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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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Instruction

Why you are probably better at golf than you think (Part 1)

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Golf is hard. I spend my career helping people learn that truth, but golfers are better than they give themselves credit for.

As a golf performance specialist, I give a lot of “first time working together” lessons, and most of them start the same way. I hear about all the ways the golfer is cursed and how s/he is never going to “get it” and how s/he should take up another sport. Granted, the last statement generally applies to an 18-plus handicap player, but I hear lots of negatives from better players as well.

Even though the golfers make convincing arguments for why they are cursed, I know the truth. It’s my job to help them realize the fates aren’t conspiring against them.

All golfers can play well consistently

I know this is a bold statement, but I believe this because I know that “well” does not equate to trophies and personal bests. Playing “well” equates to understanding your margin of error and learning to live within it.

With this said, I have arrived at my first point of proving why golfers are not cursed or bad golfers: They typically do not know what “good” looks like.

What does “good” look like from 150 yards out to a center pin?

Depending on your skill level, the answer can change a lot. I frequently ask golfers this same question when selecting a shot on the golf course during a coaching session and am always surprised at the response. I find that most golfers tend to either have a target that is way too vague or a target that is much too small.

The PGA Tour average proximity to the hole from 150 yards is roughly 30 feet. The reason I mention this statistic is that it gives us a frame of reference. The best players in the world are equivalent to a +4 or better handicap. With that said, a 15-handicap player hitting it to 30 feet from the pin from 150 yards out sounds like a good shot to me.

I always encourage golfers to understand the statistics from the PGA Tour not because that should be our benchmark, but because we need to realize that often our expectations are way out of line with our current skill level. I have found that golfers attempting to hold themselves to unrealistic standards tend to perform worse due to the constant feeling of “failing” they create when they do not hit every fairway and green.

Jim Furyk, while playing a limited PGA Tour schedule, was the most accurate driver of the golf ball during the 2020 season on the PGA Tour hitting 73.96 percent of his fairways (roughly 10/14 per round) and ranked T-136 in Strokes Gained: Off-The-Tee. Bryson Dechambeau hit the fairway 58.45 percent (roughly 8/14 per round) of the time and ranked first in Strokes Gained: Off-The-Tee.

There are two key takeaways in this comparison

Sometimes the fairway is not the best place to play an approach shot from. Even the best drivers of the golf ball miss fairways.

By using statistics to help athletes gain a better understanding of what “good” looks like, I am able to help them play better golf by being aware that “good” is not always in the middle of the fairway or finishing next to the hole.

Golf is hard. Setting yourself up for failure by having unrealistic expectations is only going to stunt your development as a player. We all know the guy who plays the “tips” or purchases a set of forged blades applying the logic that it will make them better in the long run—how does that story normally end?

Take action

If you are interested in applying some statistics to your golf game, there are a ton of great apps that you can download and use. Also, if you are like me and were unable to pass Math 104 in four attempts and would like to do some reading up on the math behind these statistics, I highly recommend the book by Mark Broadie Every Shot Counts. If you begin to keep statistics and would like how to put them into action and design better strategies for the golf course, then I highly recommend the Decade system designed by Scott Fawcett.

You may not be living up to your expectations on the golf course, but that does not make you a bad or cursed golfer. Human beings are very inconsistent by design, which makes a sport that requires absolute precision exceedingly difficult.

It has been said before: “Golf is not a game of perfect.” It’s time we finally accept that fact and learn to live within our variance.

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Instruction

Walters: Try this practice hack for better bunker shots

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Your ability to hit better bunker shots is dramatically reduced if you have no facility to practice these shots. With so few facilities (especially in the UK) having a practice bunker it’s no wonder I see so many golfers struggle with this skill.

Yet the biggest issue they all seem to have is the inability to get the club to enter the sand (hit the ground) in a consistent spot. So here is a hack to use at the range to improve your bunker shots.

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Golf Blueprint: A plan for productive practice sessions

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Practice range at the Dormie Club. Photo credit: Scott Arden

Stop me if you’ve heard this one.

You’ve gotten lessons.  Several of them.  You’ve been custom fitted for everything in your bag.  You even bought another half a dozen driver shafts last year looking for an extra couple of yards.  And yet, you’re still…stuck.  Either your handicap hasn’t moved at all in years or you keep bouncing back and forth between the same two numbers.  You’ve had all the swing fixes and all the technological advances you could realistically hope to achieve, yet no appreciable result has been achieved in lowering your score.  What gives?

