A wet spring can make non-fairway golf a 'rough' ride
Lon Horwedel | AnnArbor.com file photo
Wet, thick, nasty rough. It’s a course superintendent's dream, but a golfer's nightmare. As a Scottish friend of mine put it, "The super's sneak'n out at night and throw'n fertilizer in the bloody rough for the Open!" I guess that is how Carnoustie, got the nickname "Car-nasty."You don’t have to cross the pond to encounter a thick rough. Michigan has its version of springtime thick, nasty, club-stopping, ball-losing rough. The recent rain certainly hasn’t helped.
When playing in such conditions, the challenge is getting your ball out of the rough safely. Just be thankful it's predominately Kentucky Bluegrass here and not Kikuyu grass because Kikuyu will "ki-kill you" golf game.
The sap sieving Kikuyu grass is the worst I have experienced in my life. Native to East Africa, but used on courses in the American southwest (such as Torrey Pines in southern California) this grass is not only thick like our Kentucky Blue grass, but it secretes a sap that adheres to only the metal on a golf club, or so it seems. I had a rude introduction to the ultimate thick rough while in Kenya. The wind was blowing 17-22 miles per hour every day, 17-yard wide fairways, four yards of intermediate rough, then raw wild Kikuyu.
Ending up in trouble in the rough was inevitable. The course backed up to the Nairobi National Game Park where the only thing that grew more wild than the animals was the rough.
Intimidating at just a couple of inches, this rough was feet tall! Even if you did find your ball in the rough, it seemed the best option was to take relief by replaying the shot from the original spot - just to have a sporting chance at redemption. The horror stories for the week of making nines, 10s and 11s crowed the nineteenth hole and it was all blamed on the rough.
The same techniques used to tame the Kikuyu apply to any other type of roughs, be it Scottish Gorse, Kentucky Bluegrass, Kikuyu or Bermuda.
How often do we see U.S. Open highlights of Tiger ripping a mid-iron from the rough onto the green? True, he does have the strength factor, but even we mortals can use his same techniques. There are few things to consider before playing a shot from the rough.
- Swallow your pride: You have to think in terms of course management. Sometimes your best shot is not the highlight reel carry over the water you brag about to your friends, but the one that put you in good position to hit that shot. If you have a long carry over water to the green out of the thick rough, chances are going to be in your favor to just swallow the pride and chip out and get in a more favorable position to make your best shot of the day.
- Plan B: If you can’t stomach swallowing the pride and laying up, or you absolutely need to go for the big shot to have a chance at winning the hole or the match, it’s ok. If you do go ahead with the shot, grip the club as tight as possible with the top hand - that’s the left hand for righties, right hand for lefties. The tendency at impact is for the thick grass to grab the hosel of club and turn the blade over causing it to dive left. A strong grip can help prevent that.
- Play the ball off your back foot: This incorporates a steeper angle of attack using the clubs leading edge as a blade cutting through grass. Knifing through the grass improves the contact of more club on ball rather than grass in-between the two.
- Follow through all the way: If you make a conscience effort to keep the club moving through impact all the way to the top of the swing, it encourages a full finish in the swing rather than the club stopping dead in the grass.
Hopefully you don't have a superintendent sneaking out in the middle of the night throwing fertilizer in the rough at your local course. But if you do, use a few of these techniques against the nasty lies and you will be surprised how well it works. Enjoy your time on the course and have a great season.
Contact your local golf professional and have them assist you in managing your shots from the rough.
Kyle Dobbs is a former professional and University of Michigan golfer. He grew up in Ann Arbor and won the individual Big Ten title for the University of Michigan men’s golf team his senior year in 1997. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.