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Hitting shots from the rough at TPC Scottsdale

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Before players arrived on site for the Waste Management Phoenix Open, I hit a few shots from the rough at TPC Scottsdale to see what the players have to deal with. With the help of Trackman, I recorded how different lies in the rough produce different numbers and ball flights. As you’ll see, certain lies in the rough greatly affect the outcome of the shot.

Let’s jump right in and have a look at the length of grass we’re going to be working with. As an instructor at TPC Scottsdale, I teach just off the right side of the No. 9 fairway, which will be in play for the tournament. The PGA Tour was targeting 3.5 inches of rough, and by the picture below, the grass was already at tournament height at the time of my experiment.

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Now that we’ve got some solid rough to work with, let’s talk about how the grain of the grass considerably affects the outcome of the shot.

FlierLie

Grass can be mown or brushed to cause grain, and it can also naturally grow in different directions. Shiny grass lays away from you, dark grass lays toward you.

With the help of Trackman, let’s take a look at what happens with the different lies pictured above. The idea for my experiment was to make very similar swings, specifically in club speed, using a 7 iron from the various lies to see how much the grass can affect ball flight characteristics.

Fairway Lie

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First, let’s look at a standard shot from the fairway. A good rule of thumb on spin with your irons is a 1000 rpm for each number. A seven iron should have roughly 7000 rpm, an 8 iron 8000 rpm, etc. In the photo above, you can see the numbers for my normal 7 iron.

Thick lie, slightly into the grain

Now that we know what a normal 7 iron looks like, let’s take a look at our first lie in the rough. This ball is down in some thick grass that is slightly into the grain. I added a pen to the photo for some scale.

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That’s surely some deep sticky grass, and as you can see from the Trackman numbers below, 87 mph of club speed produced a shot that carried only 87 yards and had just 1300 rpm of spin.

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This kind of lie is brutal to hit from. As the club gets into the grass, the hosel of the club has a tendency to contact the grass first and slow down the heel of the club down, causing the club face to close. The only thing you’ll be able to do is hit a low line drive with little spin that runs slightly more than a normal shot because of the greatly reduced spin.

Higher club head speed and strength make a huge difference here — more speed has almost a one-to-one ratio to carry. More carry doesn’t necessarily make the shot easier to stop on the green, but it gives you the ability to fly the ball a greater distance.

Catching a break, the down-grain lie

Let’s take a look at what happens when you get the ball to land in some down grain grass. You can see the lie below. A tire track matted the grass down in the direction I’m hitting the shot. This rye rough is so dense the ball doesn’t sink to the bottom of the grass. It rides high, giving the player a fighting chance. Check out how much difference a down-grain lie can make compared to the shot out of the thick stuff. It carried 80 yards farther!

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Digging into the numbers a little deeper, a couple things stick out to me.

First, even though the club speed is similar, the long, down-grain grass will take some speed off the ball. I got 115 mph of ball speed from the down-grain lie and 121 mph of ball speed from the fairway. My guess is that a couple of blades of grass got stuck between the face of the club and the ball. Like a baseball pitcher throwing a change up, shots hit from the rough move a little slower.

Even though the ball was traveling 6 mph hour slower, however, the low spin rate caused less friction in the air and, in turn, helped the ball fly the same distance as a shot from the fairway. With less than half the spin rate, however, it won’t stop nearly as quick as my stock 7 iron with 7200 rpm of spin. Plan accordingly.

When you’re watching the Waste Management Phoenix Open this week and you see someone play a shot out of the rough, you’ll have a much better idea of what is happening.

