Should you go for it? How to Play a Short Par 4

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Most holes in golf are par 4s… but are you playing them correctly to give yourself the best score at the end of the round?

Let’s first understand how each type of holes plays according to the PGA Tour based on the 2022 season. 

Par 3s have the highest average score at 3.07, making them the most difficult to score holes. Par 3s are the most difficult holes to score, with an average score of 3.07.

Par 4s score slightly less than par 3, with an average score of 4.04, but are still lower than par 3s when compared to par. Par 5s score the best with an average score of 4.64. 

To help you score better on short par 4s, let’s break down the best strategies for short holes as they can play like a par 5. Even if you’re an average joe golfer, these tips will help you put a solid swing on the ball and play better.

Keep reading to discover the best strategies to get some strokes back.

How to Play a Short par 4 (Drivable Para 4 Strategy)  

So how do you play short 4s? 

The majority of par 4s fall under one of these three categories. Short, medium-length, and lengthy holes

Long par 4s are best if you can get on or near the green within two shots. They will likely play over par. If you can make par great, but if not a bogey won’t kill you.

Mid-length par 4s can yield some birdies, but not many pars and some bogeys. If you have a birdie opportunity, that’s great!

The perfect example is short par 4, so you can take advantage of them. The goal is to get easy pitch shots, short birdie putsts, or maybe even an Eagle putt.

For the sake of this article we’ll say that short par fours are under 350 yards (but short might be longer holes if you bomb it off the tee). Here are some strategies that will help you score lower on holes which are often frustrating but play shorter.

1. Analyze the Hole

Great course management is possible Before you hit your tee shot. You must first score well with a Tee box strategy.

Start by taking a look at the hole from the tee. You can also use your GPS to note the following (even more important when playing new courses).

  • How wide is your fairway?
  • How will the weather affect the shot?
  • What is the layout for the hole?
  • Is there an acceptable minimum carrying limit?
  • What distance is there from the front of green? 
  • What’s short of the green (bunkers, thick rough, etc.)
  • Are there any penalty zones (out of bounds and water hazard)

It sounds like a lot but it’ll become second nature the more you play golf. The easier it is for you to make the right decision, the more information you have at your disposal.

To find the right club for me, I like to ask all these questions. The biggest factor is if there are hazards in play; let’s review a few scenarios. 

There are no dangers with a Drivable par 4.

Many short par 4s have out of bounds and water to make them a risk-reward hole. If you dont see any trouble, you should hit your driver. 

The rule of thumb is that the green is closer than the yellow. Statistically speaking, it is more likely that you score lower if your approach shot is shorter. 

Think about it, if you hit a driver and have 20-30 yards for your approach, it’s a pretty easy shot. Youre likely to take a look at birdie. If you’re a scratch golfer, you expect a close look at birdie.

The margin of error is much greater if you are 100 yards from the tee. Even the best players can miss the green 100 yards away. 

If it is not difficult, pick a club that will take you as close as possible to the green for easy pitch shots. This is a time to give yourself a good look at birdie and hopefully par as a worst case scenario. 

Hazards in Play 

You should be aware of hazards that could affect your ability to hit the fairway. You dont want to make a mistake on these short holes. 

If there are out of bounds on the fairway or near the green where you tend to hit it, dial back to locate the fairway. For example, if there’s water or OB right and you tend to miss right from a slice, don’t risk it. To ensure you are able to reach the green from a distance, consider hitting a 3-wood hybrid or hybrid. 

Lay down if there is trouble on both the left and right sides (water on one side, OB the other). Although it may be painful to hit less than a driver on a hole that is reachable, a bogey (or worse) will make you 10X more frustrated. Get out there and putt!


2. The “Risk-Reward” Scenario

As you all know, short par fours in golf have some kind of risk-reward situation.

For example, many holes may require a bit more carry to get the ball close to the green. If you are able to get past the carry distance, this can be a good time for a bomb driver.

But if you know you need an absolute perfect drive to get over, it’s likely not worth it. You want to play the odds correctly so you don’t end up with a big number that kills your momentum in the round.

However, sometimes it’s worth the risk to go for the green even if there’s water but it’s by the green. If you hit the driver well, you might get an easy chip or eagle putt 7/10 times. The water hazard might be your third chance. 

But if it’s an easy chip shot after dropping, you can still get it up and down to save par. In this instance, I believe the reward is greater than the risk. 