Sample Golf Blueprint practice plan for a client.

One could argue that no one scientifically disassembled and then systematically reassembled the game of golf quite like the great Ben Hogan.  His penchant for doing so created a mystique which is still the stuff of legend even today.  A great many people have tried to decipher his secret over the years and the inevitable conclusion is always a somewhat anticlimactic, “The secret’s in the dirt.”  Mr. Hogan’s ball striking prowess was carved one divot at a time from countless hours on the practice range.  In an interview with golf journalist George Peper in 1987, Mr. Hogan once said:

“You hear stories about me beating my brains out practicing, but the truth is, I was enjoying myself. I couldn’t wait to get up in the morning so I could hit balls. I’d be at the practice tee at the crack of dawn, hit balls for a few hours, then take a break and get right back to it. And I still thoroughly enjoy it. When I’m hitting the ball where I want, hard and crisply—when anyone is— it’s a joy that very few people experience.”

Let me guess.  You’ve tried that before, right?  You’ve hit buckets and buckets of range rocks trying to groove the perfect 7-iron swing and still to no avail, right?  Read that last sentence again closely and you might discover the problem.  There’s a difference between mindful practice and mindless practice.  Mindful practice, like Mr. Hogan undoubtedly employed, is structured, focused, and intentional.  It has specific targets and goals in mind and progresses in a systematic fashion until those goals are met.

This is exactly what Nico Darras and Kevin Moore had in mind when they started Golf Blueprint.  In truth, though, the journey actually started when Nico was a client of Kevin’s Squares2Circles project.  Nico is actually a former DI baseball player who suffered a career-ending injury and took up golf at 22 years old.  In a short time, he was approaching scratch and then getting into some mini tour events.  Kevin, as mentioned in the Squares2Circles piece, is a mathematics education professor and accomplished golfer who has played in several USGA events.  Their conversations quickly changed from refining course strategy to making targeted improvements in Nico’s game.  By analyzing the greatest weaknesses in Nico’s game and designing specific practice sessions (which they call “blueprints”) around them, Nico started reaching his goals.

The transition from client to partners was equal parts swift and organic, as they quickly realized they were on to something.  Nico and Kevin used their experiences to develop an algorithm which, when combined with the client’s feedback, establishes a player profile within Golf Blueprint’s system.  Clients get a plan with weekly, monthly, and long-term goals including all of the specific blueprints that target the areas of their game where they need it most.  Not to mention, clients get direct access to Nico and Kevin through Golf Blueprint.

Nico Darras, co-founder of Golf Blueprint

While this is approaching shades of Mr. Hogan’s practice method above, there is one key distinction here.  Kevin and Nico aren’t recommending practicing for hours at a time.  Far from it.  In Nico’s words:

“We recommend 3 days a week.  You can do more or less, for sure, but we’ve found that 3 days a week is within the realm of possibility for most of our clients.  Practice sessions are roughly 45-70 minutes each, but again, all of this depends on the client and what resources they have at their disposal.  Each blueprint card is roughly 10 minutes each, so you can choose which cards to do if you only have limited time to practice.  Nothing is worse than cranking 7 irons at the range for hours.  We want to make these engaging and rewarding.”

Kevin Moore, co-founder of Golf Blueprint

So far, Golf Blueprint has been working for a wide range of golfers – from tour pros to the No Laying Up crew to amateurs alike.  Kevin shares some key data in that regard:

“When we went into this, we weren’t really sure what to expect.  Were we going to be an elite player product?  Were we going to be an amateur player product?  We didn’t know, honestly.  So far, what’s exciting is that we’ve had success with a huge range of players.  Probably 20-25% of our players (roughly speaking) are in that 7-11 handicap range.  That’s probably the center of the bell curve, if you will, right around that high-single-digit handicap range.  We have a huge range though, scratch handicap and tour players all the way to 20 handicaps.  It runs the full gamut.  What’s been so rewarding is that the handicap dropping has been significantly more than we anticipated.  The average handicap drop for our clients was about 2.7 in just 3 months’ time.”

Needless to say, that’s a pretty significant drop in a short amount of time from only changing how you practice.  Maybe that Hogan guy was on to something.  I think these guys might be too.  To learn more about Golf Blueprint and get involved, visit their website. @Golf_Blueprint is their handle for both Twitter and Instagram.

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