What is a Lay Up in Golf? (Plus Expert Tips on This Strategy)
Written by Matt Stevens

Matt Callcott-Stevens started playing golf at the age of 4 when Rory Sabattini's father put a 7-iron and putter in his hand. He has experienced all the highs and lows the game can throw at you and has now settled down as a professional golf writer. He holds a Postgraduate in Sports Marketing and has played golf for 28 years. Current Handicap: 8

In the last 3 months, I have completely overhauled my strategy on the golf course. Contradicting my views as a youngster, I now take a conservative approach and opt for safety over glory. My latest scores show the improvement, and it inspired me to compile a guide on what is a lay up in golf and how you can master the art.

I will take you through the best strategy for a layup shot and share some expert tips that have helped my golf game. After going through this post, you will know how to effectively execute these shots, avoiding water hazards, bunkers, or thick rough.

Those satisfied with their lay up game should read about other golf terms. Learn about scrambling in our detailed guide.


What is a Lay Up in Golf?

In simple terms, a lay up is a golf term that refers to a shorter shot. This is most common on par 5s, where you are close enough to reach the green in two shots.

However, instead of pulling out your fairway wood, you take a short iron or wedge and play to a safe point on the fairway. This puts you in a position to attack the flag on your third shot and give yourself a birdie putt. A lay up shot is effectively designed to help you avoid trouble for more consistent results.

Golf, like stock trading, is a game of high risk-high reward. If you do not lay up, you could get your ball onto the green in 2 and have an eagle putt. However, if you execute poorly, you could card walk away with a double-bogey.


Is The Lay Up an Effective Strategy?

A lay up is an effective strategy as long as you are a consistent putter. My challenge has always been my long game, which forced me to dial my short game skills. Without it, I would never have lowered my handicap.

As a result, I am comfortable and confident with a wedge and putter in hand. I know that I can get the ball to a particular location on the green to give myself the best chance of draining the putt. The worst-case scenario is that I record a 2-putt and walk off the green with a par.

Conversely, not laying up presents the potential for great rewards. This approach makes sense for PGA Tour Players who need to capitalize on par 5’s to gain strokes on the field.

You may also find a golfer going for the green on a par 4 tee shot. Landing the ball within 35-feet of the cup gives a player of any skill level an excellent opportunity at a 2-putt birdie. However, a mishit could produce a wayward shot and a double bogey. That is why I prefer lay-ups.

Golf Tec argues that a lay-up is a poor strategy for amateur golfers. Nick Clearwater, their VP of Instruction, presents stats showcasing the average proximity that professionals and amateurs leave their ball from the hole from specific yardage.

He further highlights the percentage of putts made from specific yardage on the PGA Tour. This shows the average golfer would struggle to sink one-putts and miss birdie opportunities.

While I respect their data, my experience has been different. It has boosted my accuracy and led to lower scores. I would not change my lay up approach for all the coffee beans in Guatemala.


When Should You Lay Up While Golfing?

There are two occasions where you should lay up. Off the tee and on approach on long par 4s and 5s. The mission on tee shots is to avoid landing in a fairway bunker, running stream, or hazard. On the contrary, you lay up on approach shots to avoid water hazards or tightly guarded greens.


5 Experts Share Their Tips on The Lay Up Shot

Pick Out Your Landing Zone – Chris Ryan

Chris Ryan touches on the importance of picking out a landing zone. Before you swing, identify a specific target to set you up for an easier subsequent shot. You need to position your ball optimally for a direct line to the flag.

Think About Your Next Shot – KC Lim

Golf industry professional KC Lim explains the importance of preparing for your subsequent shot. For example, if you are 235-yards out, you need to hit your ball to a favorable spot on the fairway to attack the flag. Should your ball end in an unsatisfactory lie, it defeats the purpose of laying up.

That is why precise distance control and accuracy are vital to make your next shot easier.

Take Your Time – Chris Ryan

Chris Ryan offers more wisdom on the topic by insisting that golfers take their time on lay ups. Even though it is a shorter shot, you still need to follow your routine and induce your natural golf swing.

Pick out your landing zone, think about the positioning of your next shot and take it easy. Often amateurs rush these shots and don’t give them the necessary attention.

Play To Your Strengths – Mark Crossfield

It sounds cliche, but Mark Crossfield talks about the importance of doing what works best for you. For example, are you an exceptional mid to short-iron player who can stick the ball close from 120 to 150-yards out? Or do you back yourself more with a pitching or sand wedge?

Those with dialed mid-irons can comfortably lay up and still have a shot at sinking a birdie putt. Conversely, if you do not back your iron play, you may stand more chance with a wedge and putter. Use what works in your favor.

Have a Deadly Short Game – Rick Shiels

In the video below, Shiels discusses the importance of a deadly short game with lay ups. It is your only option to score using this strategy. This is particularly true regarding putting. If you are a dominant force with the flat stick in hand, you can still gain strokes when taking the conservative approach.

Although most amateurs struggle with their short games, you can become proficient in this area with a couple of hours on the chipping and putting green every week.

You can improve your expertise in this department by following our 8 best putting drills to help you make more birdies and card fewer 3-putts.

Use Less Club – Edwin Ncgobo

The final tip comes from my caddie growing up. Edwin was a scratch golfer and the best caddie in town. He always urged me to be safe by taking one club less. He said it was wise to account for any bounce or roll that could propel your ball forward into trouble.

Sadly, I forgot this advice on the 1st hole at my local last week. The opener dog legs to the right and a water hazard sits left. Therefore, I tend to swing a long or mid-iron and hit it to the left side of the fairway.

Since there was wind, I decided to take an additional club, which was a mistake. I struck the ball superbly for a first tee shot, and it went on the intended line. However, the wind died down on my backswing, and as a result, I had too much club.

My advice, in this case, is to always take a club less and rather be safe than sorry. If you strike a lower club cleanly, your ball will end in prime position. However, the slightest over club could send your ball into the trouble you tried to avoid.


Matt Stevens

Matt Callcott-Stevens started playing golf at the age of 4 when Rory Sabattini's father put a 7-iron and putter in his hand. He has experienced all the highs and lows the game can throw at you and has now settled down as a professional golf writer. He holds a Postgraduate in Sports Marketing and has played golf for 28 years. Current Handicap: 8