January in Michigan brings cold weather and snow. Today I played several rounds after a winter storm layered ice on top of an inch of snow. The ground was firm enough in most places that it didn’t even collapse under my feet. As a result, every putt posed an interesting question: do I go for the make or just lay up? What is the proper strategy in the Approach Zone?
During the round I watched several near misses and chain spit-outs slide away 30’, 40’, or more. Putts that I would normally approach with confidence suddenly had me trembling with fear. As we discussed in a previous article, this reduced my “Confidence Circle” significantly and put extra pressure on my long game.
With the wind and ice affecting my Confidence Circle, the course played very different than normal. As I carefully navigated this round I began to suspect that some of my bogeys over the past summer were a result of poor course management and poor analysis of my abilities.
After analyzing my round I settled on two simple tenets that I’d suggest to you as well:
If going for the make will, at worst, leave you in the same position as an average layup, go for it.
If you have to modify your normal putt in any way, seriously consider laying up.
We all have a different Confidence Circle, defined by Mind Body Disc as the distance where we can make 90% of our putts and detailed in our article on solid putting. Just outside that circle begins the Approach Zone, where we should be able to get in the basket in two throws or less every time. So here’s how we can scientifically decide whether to run the chains or toss an easy lay up.
First, find your Confidence Circle
This is a fairly simple process. I suggest going to a practice basket and putting from various locations at a given distance to adjust for wind variations. Take at least 10 putts from each location and calculate your make percentage. When you aren’t hitting 90% of your putts, you have found the edge of the Confidence Circle for today. For best results, rerun this test many times over the course of a few days.
This also defines the innermost edge of your Approach Zone.
Next, calculate your Approach Zone Conversion Rate
Back to the practice basket. Starting just outside your Confidence Circle, take 10 putts from several angles. This time, however, pay attention to your missed putts. How far away from the basket did the disc stop? Consider how many times you would have 3-putted (extra credit for consulting your data from the previous test). How many times did you make the first putt or have it close enough for a guaranteed follow-up make?
Makes + 2-putts = ConversionsConversions / Tries = your Base Conversion Rate.
I’m an optimist (and a fairly aggressive strategist), so let’s consider a 60% Conversion Rate the cut-off distance where you should choose to lay-up instead of running for those chains. Remember though, this number relates to perfect conditions at a practice basket.
Continue the process at longer distances until you find your 60% mark. You may want to keep going further to understand more about your game. Perhaps this exercise will help you to understand what approach shot length needs the most practice.
Using this information on the course
You need to get habitual about analyzing your potential misses.
First consider the environment:
- Is the basket on a hill?
- In a forest full of trees? Near the water?
- Is the basket elevated or lowered?
- Headwind, tailwind, or crosswind? Gusty or steady wind?
- Hard ground? Ice?
Next consider your own putting and your putter:
- Does this disc tend to roll away?
- Does your disc float far or drop quickly?
- Do you often miss left, right, low, high?
- Are you using your primary putting style, a modified version, or a completely different putt?
Modify your Base Conversion Rate based on the answers to these questions. This will not be an exact science, but make your best estimate. When in doubt just lay up. You won’t be able to execute properly without first committing to the shot.
If you are a statistical nerd like me, you may consider tracking your approaches and putts over several rounds to determine a better value Confidence Circle and Conversion Rate. Although I believe a few hours at the practice basket will closely approximate your numbers. Do keep in mind that your numbers will likely change as you (hopefully) improve, so repeating this test often should lead to better scores.
I really hope you’ll take the time to measure these important statistics. I’m certain you’ll see the payoff on the course.
I have created an Excel spreadsheet to help you with all of the data collection and math.
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In our league, the confidence circle is known as the “Oh, crap” (edited for mixed company) circle, as that is the comment when the disc lands outside it.