I guess if you’re a greenskeeper or farmer, the strategic arrival of steady rain every few days this year has been ideal. For those of you who tend to hit their share of golf balls into the rough and are usually counting on it to be whisper thin and dry by July, not so good. Here are a few ideas to deal with the thicker, longer, grass when you hit it where you are not supposed to.
The lie is the first thing to get a handle on. For those of you who haven’t mastered catching the ball on the downswing, and tend to scoop it or pick it cleanly off the grass, sometimes hitting the ball into rough is a bonus. If the ball is sitting up at all it is like having a tee underneath it, and should bring a wry grin to your chops. Having the ball sitting up fluffy does make it more difficult to control the exact distance the ball will fly, but exact distances aren’t much concern for a player of your ability. You are just happy to get the damned thing in the air.
If the ball is snuggled down, you have to determine how down is down. Most courses keep the rough at a very reasonable one to two inches long, but if it’s thick this is more than enough to keep you from making any sort of decent contact. By setting your club near the back of the ball you should get a feel for the amount of resistance the grass is going to put up. (If you are keeping a proper score, be sure not to cause your ball to move its position or you will need to take a penalty. If you are not keeping a proper score, you can just as easily kick the ball into the fairway, but most people want to follow at least the basic rules and hitting out of tough lies is a good one to learn.) Take a couple practice swings as well to see how grabby the grass is in the vicinity of your ball. If it seems the club you need to hit is sliding through without much trouble just go ahead and hit the shot per usual. The ball will tend to roll more when it lands because of the grass that will get between the club face and the ball (less spin than normal), so take that into account when choosing your club.
If the ball is sitting low and your practice swings tell you the grass is not in a forgiving mood, well, this is where your inner character is revealed. Do you just swing like hell, like our old friend Philip Mickelson, and hope the one time out of 20 this shot works is this time, or do you look at the alternatives and choose the shot you can pull off the highest percentage of the time? The tougher the lie the less you should try to do with it. If there is not a lot of trouble between you and your target, go ahead and aim at it and advance the ball as far as you can.
The biggest mistake a lot of people make is when there is a lot of trouble between themselves and the target, and they aim there anyway. If there is a lot of rough between you and the green and you aren’t sure how solidly you will be able to hit the shot, choose a less aggressive line. Aim where a less than a good shot will allow you to hit the next one from a far improved situation. The more trouble between you and the target the more this rule should be observed (i.e.trees to go over, water, sand traps). Just get the thing onto the fairway take your medicine and carry on.
As far as technique to use to help get out of the thick stuff there are a few things you can try. If you are a hacker, just use a simple swing and choose the easiest line possible to get back to safety. Forget about taking a herculean cut at it, you will likely just drive it deeper into the crap. If you are a decent or beyond player, try moving the ball back in your stance a little and add a much more abrupt wrist cock as you start your back swing. Just as with any other swing, you have to stay very still to facilitate good contact so you can be more aggressive but not so much that you are losing balance.
The only way to really trust this shot is to practice it, so slide off to the side of your local driving range, where the grass is long, and take some whacks each time you are there. The same goes for the short game. The thicker the grass the more aggressive you have to be. Use a club with more loft and heft (sand wedge), and don’t be afraid to be more aggressive. Stay still and let the loft of the club do its job. One more thing. The rain has kept the greens softer, which means they take a heavier beating from ball marks, so FIX THE DAMNED THINGS! ♦
John Piccolo is the golf instructor and runs Piccolo’s Custom Golf Shop at Eagle Valley Golf Club in Niagara Falls. Email your questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org