The most important golf shots for a recreational golfer are, in order:
1. Iron to the green from under 150 yards
2. Greenside chips
3. Tee shot
4. 3- to 4-foot putts
5. Pitching from 60-90 yards
If you’re good at these shots, you’ll score pretty well.
1. Being able to hit the green reliably from inside this distance is the origin of good scoring. More than any other, this shot determines what your score will be. You will shoot much lower scores if the shot after this one is a putt rather than a chip.
2. You should be able to get up and down at least half the time when your ball is only one or two yards off the green. This skill is probably number two in importance as a back-up to your irons, since no one hits the green every time, even from close in.
3. Driver eventually, but use your fairway wood if the driver is too hard to control. You must get the ball in the fairway to have a chance to get a good score. If not, you’re playing damage control for the duration of the hole.
4. Approach putts are important, too, because leaving them short is the primary cause of three-putt greens. But these little putts are a chance to close out the hole. Missing two or three of these per rounds hurts your score needlessly.
5. This is a mini-version of the iron into the green, but with something added: you must be able to pitch accurately to a known distance. On the green is good, but you can do better than that. If you’re 78 yards from the pin, for example, you should know how to get the ball within five yards of it.
When I go to the range, I take my driver, 6-iron, sand wedge, and putter. Sometimes I’ll substitute and 8-iron and a gap wedge. But with just four clubs, I can practice all these five shots.