A golf lay up is not quite as easy a layup in basketball. In fact, they are some of the most difficult shots on the course.
Not to mention, you need to figure out on tee shots if you should lay up or not. Luckily Shot Scope and other studies have made it clear if amateur golfers should or shouldn’t lay up. Learn how to improve your approach shots and average proximity for birdie in this article.
Laying Up in Golf
First off, what is laying up in golf?
Laying up is a golf term that refers to intentionally not going for a green. For example, let’s say you have 220 yards left for your second shot into a par 5. But there is a lot of trouble (like a water hazard) so you decide to hit a shorter club and then a wedge on the green.
Your second shot is your “lay up” as you hit a club that will leave you a good distance for your third shot. Typically, golfers try to leave their shot at a good distance for a full club. Or, a club they feel confident hitting into the green.
Expanding on our example, let’s say you want to leave yourself with 100 yards to the hole. 220 – 100 = 120 so you want a club that goes about 120 yards for a good third shot.
- A golf lay up in golf is a strategy to try and score lower by playing less aggressively.
- Laying up isn’t as good of a strategy as some might think depending on the lie, distance, and skill level.
- Laying up refers to intentionally not trying to get on a green in 2 or 3 shots based on the terrain of the hole.
Keep reading to learn when you should lay up and when statistically, it’s a bad strategy.
Approach Shot Strategy
If you’re like most golfers chances are you’ve asked, “Should you lay up in golf?”
It’s a great question because playing better golf often results from making better decisions. Old school golfers think it’s the right move for a lot of the time and is the “safer” play. But with so much data thanks to golf apps and PGA Tour data provided by ShotLink, laying up might not be the best strategy.
Don’t get me wrong, traditional old-school golf advice makes sense. Lay up to a distance so you have an easy club into the green from a distance you like (typically a full LW or SW). But Golf.com and Golftec have debunked this theory. As did Shot Scope, so let’s see why a lay up shot might hurt your score.
Shot Scope Data for the Average golfer
According to Shot Scope, “The stats tell us that on average, the closer a golfer is to the hole, the closer they hit the shot. The average proximity from a 110y shot on the fairway is 64 ft, versus 35 ft from a 50y shot.”
Shot Scope found that laying up is a poor strategy because you will lose about a half shot per par 5!
Why You Should Quit Laying Up
If you look at approach shot proximity from Tour level to 100s, it shows that the closer the distance, the closer the proximity. Case in point… 25 yards vs. 75 yards based on the stats collected in this Golf.com article.
From 25 yards, an 80s player will average about four feet to the hole. But from 75 yards (a “perfect” distance for a lot of players) the average is eight feet. That might not sound like a lot but it is when you compare it with the PGA Tour averages on the greens.
From four feet, the PGA Tour average is about 92% make rate. While the eight-foot average is about 50% – you’re giving up about 40% chances of making the putt. Which means more pars and fewer birdies on par 5s.
Don’t forget, par 5s might be the longest holes on the golf course but they’re also statistically the lowest scoring average. Laying back too far increases your chances of missing the green and making pars, bogeys, or worse.
From 25 yards, a 90s golfer will average about five feet to the hole. But from 75 yards, it’s closer to 10 feet. Once again, it doesn’t seem like a huge difference but it is when it comes to putting averages.
The best players in the world only make four of five putts (80%) from five feet (a steep drop from the four-foot average of 92%). While the make rate is less than 40% from 10 feet. And these are the best players in the world, with caddies reading putts, on the best greens.
I can imagine a golfer in the 90s chances of making a 10-footer is even less! Needless to say, the math shows that a closer approach shot leads to a closer putt. Even if it’s not the “perfect distance” for your third shot, it’s usually the best course management strategy.
When to Lay Up
While the statistics show that laying up isn’t the best strategy a lot of times, there are some instances where you should.
For example, if you hate hitting your 3-wood off the deck, it might not be the best idea as you might top it and leave a really long third shot into the green. Another instance might be if you’re in thick rough and hitting a hybrid or fairway wood can cause a big miss.
Plus, if there are a lot of hazards in play (water and/or out of bounds), it might be time to dial back on your second shot. While you should want to play more aggressively most of the time, if penalty strokes are involved your strategy needs to change. This is why it’s so important to understand the hole by using a golf GPS or yardage book.
