The key to success in deep rough? Lofty expectations with a conservative mindset
By Jon Levy
Stop me if this sounds familiar:
You’ve just pounded your tee shot. And, OK, it was a little offline.
But the hammered drive has you buzzing all the way to the ball, excited to jumpstart your round like an emphatic Tiger fist pump to the crowd.
As you reach where you think your ball lies in the surprisingly overgrown rough, however, your heart completely sinks when you finally spot it.
You’re not 10 yards from the fairway, but can hardly even make out a single dimple. While your playing partner’s drive of course sits perfectly in the fairway, taunting you like the heckler from Happy Gilmore.
Which causes you to wonder, yet again, how you find yourself in these situations that make you question why you play this game. So, let’s discuss rules some to deal with your plight and get on with your round.
Rule 1: Use more loft than you think you need!
So, SO many golfers – from 20 handicaps to 2s – think they can muscle a 4-iron out of 5-inch-thick rough to a back-left pin, 200 yards away, over water.
Lower-lofted clubs get stuck in the deep grass, which makes it MUCH harder to get clean, solid contact than a shot from the fairway.
Unless, of course, you can muscle a Tiger-like swing that takes half of the planet with along your ball.
For most mortals, though, using a higher-lofted club is helpful for two reasons:
1. If we go back to our pal in the fairway – that lie creates the ability to produce everything needed for a good, controlled shot:
- Clean contact
- Ball compression
- Ideal ball speed and backspin
But, in deep rough, the ball-dwarfing grass gets in the way of those spin-controlling grooves and results in a shot headed toward (insert unpredictable location HERE).
Picture it like a baseball batter trying to hit a knuckleball.
When thrown correctly, the lack of spin on a knuckleball makes it extremely difficult to hit, because neither the batter nor pitcher knows where it’s going.
2. The leading edge of the less-lofted club can’t cut through the deep grass as well, and the shallower angle of attack that accompanies the longer club adds to the issue even more.
It’s like if you were digging a hole into rock-hard dirt – you’d naturally choose taking steep cuts into the ground with a sharp shovel over useless scrapes with a dull butter knife.
Rule 2: Set up with an open clubface
Now that we’ve established more loft is the ticket, it can also help to set up with an open clubface because deep rough tends to close the face before impact.
Picture the clubface as a door, and that this door shuts from the hosel (its hinges) getting stuck in the grass at impact, while the momentum of the toe continues to swing closed.
Opening the clubface slightly at address (5-10 degrees), therefore, can combat the closing effect and help the ball launch on its intended line.
Note: Holding the club more firmly can also help protect against the face closing at impact.
Rule 3: Shift weight toward your lead foot at address
Moving your hips and sternum slightly more toward the target at address will help your swing bottom out more in front of the ball.
This minor setup change, combined with positioning the ball slightly back in your stance and choosing a high-lofted club, will further enhance your chances for the cleanest contact possible.
Rule 4: Predict the likely outcome and choose wisely!
The first three rules won’t matter unless you follow Rule 4. Every. Single. Time.
The advice here is taking a few extra seconds to inspect the lie and envision how the ball will react, which will give a better idea of what club and course management play makes the most sense.
Obviously, every lie is different.
As are types of grasses, moisture levels (wet rough is often more challenging than dry), your swing characteristics (steep angle of attack or shallow, etc.), how the ball is sitting (near the bottom or top), level of your strength (i.e. Tiger) – the list goes on.
And then there’s the “flyer” lie (more prevalent in short to mid-length rough), but that’s another story so we’ll stick with to deep stuff for now.
So try answering the following questions of “lie awareness” before you pull the trigger on these shots:
- What club(s) will work best for decent contact and shot positioning?
- How will the grass affect the shot in the best- and worst-case scenarios?
- How would you weigh “going for it” compared to playing more conservatively?
Note: The odds for a positive outcome with Question 3 STRONGLY leans toward a certain direction. Can you guess which?
Rule 5: Be conservative!
The previous section hinted at the overall message: Be more conservative than you think you need to be!
Use more loft. Make the setup adjustments. Know a ball in deep rough won’t go as far, with much less control on it.
If you have a good option to lay up, this strategic decision can help avert any lurking disaster of a more aggressive route.
Note that you may have exercise more patience than comes naturally (Read: “I know I can pull this off.”), but more times than not, your better served by taking the conservative route.
Which, in revisiting our hammered drive from the tee just a few minutes earlier? You may just keep that buzz alive and stay in your happy place, after all.