golfer to get close enough for birdie.
Professional golfers will also try to shape shots when there is a lot of wind. Most of the time, professional golfers will want to hit the shot shape that will be going into the wind (also known as holding the ball into the wind) because the shot shape can counteract the effect of the wind and overall the ball will go straight and hopefully increase their chances of sticking it close to the hole for birdie.
Shot shapes are an advanced method used by professionals to find small ways to increase their chances of getting the ball close to the hole on their approach shots. This ultimately will increase the amount of birdie chances they have over the course of 18 holes.
#4 – Using Spin to Get the Ball Close to the Hole
Professional golfers are very adept at controlling how much spin they put on the golf ball to get the ball close to the hole. Most of the time, professional golfers use back spin to get the ball to spin back to the hole.
One situation they like to use spin is when the hole is cut just past a hazard, for example a bunker. Professional golfers don’t want to risk coming up short and leaving their approach shot in the bunker, so by using spin they can hit the ball past the hole, reducing the risk of the bunker, and because of the backspin, can still get the ball to finish close to the hole. This allows them to make plays at birdie even on holes where the hole is cut just past a hazard.
Professional golfers like to be able to control how the ball is going to react on the green. By putting backspin on the ball, they have control on how it will react.
Professional golfers know (by how hard they swing) how much spin they are putting on the ball and so they can control how far the ball will spin back. This gives a professional golfer more control on where the ball will end up versus if they don’t use any spin and have to guess how it will react once it hits the green.
#5 – Hitting the Ball Very High
Professional golfers can hit the ball extremely high. This allows them to be able to get the ball to stop very quickly and have very little run-out. This allows golfers to hit the ball close to the hole in the air and know that it will stay there (giving them quality looks for birdie).
They also don’t have to try and land the ball short of the hole and rely on the ball to run up close to the hole. Since professional golfers play on greens that are hard and fast, being able to hit the ball high and stop quickly is very important.
This also allows professional golfers to be able to hit the ball to certain areas on the green that average golfers can’t because the professionals can hit the ball high enough to get it to stop in those areas (and most average golfers can’t).
During PGA Tour events, often times the hole will be placed behind hazards or close to the edges of greens. If professionals couldn’t get the ball to stop quickly, they wouldn’t be able to get the ball close to these hole positions (which would reduce the amount of quality birdie opportunities they have over the course of a round of golf).
#6 – Consistent Distance Control
Professional golfers are really good at being able to hit the ball exact distances. They practice with many golf monitoring systems that give them feedback on distances of each shot they hit.
This allows them to be able to dial in exact distances for each club in their bag. These tools also give them the ability to practice three-quarter shots or shots that aren’t a full swing.
When a professional golfer is out on the course, they can confidently know exactly how to hit every yardage they encounter to increase their chances of getting the ball close to the hole for birdie.
To enhance their ability, golfers will purposely hit distances off the tee to setup their second shot to be a full-swing distance. So when you see professional golfers hitting less than driver off the tee, they do this not only to be more accurate but to also leave them with a full shot into the green (full shots are easier to execute and they want that comfort so that they can stick an approach shot close).
During practice rounds on a course, professional golfers will learn how they want to play each hole and what yardages they want for each approach shot. This is how they determine exactly what club they want to hit off each tee.
Also, on par 5’s where they have to layup, they will hit their second shot a certain distance to leave themselves will a full club into the green for their third shot. This is also why golfers on short par 4’s will either try to drive the green or lay back over 100 yards so that they either reach the green, or have a full wedge into the green.
#7 – Green Reading and Yardage Books
Finally, professional golfers make birdies by being really good at reading greens. Reading greens is a skill that professional golfers build up over time.
They learn to be able to read how much slope will cause a putt to break, how much the grain of the grass will alter the line, and how fast the greens are running. This allows them to determine how fast they will need to hit the putt.
Professional golfers don’t know where the rules officials will put the hole locations during the four rounds of the tournament, but they can guess the most likely locations and practice putting in those areas. Tournaments will likely choose hole locations that they have used in previous tournaments held at the course, so experience at the course will help a golfer.
The yardage books that professional golfers have also gives them the general slopes of each green on the course. Professional golfers will also keep notes on how much putts break based on past experiences.
Being able to rely on yardage books and past experiences can be a great advantage to the golfers who have played these courses multiple times. Also, different types of grasses that make up the green’s surface come into play when trying to read greens.
The type of grass, grain, and the direction the grass grows, will all have an impact on which way the ball breaks. Also, depending on the different grass types, the grain can change throughout the day. Some types of grasses don’t hold up well over the course of a day and become harder to putt on later in the day.
Professional golfers who have more experience putting on these types of greens will usually have better results. The most common attribute of the best putters in the world are those who are great at reading the speed of putts. Professional golfer’s number one priority is hitting the putt the correct speed, then making sure the line is right.
**If you are new to the game of golf and want to do a deep dive on the rules, here is a link to the USGA pdf version of the rules.