When you have a clear overview of the hole, it makes it so much easier to create an approach shot strategy. There’s nothing worse than hitting a good shot but seeing it go OB or in the water because you didn’t know it was there. So make sure you map out the hole on the tee box as part of your tee shot strategy to avoid wasting shots.
How to Hit Lay Up Shots in Golf
Even though lay up shots should be as easy as a layup in basketball, it’s not always that simple.
Because a lot of golfers don’t focus on the shot as it’s “just a lay up shot.” This can lead to a lazy swing, not picking a target, and hitting your lay up in the rough and putting yourself out of position.
To avoid this easy mistake, make sure to follow the lay up rules below.
Know Your Distances
Before selecting a club to hit your layup, it’s vital to know your distances for each club in the bag. If you don’t map out your distances, how will you know what is the “perfect” distance to lay up?
For example, you should know how far each wedge goes comfortably. That way you can try to lay up to that distance so you have a comfortable, full swing wedge for your next shot.
Make sure to map out your distances with a launch monitor so you’re dialed in on the golf course. Click here to check out the best launch monitors in golf.
Hit Your “Go-to Club”
The second step to hitting a good lay up shot is to use a club that gives you confidence. If you’re trying to lay up with a hard to hit long iron, it likely won’t inspire a ton of good vibes over the ball.
Instead, hit a club that tends to work out well – whether it’s a hybrid, 7-wood, or driving iron. Try to get as close to the green as possible based on the stats from above (as long as you aren’t bringing unnecessary hazards into play).
Always Pick a Target
Once you have your club, it’s time to pick a target. Most golfers get lazy with this step and say something like “I’m just trying to hit up in the fairway.” But just like a tee shot, you need specifics!
Always pick something to aim at; whether it’s a zone between two trees or a small target. Then, pick your intermediary target so ensure you’re aligned properly once you’re over the ball.
Go Through Your Pre-Shot Routine
Once you have a feel-good club and clear target, make sure to go through the rest of your pre-shot routine. This is not the time to get lazy and “wing it.”
Make sure to take 1-2 rehearsal swings with 70-90% swing speed to prime your mind and body for the shot. Take a deep breath and then walk into the golf ball.
The final step to laying up in golf is to make sure to swing aggressively. Too many golfers try to “guide” these shots with a more controlled swing. But a lot of times this control leads to an uncommitted, slower swing.
While you don’t need to swing like a long drive champion, make sure you swing with your normal speed. Hopefully these tips will help you hit your target and leave an easy next shot into the green.
Do you have more questions about laying up and course strategy? If so, keep reading to learn more about the most frequently asked questions and answers below.
What is a layup distance in golf?
A layup distance is trying to hit a shot so you have good distance for your next shot.
For example, most golfers have a distance they really like and feel confident with. For me, it’s 75 yards or 100 yards as that is an easy lob wedge or a full sand wedge.
Once you have your ideal distance you simply subtract it from the total distance to the green. For example if you have 280 to the green and your perfect layup distance is 100, then you need to hit a 180-yard shot (280-100).
Should I always lay up to 100 yards?
No, in fact the data from above shows that the closer you are to the green, the better. If there are hazards or fairway bunkers that might lead to big numbers from going for the green in two, a lay up is recommended.
What’s the best lay up distance?
Whatever one you feel the most comfortable with but in general the closer, the better.
You’re more likely to hit it closer from 50 yards vs. 75 yards vs. 100 yards. And the closer your approach shot, the more likely you are to make the putt and shoot lower scores.
This is why it’s so important to be strategic with lay up shots in golf. Spend extra time on your second shot calculating the ideal distance to hit your lay up for an easy third!
Make sure you’ve read our article on hitting the in-between wedge shot.
Final Thoughts on Par 5 Lay Ups
Players from the past always thought laying up was the “smart” move to find a perfect third shot distance. But with so much data about amateur and pro golfers, now it’s clear that it’s not the best play in a lot of cases.
In general, it’s best to get as close to the green as possible in regulation.
With a shorter shot you can lower your stroke play average and hopefully play better every round. Hit driver off the tee, don’t hit the layup shot if you can go for it (and avoid a water hazard or fairway bunker) and you’re on your way to lower scores.
Don’t forget to hit the putting green too as you’ll likely have a lot more looks at birdie.