Hitting out of the rough isn’t the same as finding yourself in a fairway bunker but it isn’t quite the same as that perfect lie in the middle of the fairway either. This can affect everything from club choice to the type of shot you should try to hit. Here are a few things to think about if you want to get the best result.
How Deep in your Rough?
If the BeeGees had made a golf song, this would be it. Jesting aside, all rough isn’t created equal. For example, if you find yourself in light rough in dry conditions, you might as well be on the fairway. The ball shouldn’t react any differently and the end result will be basically the same.
If, on the other hand, you are sitting in US Open condition thick rough after a couple of days of rain, this is perhaps as tough as any shot in golf and will be nothing like your standard, run-of-the-mill shot from equivalent distance on the fairway. All this means as that not all shots from the rough are the same and the first thing to do is to assess the shot your have in front of you.
If the lie isn’t too extreme, you need to be careful of a couple of things regardless.
Hitting a Flyer
The main concern of a good player who finds himself in the rough is hitting the flyer. Let’s say he is 150 yards from the green and he would be hitting a stock eight iron if the ball were on the fairway at this distance in these conditions, whatever they may be. The lie isn’t horrific but there is a bit of grass around the ball. It isn’t going to take a monumental hack to get the ball moving but there is a decent chance that some grass is going to be between club and ball on impact.
This is when the flyer becomes a problem. A flyer generally happens when some spin gets taken off the ball because of the grass between club face and ball. One possible result here is that the ball simply goes further. This doesn’t always happen but when it does, it is potentially a big problem.
On most course, hitting the ball over the back is not a good result. In fact, outside of tougher course with higher slope ratings, it is usually far better to leave it short and straight than hit over the back. This gives the solution to the flyer. Take one less club. A good corollary to this is to swing a bit harder with that club too.
This will do a couple of things. Firstly, even if there is a flyer, one less club should could the ball out of danger and short. Secondly, swinging hard with a bit more loft can actually put a bit more spin on the ball which will keep it from flying too far as well.
The best case scenario in the ball finds its way to the target pin high. The worst case is often front edge. Both are infinitely preferable to scouring the out-of-bounds markers behind the green.
Leaving the Ball in the Rough
The other potential danger when hitting out of the rough is leaving the ball in basically the same place as lies. This is particularly true when we try to get a little bit too cute and finesse the ball out of a tricky lie. One of the basics of playing from off the fairway is to make a committed swing and thing is also true in rough.
The duff with the ball either not moving or just moving a yard or two forward is a real danger when the rough is thick and wet. This is a tough shot.
The first thing is to lower expectations. Let’s go back to out previous situation. We are 150 yards out and sitting in what looks like a patch of weeds. As uncomfortable as it is to accept, the best bet is almost certainly to forget about the green. You might pull off that one in a million shot but the downside is huge.
Firstly, and most importantly, you are risking an injury. Many golfers have found themselves with a wrist injury as the club snags in the rough trying to pull of a hero shot or really smash it out.
Secondly, even if you don’t get injured, the rough will turn the clubhead over meaning that, for a right-handed golfer, you will almost certainly pull it left. THe further you are trying to hit the ball, the more this directional uncertainty is dangerous and could even put you in further trouble or out-of-bounds.
Take More Loft
The key then is to take more loft, often quite a lot more. For example, if it is a seven iron, you might want at least a nine and possible a wedge. This isn’t just about playing it safe and getting back into play. It is also giving you the best possible chance of making half-decent contact with the ball as well as not getting hurt. The more lofted a club is, the steeper the swing which means there is less chance of getting caught up in the thick stuff and more chance of hitting the ball relatively cleanly. As an added bonus, it will also get the ball up in the air more rapidly and avoid potentially hitting grass or whatever might still be in front of you.
This is even true close to the green. Trying to get cute and delicately float the ball just out of the rough and onto the green or the fringe is really a very difficult shot. Odds are good that the next shot will involve moving forward about six inches and doing it again! It can be a higher percentage shot to take a sandwedge or even a lob wedge and have a fuller swing.
Ready for the Chipper?
I will leave this one until last because I know that it won’t be everybody’s cup of tea. I have mentioned before that I currently have a chipper that makes more than the occasional guest appearance in my bag. I don’t really feel like I need this in order to save myself from my dreadful chipping but I do like it in a host of different situations. It is good for hitting under tree branches, for example.
Perhaps my favourite time to pull it out of the bag is from the rough, especially when I am a bit concerned about making decent contact. It works well for three reasons. Firstly, it has a very heavy head. This is good for smashing through rough and making contact with the ball. Secondly, it has a short, upright shaft. I can take a hard three-quarter swing and it is easy to get the clubhead in the right place. Thirdly, it resists twisting quite well through a combination of these two factors as well as its wide sole. Of course, this isn’t for everyone, but in my mind it is probably as good as anything for getting the ball out of thick rough.