My Golf Instructor

Selecting a Target on the Green
When to Go For the Pin and When to Play it Safe

You've figured out your yardage and selected your club, so now what? You know how far it is to the pin, but should the pin really be your target?

Learn how to pick the perfect target on the green.Picking the Perfect Target
Golf would be much more simple if all we had to do was tee off and aim for the pin on every shot, but it's much more complex than that if you really want to go low. The pin is not always the idea target. That's right, I"m telling you not to aim for the pin. Well...in most cases that is. Just like you pick an ideal target in the fairway to land your drive (one that will give you a clear shot to the green), you need to pick the best target on the green.

Aiming at the Pin is Not Always Your Best Bet

Why wouldn't you just shoot for the pin? Many factors are at play that will help us answer that question:

  • What type of natural shot shape do you have? - For instance if your natural shot is a draw and the pin is tucked way to the left of the green with bunkers off the edge, do you want to shoot for the flag? If you over cook it or draw it too much then you are looking at a bunker shot to recover. The same holds true if you fade the ball. Would you actually aim into the bunkers in hopes of fading it back on the green? I would say that is definitely a shot reserved for only the most skilled players with dependable swings. If you don't know what your usual ball flight is because you are so inconsistent anyway, then I would recommend that you don't try to pull off any hero shots and play it safe.
  • What is the wind doing? - Making an accurate assessment of the wind is an important key when picking your target into the green. If you have a pin tucked to the right edge of the green and the wind is also blowing right, then common sense would tell you that you need to aim a target way left to off set the wind. If you also have a natural fade, then you have to factor that in as well. Rarely will you only have to make just one calculation when picking the best target.
  • Which way is the green sloping? - Some greens will have a severe slope from one side to the other or from front to back. Others will have multiple undulations that make picking the perfect target a challenge. Either way if you didn't get a practice round in and take good notes you need a good detailed yardage book or really good eyesight to figure out what the ball is going to do when it lands on various parts of the green. This is very difficult of course if you have an elevated green so a quick trip up to the green to survey the situation is a good recommendation if you've got the time.
  • What's your typical miss? - Not to think negatively, but if pressure is on or you are just having an off day, you need to know where you're likely to miss the ball and what lays on that side of the green. In most cases and I stress the word "most" the center of the green is always a safe bet. Unless the green has a huge ridge right in the middle, aiming the ball to the center gives you room to miss on either side of the pin and still have a putt for your next shot. This is a wise choice for the vast majority of golfers and can prevent you from getting lured by sucker pins (pins that are cut tight to trouble like bunkers, hazards and out of bounds). The most important thing is that you pick a pin that is appropriate for your skill level. You simply must know your capabilities and not try to be a hero and end up with a triple bogey when being conservative could have given you a bogey at worst.

The Situation:

You are try to figure out how to pick the best target on the green.

The Solution:

Know the factors listed above that will help you determine whether or not to go for the pin or just try to get it on the putting surface. Then follow the steps listed by our guest instructor Gideon Traub PGA Professional in the attached video:

1) Go through your pre shot routine.
2) Pick a target on the green.
3) Pick an intermediate target between your ball and your target on the green.
4) Aim the clubface first.
5) Line up your feet and shoulders.

Maria Palozola

Maria Palozola is a member of the LPGA and has participated in multiple LPGA Tour events. She has provided instruction to thousands of students in the past 20+ years and has won multiple teaching awards from the LPGA, Golf Digest, and Golf Magazine including being ranked as one of the top 50 female instructors in the world.

Who is Maria Palozola?
- Top 50 LPGA Instructors in the World
- A Golf Digest Top 10 Teacher in Illinois
- A Golf Magazine Top Teacher in the Midwest
- More about Maria
- Golf Questions
Golf instruction made simple
Golf Overview
Overall Game
- Getting Started
- Equipment
- Golf Fitness
- Junior Golf
- Mental Game
- Practice
- Rules of Golf
Short Game
- Bunkers
- Chipping
- Pitching
- Putting
Full Swing
- Pre-Swing Fundamentals
- Shot Making
- Diagnosing Problems
- Driving
- Hybrids and Woods
- Irons
Playing Golf
Ball Striking
- Fitness (78)
Basics
- Course Management (82)
- Getting Started in Golf (75)
- Practice (66)
Course Management
- Club Selection (66)
- Equipment (107)
Driving
- Driving (68)
Putting
- Putting (127)
Rules
- Golf Rules (69)
Short Game
- Bump and Run (72)
- Chipping (82)
Problems
Ball Striking
- Chunking (79)
- Distance Control (86)
- Fat Shots (92)
- Flipping (48)
- Poor Accuracy (118)
- Slicing (48)
- Thin Shots (85)
- Topped Shots (52)
Distance
- Lack of Distance (108)
Putting
- Putting Accuracy (72)
Swing Plane
- Blocking (50)
- Inside Out (56)
- Outside In (59)
- Over the Top (49)
- Pulling (54)
- Pushing (66)
- Releasing Early (47)
The Swing
Grip
- Grip (65)
Setup
- Alignment (55)
- Balance (50)
- Ball Position (80)
- Posture (77)
- Setup (117)
Swing Plane
- Backswing (84)
- Controlling Trajectory (47)
- Divot (48)
- Downswing (67)
- Impact (103)
- On Plane (85)
- Path (84)
- Power (71)
- Shaft Plane (63)
- Swing Plane (112)
- Weight Shift (79)