Things to remember when playing shots out of the rough

  • When you reduce spin on any shot, all things being equal, the ball will fly farther.
  • There is an art to reading how the ball is sitting in the grass. Take note of the grain of the grass and try to gauge how much grass is going to be caught between the face and ball at impact. More grass in between the ball and the club means less speed and less spin.
  • Don’t forget that a flier can be an advantage. A good example is trying to get the ball on a par 5 in two shots from some down-grain grass. Less spin can add carry and more roll once the ball hits the turf.
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Rob earned a business degree from the University of Washington. He turned professional in June of 1999 and played most mini tours, as well as the Australian Tour, Canadian Tour, Asian Tour, European Tour and the PGA Tour. He writes for GolfWRX to share what he's learned and continues to learn about a game that's given him so much. www.robrashell.com Google Plus Director of Instruction at TOURAcademy TPC Scottsdale www.touracademy.com

5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Tom Stickney

    Jan 31, 2015 at 11:03 pm

    Good stuff

  2. Jeff

    Jan 31, 2015 at 9:21 am

    Great read.

  3. P

    Jan 30, 2015 at 12:44 pm

    We need more articles like this to explain to weekenders what really happens with their game and why they score so poorly.

  4. Jay

    Jan 30, 2015 at 12:27 pm

    Great article. Thanks!

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The Wedge Guy: The importance of a pre-shot routine

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I believe one of the big differences between better recreational golfers and those not so good—and also between the tour professionals and those that can’t quite “get there”—is the consistency of their pre-shot routines. It is really easy to dismiss something that happens before the ball is even struck as irrelevant, but I strongly urge you to reconsider if you think this way.

To have a set routine to follow religiously before every shot gives you the best chance to execute the shot the way you intend. To do otherwise just leaves too much to chance. Indulge me here and I’ll offer you some proof.

It’s been a while back now, but I still remember an interesting account on this subject that used the final round of the 1996 Masters—when Nick Faldo passed a collapsing Norman—as his statistical proof. This particular analyst reviewed the entire telecast of that final round and timed the routine of both players for every shot. What he discovered was that Norman got quicker and less consistent in his pre-shot routine throughout his round, while Faldo maintained his same, methodical approach to every shot, not varying by more than a second or so. I think that is pretty insightful stuff.

A lot of time has passed since then, but all competitive tour professionals pay very close attention to their pre-shot routines these days. I urge you to watch them as they go through the motions before each shot. And notice that most of them “start over” if they get distracted during that process.

While I do not think it is practical for recreational golfers to go into such laborious detail for every shot, let me offer some suggestions as to how a repeatable pre-shot routine should work.

The first thing is to get a good feel for the shot, and by that, I mean a very clear picture in your mind of how it will fly, land and roll; I also think it’s realistic to have a different routine for full shots, chips and pitches and putts. They are all very different challenges, of course, and as you get closer to the hole, your focus needs to be more on the feel of the shot than the mechanics of the swing, in my opinion.

To begin, I think the best starting point is from behind the ball, setting up in your “mind’s eye” the film-clip of the shot you are about to hit. See the flight and path it will take. As you do this, you might waggle the club back and forth to get a feel of the club in your hands and “feel” the swing that will produce that shot path for you. Your exact routine can start when you see that shot clearly, and begin your approach the ball to execute the shot. From that “trigger point”, you should do the exact same things, at the exact same pace, each and every time.

For me (if I’m “on”), I’ll step from that behind-the-shot position, and set the club behind the ball to get my alignment. Then I step into my stance and ball position, not looking at the target, but being precise not to change the alignment of the clubhead–I’m setting my body up to that established reference. Once set, I take a look at the target to ensure that I feel aligned properly, and take my grip on the club. Then I do a mental check of grip pressure, hover the club off the ground a bit to ensure it stays light, and then start my backswing, with my only swing thought being to feel the end of the backswing.

That’s when I’m “on,” of course. But as a recreational player, I know that the vast majority of my worst shots and rounds happen when I depart from that routine.

This is something that you can and should work on at the range. Don’t just practice your swing, but how you approach each shot. Heck, you can even do that at home in your backyard. So, guys and ladies, there’s my $0.02 on the pre-shot routine. What do you have to add?

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