More Solid Shots Out of the Deep Stuff
By Randy Peterson
Callaway Golf Director of Fitting and Instruction
As anyone who's played golf knows, it's inevitable that at some point during a round you're going to find yourself in the rough. And while the rough certainly presents challenges that don't exist when playing from the fairway; playing from the rough doesn't have to ruin your round. Below are a few points regarding playing from the rough that will help you keep your round on track.
The first key to playing effectively from the rough is accurately assessing the lie of your ball: how deep or buried is your ball? The club you hit and what type of shot you play are dictated by this because the rough creates resistance as the club enters the grass, causing the club to slow down or decelerate before impact. The heavier the rough, the more rapidly the club slows down. Obviously, the club head slowing down results in a loss of distance. So, judging how much grass is going to interfere with the club head before impact is critical.
If your ball is sitting where some portion of the ball is above the tallest blades of grass (Image 1 above), the loss of club head speed will be minimal and therefore so will be the loss of distance. In this circumstance, take one more club than you'd normally hit from that yardage and let er' rip. High lofted fairway woods and hybrids can be especially effective in this circumstance.
For a lie where the top of the ball is even with the top of the grass (Image 2 above), you're also going to take an extra club than you normally would for the given distance, but now you also need to alter your technique slightly. In this situation you want to make your swing plane steeper or more upright so you approach the ball with a more vertical angle. This technique minimizes the amount of resistance from the rough.
Doing so requires a few minor adjustments to your set-up (see the images below). First, at address open both your stance and the club face slightly (Image 3 below). Next, play the ball in the middle of your stance (Image 4 below). And finally, increase the grip pressure in both hands. This will help keep the club face from closing rapidly as the club enters the grass (the long grass in the rough often wraps around the hosel of the club before impact causing the club face to close and the ball to come out low and left).
With your set-up adjusted, begin your swing by focusing on taking the club away more with your arms (Image 5 below) than by turning your shoulders (Image 6 below), as is normally desired. Initiating your backswing with your arms together and an open set-up will promote a more upright swing plane, resulting in the desired more vertical angle of attack. When executed correctly, it should feel like you're hitting a cut shot.
The worse case scenario in the rough is when the entire ball is deep under the top of the grass. In this case, your best option the majority of the time is going to be to take a high lofted club and put the ball back in the fairway. As you may have witnessed in the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, this is the option even the best players in the world chose most often. One thing you will notice when the pros play back to the fairway from the rough is that if it's at all possible, they lay-up in the fairway to a favorite yardage. For some that yardage maybe 90 yards, for others it may be 75 yards. This is a great lesson for amateurs also. When you're at the driving range, determine how far your sand wedge or lob wedge goes with a normal swing and then try laying up out of heavy rough to that distance. It won't take long for you to realize laying up to a specific yardage from heavy rough and relying on your wedge game is far more practical than lashing at the ball with a long iron or fairway wood.
So remember, playing from the rough is part of the game and it doesn't have to destroy your score. If you learn to assess your lie correctly, alter your set-up and swing plane as needed and choose the correct club you'll prevent the rough from wreaking havoc on your score card.
The argument for hybrids and fairway woods
Hybrids and high lofted fairway woods can be more effective from the rough than irons in all but the real nasty lies. There are a couple reasons why: One, irons have a taller club face profile than hybrids and fairway woods and a taller club face means more surface area which creates more drag or resistance as the club enters the grass. And two: most irons have a longer hosel than hybrids and fairway woods which results in irons having a higher center of gravity (cg). Because the cg is lower on hybrids and fairway woods it's easier to get it under the golf balls cg which results in the ball launching higher.
For more tips from Randy, check out his articles on golf tips for your game and hitting better shots from the rough.