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 are the most difficult scoring holes as they averaged a score of 3.07. Yes, even the best golfers in the world average an over par score on these short holes!
Par 4s also average a slightly over par score at 4.04, but lower than par 3s compared to par. While par 5s are the easiest to score on with the 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 learn the best strategies so you can get some strokes back.
How to Play a Short Par 4 (Drivable Par 4 Strategy)
So, how do you play short par 4s?
Most par 4s are one of the three categories; short, mid-length, and long holes.
With long par 4s, the goal is to get on or near the green in two shots as they likely play over par. If you can make par great, but if not a bogey won’t kill you.
While mid-length par 4s will yield a few birdies, a lot of pars, and some bogeys. If you have a birdie opportunity, that’s great!
While short par 4s are the perfect example to hopefully take advantage, get a shot back or at least have a good look at a birdie opportunity. The goal is to give yourself easy pitch shots, short birdie putts, 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 the best strategies to help you score lower on holes that play shorter but are sometimes a frustrating hole.
1. Analyze the Hole
Great course management happens well before you hit your tee shot. The first thing to scoring well happens with a tee box strategy.
Start by surveying the hole off the tee or check your golf GPS to notate the following (this is even more important when playing new courses):
- How wide is the fairway?
- Will weather affect the shot?
- What is the layout of the hole?
- Is there a minimum carry required?
- What is the distance to the front of the green?
- What’s short of the green (bunkers, thick rough, etc.)
- Are there any penalty areas (out of bounds, water hazard, etc.)
It sounds like a lot but it’ll become second nature the more you play golf. The more information you have on the tee, the easier it is to make the right decision.
I like to ask myself all these questions and more to find the right club to set myself up for success. The biggest factor is if there are hazards in play; let’s review a few scenarios.
No Hazards on a Drivable par 4
Most short par 4s have some sort of out of bounds or water in play to make it a risk-reward hole. But if there is no trouble in sight, you should hit the driver most of the time.
In general, the closer you can hit it to the green, the better! Statistically speaking, you are much more likely to score lower with less distance for your approach shot.
Think about it, if you hit a driver and have 20-30 yards for your approach, it’s a pretty easy shot. You expect to give yourself a look at birdie. If you’re a scratch golfer, you expect a close look at birdie.
But if you lay up off the tee and are 100 yards out, the margin for error is much greater. Even great players can miss the green from 100 yards away.
If there is no trouble, take a club that will get you as close to the green as possible 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
If you have hazards in play, it might change your club off the tee. The last thing you want is a bogey or worse on these short holes.
If there is out of bounds near the green or on the side of the fairway you tend to hit, dial back to find the fairway. For example, if there’s water or OB right and you tend to miss right from a slice, don’t risk it. Hit a 3-wood or hybrid instead to set yourself up with a good distance into the green.
If there is trouble on both sides (water on the left side, OB on the right side), this is a good time to lay up. While it might pain you to hit less than a driver on a reachable hole, a bogey or worse will make you 10X more frustrated. Get yourself putting and hopefully one can drop!
2. The “Risk-Reward” Scenario
As you know, most short par 4s in golf have some sort of risk-reward scenario.
For example, a lot of holes might require a certain amount of carry off the tee to get it close or even on the green. If you can get over the carry distance, this is a good time to 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. For example, if you hit the driver well you might have an eagle putt or easy chip 7/10 times. The other three times you might go into the water hazard.
But if it’s an easy chip shot after dropping, you can still get it up and down to save par. In this case, I think the reward outweighs the risk.
Conversely, if there is a treacherous bunker by the green that is challenging for all golfers, it might not be worth it. This is why these holes are so much fun, they challenge you to think smarter off the tee.
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.
So if you are laying up, make sure to go through your full pre-shot routine, pick 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. Factor in the Pin Location
While the hazards are arguably the biggest factor in club selection, you also want to think about the pin location as well. 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. Always factor in the wind, weather, and green conditions if you are thinking about laying up vs. going for the green.
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. Logic vs. Emotion
Another thing to think about is playing with too much emotion. Oftentimes we make decisions based on emotion instead of logic and that can lead to some bad 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).
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 lower on these short holes.