The general theme at Golf Club of Houston is tight and demanding tee shots that test a player’s ability to hit it straight and far. One hole that bucks that trend is the short par 4 12th. Year in and year out this hole sees a wide array of options when it comes to how players choose to play it.
Measuring only 322 yards, the 12th is the only drivable par 4 on the golf course and the strategy is dictated by the day’s pin position. The green angles from right to left and is protected by water and a steep slope on the right and a deep bunker on the left. The fairway has substantial width which allows players to play to specific sides of the fairway to set up angles depending on the flag position. The ideal place for pins on the left half of the green is down the right side of the fairway and for pins on the right side, the left half of the fairway is preferred.
The hole presents players with a decision, go for the green or lay it back short of the left fairway bunker. Over the past two years(2015&2016), 71% of players have opted to layup versus 29% who play aggressively and try to drive it up to the green. These numbers change significantly depending on the pin location on a given day, and the tournament has used nearly identical pin positions, one in the middle left, a tucked back left, a front right and Sunday’s has been middle right.
A middle left flag
When the flag is in the middle left portion of the green, the Tour players have overwhelmingly chosen to lay it up, with 87% of players doing so. This makes sense as laying back gives a player a chance to hit a high spinning approach shot to the green from either the right or left side of the fairway and mitigate the risk that he takes on. The scoring average of players who layup is 3.77, with 26% making birdie, 70% making par and only 4% making bogey.
However, the 13% of players who have gone for the green have had great success registering a scoring average of 3.49, over a quarter of a shot better than those who laid up. Players who go for it make birdie at a 51% click and pars at a 41%, while bogeys come at a slightly higher 5%.
Back Left Flag
The back left pin at the 12th yields the most layup shots of any pin with 92% of players choosing to play it safe. Conventional thought would suggest this is the smart play on the hole because it leaves a full wedge and using spin to hit it close. The numbers suggest a different story, as the 8% of players who went for the green averaged 3.55 on the hole versus 3.83 for those who laid up providing the largest scoring discrepancy of any pin location.
Front Right Flag
This flag produces a closer to normal split with 73% of players laying up and 27% going for the green. The numbers would have been even closer to 50/50 had it not been for the hole playing into the wind at last year's event. Nonetheless, the numbers bear out the developing trend of players going for the green fairing better than those who play it safe with a scoring average of 3.67 for bold players and 3.77 for those who play it safe.
Middle right pin (Sunday)
Sunday’s traditional pin is on the middle and right side of the green and over the past two years, 81% of players have gone for the green compared to just 19% laying up. This pin sees the lowest scoring discrepancy with players who go for it averaging 3.7 compared to 3.73 for those who layup. For players in contention, the wise play might be to throttle back as over 10% of players who go for the green make bogey versus 0% for those who layup.
It appears that the 12th hole is a contrarian’s paradise! On pin positions where conventional wisdom would suggest laying up, the right play was to play aggressive and go for the green. Meanwhile, Sunday’s flag which players historically go for leads to nearly better results from those who lay up. Overall, the numbers point to playing aggressively and going for the green no matter where the pin is at on the 12th as the scoring average is 3.65 compared to 3.78 for those who layup.