The 3rd Shot on Any Hole is the Most Important Shot in Golf

Golf is a game of precision, strategy, and mental toughness. There are a lot of stats out there indicating that driving the golf ball and making putts is what you need to improve.  I teach those 2 skills and more every day at my academy. But in my opinion, there is no other shot in golf more important than the 3rd shot on any hole!  The 3rd shot in golf, on any hole, has the most direct outcome on your score. It is the “game changer” shot for a lot of reasons. Because I coach this shot every day to all my clients is why John Hughes Golf is considered one of the best Golf Schools in Florida.

Why Most Important?

The 3rd shot on any golf hole and its significance is probably the most overlooked aspect of the entire game. So much so, when I conducted a month’s long search for content about the 3rd shot on any hole, I did not find any content at all. I did find content about the 3rd shot on a par 4, plenty of it. Which only covers 40% of the holes you play at the average golf course.  The other 60% of 3rd shots deserves its just importance. And your attention to why the 3rd shot on any hole is what can make or break your ability to score at your potential or better.

Let’s take a deep dive into the 3rd shot on any golf hole and why this shot deserves more of your attention on the course and at the practice facility. This post is not about how to hit a 3rd shot. As much as it is a piece to make you think about your 3rd shots in a different and more important way.

3rd Shot Definitions

Let’s first remind you of what the 3rd shot on every par is.  The more you understand the3rd shot in relation to the Par of the hole, the more you understand the importance of the 3rd shot on any hole.

Par 3’s

On a Par 3, the traditional definition of the 3rd shot is a “tap in” for par. Meaning, you hit the green in regulation and your first putt was close enough to the hole that what remains is a relatively easy putt.  But it does not always mean that.

When you miss the green and do not have great short game skills, your 3rd shot on a par 3 could be a longer than comfortable putt. Or what if you are being penalized? The 3rd shot on a par 3 could mean the difference between saving a bogie or making double bogie or worse.

 Par 4’s

The 3rd shot on a par 4 for the average amateur golfer is setting up a missed green in regulation with a good short game shot that produces a relatively easy up and down opportunity. It could also be the birdie putt you’ve been wishing for on every hole previously played.

On any par 4, the third shot is important to making par or better. Unless the 3rd shot occurs after a penalty. And like the par 3, the 3rd shot now becomes even more important to avoid a bogie or worse.

Par 5’s

We always want to believe that the 3rd shot on a par 5 is going to provide a lower score.  And in most cases that is correct.  The 3rd shot could be a putt for eagle if you hit the green in 2. Or a short game shot from off the green to set up an easy birdie. Lastly, it could be a relatively easy approach shot from a yardage you’re comfortable with. In either of these cases, the odds of making Par or better is in your favor.

But the 3rd shot to a par 5 could also be a shot after being penalized off the tee. If so, you’re now hitting your 3rd shot from a further distance from the green. Making it more critical to avoid a higher score than par.

Strategy is the Better Part of Valor

No more can you just blow off the 3rd shot on any hole. As you can see by the definitions above, the 3rd shot on any hole can have a fantastically good outcome to your game. Or make the difference between certain death of a round by making a big number on just one hole.

Which is why planning and strategy to any 3rd shot is probably more important than the execution of the 3rd shot. If you’re a consistent viewer of professional golf tournaments, you probably have never recognized the time and anguish touring professionals take when faced with their 3rd shot on any hole. The next time you watch golf, pay attention to what the player and caddie are doing when faced with a 3rd shot on any golf hole. A lot is being determined before executing the shot

What about the 4th Shot?

The biggest topic of discussion for a 3rd shot on any golf hole is the need to avoid a 4th shot, if possible. Particularly on a Par 3. But if a 4th shot is a must, the strategy and decision-making process to any 3rd shot on any golf hole is to make the 4th shot as easy as possible.

A lot goes into this discussion. Here is a list of just a few of the questions being asked and answered when determining how to play a 3rd shot on any golf hole:

  • Where am I on the Course Right Now in Relations to:
    • How Many Holes Remain in the Round/Tournament?
    • Where am I in relation to the rest of the field?
  • The Type of Shot to Play
  • What shot am I capable of playing and providing a chance to hole the shot or leave an easy 4th shot?
  • Do I Play Aggressively to the Green (Par 4’s and 5’s)?
  • Do I Play Aggressively to the Hole?
  • Where to Land the Ball to Set Up the 4th Shot?
  • Does the Ball/Shot need to Release to the Hole?
  • What are the Environmental Conditions that could Affect the Shot?
  • What Club to Use to Provide the Best Chance of Success?

There is a lot more that goes into a 3rd shot on any hole than one could imagine.  This list only scratches the surface.

Mental Toughness is Required

Once the decisions are made and it’s time to execute, you could argue that a 3rd shot anywhere on the course requires more mental toughness to commit to the shot than any other shot. Mental Toughness is an area of improvement I attempt to instill within all coaching sessions at John Hughes Golf.

Mental toughness in golf requires your ability to not only handle adversity.  But also, a lot of potentially negative outcomes.  Some 3rd shots on any hole is the “what if” you probably did not think about before attempting your 2nd shot. And some 3rd shots require you to think into the future to determine “what if” this shot has an outcome of “X”?

Being mentally tough enough to hit good to above average 3rd shots on every hole can provide a small spark of confidence. No matter what hole you’re on, being able to make 3rd shots count is probably the biggest confidence boosters you’ll experience throughout a round.  Bigger than smashing a 300+ yard drive down the middle.

Mental Toughness for the most part is an acquired skill. It comes with making decisions and practicing under pressure conditions. It matures with more experience. And is only as successful as your ability to deflect the distractions under the most pressurized moments of each round.  3rd shots on all holes are one of those pressurized moments.

Mastering Your Short Game

As you can probably tell, most of the 3rd shots around the golf course are short game shots. But not all.  Your short game must hold up to the scrutiny of pressure. And your ability to make your 3rd shot on every hole count towards a lower score.

Probably the biggest weakness in most average amateur’s game is their ability to control distances inside of 100 yards.  It is this area of the course where most 3rd shots occur. And it is in this area where you give in to temptation, fear, and anxiety the most. Resulting in poorly played 3rd shots.

Practicing distance control wedging, to random targets and using random club choices, is a point of emphasis for all John Hughes Golf clients.  Whether working with FlightScope and their skills app.  Or impulsively putting a client through their paces on the course. Distance control wedging can make or break your 3rd shots around the course.


Driving the golf ball accurately has the stats to back up its importance to your game as a skill.  So does putting.  But you now know why your 3rd shots, regardless of the hole you’re playing, can be the ones that make all the difference to lowering your scores.

By focusing upon and improving your 3rd shot on any golf hole, you can transform your game, turning potential disasters into opportunities. Turning ordinary performance into extraordinary. Saving par more often. And potentially making more birdies along the way. The 3rd shot to all the holes you’ll play requires you clear your mind. Allowing solid decision making to take place. And for distractions to bounce away.

Next time you’re playing golf, give more respect to your 3rd shots on every hole you play.  Those shots deserve more than you’ve provided them in the past.  And they are the path to lower scores.

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