Short Game Par: What Is It and How Can It Help?

By Bruce Dowell
January 16, 2015


I’m always amazed at the number of students that are always searching for that extra yardage from their full swing shots.

While it’s true that another 25 yards off the tee and another 10 yards with iron shots would help, it’s not always the key to lower scores. On a regular 18 hole golf course, during normal conditions with nothing extraordinary happening, you have to hit the following number of shots, whether you hit it 220 or 270 yards off the tee.

  • 18 tee shots
  • 14 approach shots to greens
  • 4 second shots on par 5’s
  • 18 putts

These numbers may vary slightly, as your course may have more than four par 3’s, less than four par 4’s, etc. But assuming your course is similar to the one above, that’s a total of 54 shots that MUST be played.

If par is 72, that’s a difference of 18 shots. Where do all the extra shots come from? Although there are sometimes a penalty shot or some unfortunate mishaps, it’s almost always short game related.

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When I ask many students about their short games, most of the time I get a general response of “it’s pretty good”. When we go to the short game areas or out on the course for playing lessons, I usually find that “pretty good” has a different meaning to me than it does many golfers.

Because of that, I’ve devised a “short game par” score that students keep that is secondary to an “overall par.”

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My students keep a total score of every shot they hit from 100 yards and in. They count every chip, pitch, sand shot, penalty shot, putt, etc and include them in the tally. We lump them all together as the short game has so many variations but should always be played to get the ball as close as possible or holed.

Depending on your course and your golf game, the total score should be close to 40 strokes. How do you know what your score should be?

Chart out each hole on your home course in your mind or on a scorecard.

If #1 is a 400 yard par 4 and you normally hit a solid tee shot 240 yards, you’d have 160 yards left. After your approach shot, you should be inside the 100 yard marker. You have 2 shots from there to make a par. So your “short game par” would be 2.

If #2 is a 320 yard par 4 and you hit your same 240 yard tee shot, now you’re inside 100 yards. You have 3 shots to make a par, so your “short game par” is 3 for that hole. Go around the course in your mind and figure out what your total target score should be.

As you play a few rounds and start to compare your SGP to your overall score, you’ll see the effect on your score.

I’ve found that when a player shoots close to par, their SGP is very close to 40. If they score under par, they’ve scored under the SGP target score. If they shoot 90, they have likely had 55-60 SGP strokes.

This exercise is usually a great eye-opener for golfers, and will give you a goal and target score each time you play.

Keep your SGP number low, and shoot some personal record scores!

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