It might not be worth it if the bunker is too treacherous for all golfers. These holes are great fun. They challenge you to think outside the tee.

Laying up 

I’ve always said that laying up is the hardest shot in golf; whether it’s a tee shot on a par 4 or your second shot on a par 5. It’s easy to get lazy, not pick a target or have a clear intention of the shot. 

If you are laying up, ensure that you go through your entire document. Pre-shot routinePick a target and swing with intention. Don’t just go through the motions or you might make it more difficult to score well on these easy holes. 

3. Add the pin location 

While hazards are undoubtedly the most important factor in club choice, you should also consider the pin location. Sometimes a driver might not be the right shot if you can’t get to the green. 

For example, if you can get within 50-60 yards of a short par 4 and it’s a front pin, the driver might not be the shot. This type of distance is challenging for even skilled golfers as you can’t get a ton of backspin. Since it’s a ½ or ¾ wedge, you don’t make a full swing and thus, don’t generate much spin.

If you can’t get to the green and the pin is in the front, lay back off the tee for a better approach shot distance. If youre considering laying up or going for the green, be sure to consider the weather and wind conditions. 

Plus, if you’re not in a tournament, use a rangefinder’s slope feature to decide the right club (and hopefully carry all the sand).

4. Emotion vs. Logic

Another thing to consider is the danger of playing with too many emotions. Sometimes we make decisions based on emotion rather than logic. This can lead to some poor scores.

For example, let’s say you just made a double bogey on the last hole or had a costly three putt. It’s easy to still be upset and then think, “I’m going to hit the driver and get one back” on these short holes.

While sometimes it’s right play, other times it’s not.

You end up hitting the driver but are still mad from the previous hole. You make an uncommitted swing at the ball or swing too aggressively and now are out of position. This only compounds the error from the previous hole and makes it harder to score well.

Try to make a decision before the round if possible based on logic, since you aren’t in an emotional state. When I play in tournaments I map out my strategy ahead of time in practice rounds so I don’t let my emotions get the best of me. 

5. Don’t Forget About Your Gut Feeling

While there are a ton of ideas above, it’s also important to factor in your gut instinct. I would guess 9 out of 10 times your gut reaction on what to hit off the tee is the right one. First instincts are right most of the time in golf. 

Mainly because you can swing (or putt) with confidence. There’s less doubt or indecision so you can fully commit and make a good swing off the tee. 

Plus, some holes just don’t set up well to your eye; if that’s the case, you don’t want to force it. 

For example, I play a cut shot off the tee and some short par 4s dogleg right to left. Maybe the wind or nasty bunker comes into play and I just don’t like how a driver feels. Instead of forcing it, I’ll lay back to a strategic distance and hit a club off the tee that gives me more confidence. 

FAQs About Playing Par 4s 

Do you have more questions about playing short par 4s and finding the right landing area? If so, keep scrolling to learn more course management tips. 

How can I pay par 4s better?

Here are five ways you can do to play par 4s better:

  • Have an approach shot strategy off the tee.
  • Play the shot you know you can hit most of the time.
  • Don’t let your emotions get the best of you – play with your logical mind.
  • Try to set yourself up for a par (remember, a four is a good score on these holes) 
  • Play one shot at a time – stay present mentally to not spiral out of control from a bad shot. 

What is the shortest a par 4 can be?

For men, short par 4s range from 260-300 yards. Outside 300 is still short but a lot of everyday golfers can’t get on the green. For women, short par 4s tend to range from 200-250 yards. 

What is a hole in one on a par 4? 

An ace on a par 4 is an albatross (-3 on the hole).

The odds are against you (even more than a hole in one on a par 3) but if you can pull it off, it’s going to make for one heck of a story. Make sure to save that ball forever (and maybe buy a lottery ticket on the way home). 

Final Thoughts 

Remember, not all par 4s are created equal. 

On mid-length and long par 4s, a par is a good score (and might even gain some strokes on challenging holes). Short par fours are exciting holes for most players as almost everyone can get a good birdie putt. This is where you need to focus and take advantage of them and set yourself up for close birdie putts.

To get yourself a short birdie putt (or possibly even an eagle look), use the strategies above. If there’s no trouble, grip and rip the driver so you set yourself up for an easy approach shot. 

But if there’s water, deep rough, or out of bounds, make sure the risk is worth the reward. Lastly, always remember to choose based on logic, not emotion, to score lowerThese are the short holes. 

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