During the 1972 British Open at Muirfield, Scotland, Tony Jacklin and Lee Trevino attacked the 9th hole from the tee. Jacklin went for the carry over the left-hand fairway bunker, while Trevino played more conservatively down the right side. Both finished in the rough, but within iron distance of the green. Two amazing shots followed, both landing about 20 yards (18 m) short of but running onto the green. Both players then holed their putts for eagles.
Hitting into the rough is the most common problem a golfer faces. Even golfing legends like Trevino and Jacklin find themselves in the rough more often than they’d like. But by making a few adjustments you can get yourself out of trouble and back onto the fairway without costing yourself strokes.
When a recreational golfer finds himself in the rough, he often lets the situation intimidate him. Instead of assessing the lie, like many golf instruction manuals suggest, he grabs a club and slashes away, hitting into the rough again or into more trouble. By the time he finishes, he’s hacked out an 8 on the scorecard.
Hitting from the rough—whether heavy and thick or light and fluffy—trips up many golfers—even those who’ve taken golf lessons. But learning how to can get out of the rough doesn’t take a lot of instruction. It just takes a bit of discretion and knowing what adjustments to make.
Hitting into the thick rough is the more common scenario. The problem is the thickness of the grass. It grabs the hosel of your club and closes the clubface at impact, causing you to pull the ball left (for right handers). The grass also reduces club head speed and takes backspin off the ball. Heavy clumps of grass require almost brute force to get out of.
Choosing the right club is crucial, as most golf tips point out. You need a club with a sharp leading edge, like the shorter irons. The edge cuts through the thick grass, giving the best chance of catching the ball squarely. Try a lofted wood (5,7,9) or lofted iron (9 iron, pitching wedge). The loft gets you airborne quicker. If the ball is buried, try the 6 iron. And don’t try to hit a big hook or big slice. The deeper, thicker grass makes the ball go straight.
Ball position is also crucial: Too far forward means there’s too much grass to get through. Too far back means there’s not enough loft to get the ball airborne. Position the ball left of center (for right handers) with the longer clubs, and right of center with the shorter clubs.
In addition, do the following:
• Take a steeper angle of attack
• Keep your hands ahead of the club.
• Lean your weight forward
• Take a normal stance
• Aim your body slightly left
• Open your clubface
• Take a divot after the ball
Two other adjustments: set your wrists a fraction earlier than normal during takeaway and center your weight over the ball at the top of your back swing.
Light Fluffy Rough
Hitting from a light fluffy lie requires different adjustments, but it’s no less challenging. Like the thick rough, the real culprit is the grass.
With fluffy grass the ball sits up high, almost as if it were on a tee, so don’t take your normal swing. You need to avoid undercutting the ball, which prevents solid contact. Instead, try sweeping it off the “tee,” with the blade of your club barely touching the tips of the grass.
In addition, do the following:
• Choke down on the club
• Play the ball father forward
• Hover the club at address
• Restrict your back swing
• End with a balanced finish
Move your hands about an inch (2.5 cm) down the grip and position the ball farther forward in your stance, which encourages more of a sweeping motion through the swing.
Hovering the club permits you to catch the ball flush and guards against the ball moving at address. Choking down on the club restricts your backswing, but also hinge your wrists just a little earlier in your takeaway. Also, stop the club short of the horizontal position at the top of the backswing. Try to end with a balanced finish.
Hitting into the rough—whether it’s deep and thick or light and fluffy—doesn’t have to intimidate you. Just gather yourself and make the right adjustments and you’ll overcome the challenge. Also, stay within yourself. Don’t try to do too much. If the rough looks really challenging, punch it out onto the fairway.
The idea is to put yourself in position to hit the next shot, not cost yourself more strokes by hacking away. You may not land on the green with your next swing, but like Trevino and Jacklin, you might just hit a shot that leads to a surprising finish—and maybe a lower handicap.