How to play common trouble shots.
Russ Clark, Director of Instruction, Franchise Owner, GolfTEC Boulder
June is here and all golfers will turn their attention to the upcoming U.S. Open. This year it returns to a course that while short, has a history of having tight fairways, diabolically dense rough and tiny, lightning fast greens. If those issues aren’t daunting enough, there’s the pressure of simply teeing it up in a U.S. Open. As Lee Trevino stated, “Players know that the words ‘U.S. Open’ mean double the pressure. You can make a mistake at Augusta and get away with it. Not at a U.S. Open.”
Playing golf is fun though, at least it’s supposed to be fun, but even the best touring professionals hit shots into deep grass, sand, or behind a tree. During playing lessons with my clients, trouble shots and how to get out of those awkward places is usually a hot topic. Most times with proper technique and course management you can recover without wasting too many shots. Let’s take a look at how to handle some of the more common “trouble shots”.
Playing a golf shot from off the fairway is a challenge, but with a few adjustments this shot shouldn’t ruin your day on the links. I’ve been lucky enough to play in a few tour events and three USGA National Championships where the rough can be brutally deep just off the fairway. The first thing to do when you hit an errant shot into the deep grass is to evaluate your lie. Are you in ryegrass, bluegrass, Bermudagrass, or Kikuya rough? Each type of grass offers different options in playing your next shot. One of your primary goals should be getting back into the fairway with this shot, so choose a strategy that gives you the best chance of finding the fairway. Golfers in the south tend to play in Bermuda grass where the golf ball wants to “sink” down to the bottom. Bluegrass is a dark color and almost always plays like it’s wet and heavy. Golf shots hit into Kikuya grass may appear to be teed up on top of the grass, while ryegrass, a light green color, is probably the easiest to play from.
Some keys to all these shots include:
- Club selection—it’s better to hit an 8-iron 100 yards down the fairway than to try a 4-iron that only goes 15 yards and is still in the rough.
- Ball position—move the ball slightly back in your stance. The deeper the grass the farther back you should have the golf ball. This improves your chance of hitting more golf ball than grass when you swing.
- Hover the clubhead—I see golfers push the clubhead into the grass before they swing. This will cause you to hit behind the ball and the grass will slow the club and twist the clubface closed so your golf ball goes short and crooked.
- Hinge & Shift—hinge your wrists a little quicker on the takeaway and focus on shifting your weight into the lead foot on the downswing. Many golfers use only their arms causing them to hit behind the ball, allowing the grass to kill your club head speed. Some golfers I teach tend to “flip” at the ball; this is a death move out of the rough so you need to practice getting the hands in front at impact. Ask your coach about the “Miss the Towel” drill during your next lesson to stop the flip move out of the rough. Plus, check out the drill in the video at end of this article.
Most golfers dread hitting shots out of the sand…especially fairway bunkers. I see more clients struggle with sand than almost any other part of their game. In a fairway bunker you must hit the golf ball first when you swing…even a ½-inch of sand will destroy your chance of reaching the green. Here are a few tips for extracting your ball from a fairway bunker:
- Like the shot from the rough, you should move the ball slightly back in your stance.
- Unlike a greenside bunker, you should not dig your feet in very deep.
- Choke down on the grip about a ½-inch and only swing at about 70% of your normal speed and power.
- When choosing a club, always choose one with enough loft to get over any lip in front of you. This is very important; even if you can’t reach the green you must choose a club that will fly high enough to miss the lip. If the lip isn’t an issue, use more club than the distance would normally dictate to allow for the easier swing you’ll be using.
- Keep your body quiet as you swing and don’t look at the back of the golf ball. Instead, focus on the dimple at the front of the ball. This gives you a better chance to hit the ball first, which we already know is very important.
Hitting low shots under tree limbs
Changing your trajectory to get the golf ball under a tree limb is similar to playing into the wind. You need to make a few adjustments to your normal address position and swing:
- Start by playing the ball back further in your stance with a little more weight on your lead foot. Both of these adjustments will help decrease the loft of your club at impact and result in a lower launch angle.
- Make a swing that will help lower trajectory and reduce the amount of backspin you put on the ball. Ideally, your backswing will stop about waist high and your follow through will stop at approximately the same level. This short swing will increase your control of the club, lower the launch angle, and cause the ball to run more once it’s back on the ground. Much like playing from deep grass, you must have the hands in front of the ball at impact so use the “Miss the towel” drill again to practice low running shots.
My last advice—get out on the course for a Playing Lesson with your Coach. You will learn so much about lowering your score and playing better golf!