l just returned from two weeks in the UK where I played nine of the greatest links golf courses of the world. This was my third year in a row of exploring links golf, as the two years prior I went to Bandon Dunes and Cabot Links, which are probably the two places in North America that most closely resemble links turf.
The term “links” has been widely used in our country to mean several things, which it really is not, such as “I’m hittin’ the links tomorrow.” In other words, playing golf. But the term has a more precise definition: Links land is land that links the sea to the arable land further on shore. The area where the sea was, has receded and now leaves an expanse of turf which will only support the growth of some reddish brown fescue grasses. So if the color green is what you like on a golf course, stay home.
The growth is very low, the land is very rolling and hilly, firm, and the ground is simply whatever the sea has left on its retreat. While the golf courses on this land are pretty much whatever nature left there, a human being had to come and decide where tees, greens, bunkers etc., should be placed. It is even likely that many of the bunkers on the old courses might have been naturally dug by sheep and other animals seeking shelter from the harsh winds that blow in these area. Folklore? Fact? Who knows. But I do know this, the game that is played on this land is a whole other game than what many of us have come to know. The most we get in North America are “links style” or “links like” courses, usually meaning the absence of trees. These are not links courses. Here are some notable differences in how true links courses play.
First of all, because of the wind and the tight, firm turf, the golf ball flies lower. My advice is do not try to do anything about this, it’s simply a matter of the ballistics of impact. Think about shots you have played here in the U.S. from “hard pan” — they fly lower. You do not have the one inch or so grass under the golf ball as a launching pad, so accept lower flight…on ALL shots from the turf, not just around the green.
Now this works in your favor, because much of the time, we don’t want the golf ball to fly too high with the ever-present winds blowing. Most mistakes are made by players who try to hit high shots off very tight lies. Around the greens, putt whenever you can! When I did chip, I had some success with the ball slightly back, weight forward and hands ahead but… very little wrist set on most shots around the green, regardless of club selection. This keeps the hands in front, but avoids getting too steep into the firm turf. So if you closely observe elite-level players they are hitting de-lofted, low shots with a shallow somewhat shallow attack angle. I think anyone wishing to improve their iron game should learn to play links-land golf courses. There is far more putting and chipping with hybrids and 6-irons from off the green than in the U.S.
The second thing to be aware of is the line of play. It is critical in links golf. Take for example. a bunker guarding a green on one side. If you are forced to play over that bunker for your approach, you are faced with a very difficult shot, which invariably bounces over the green and into some heather or gorse behind the green making for an impossible up and in. My advice is play away from the bunker and short of the green for a much simpler short chip or putt. Here at home we can play over bunkers when forced to (it’s not optimal) because the softer greens mostly hold shots. Not in links golf! So try and check the hole location to know what side of the fairway to play in from. Yes, I know most of you are thinking, “I just wanna hit it solid,” but these observations could help, when you CAN control your tee ball. Try your level best to come into the green from the open, unprotected side.
Another word to the wise: avoid the heather (high rough fescue) and REALLY avoid the gorse bushes (unplayable lies to be sure). These grasses often cross the fairways so, when you play there, be sure to know how far they are from you; treat them like the hazards they are. You’ll need to lay well back of them if you can. I’d advise having 180 in from the fairway over 140 in the fescue. It is that different. Of course we can’t simply control tee shots, I’m referring more to the lay up shots. A bogey is NOT a bad score. Doubles and “others” come from the gorse, deep fairway bunkers and the heavy rough.
Which brings me to my next point, the roll of the golf ball. A shot on a links course is never good until it stops rolling! I hit a few drives 300 yards (I’m 70 years old). I hit what I thought were good draws right down the middle only to find them in the left fescue. If you do have a swing from the light rough (fescue) and the grass is growing toward the green, allow for “flyers” that might run 50 yards after landing. I hit an 8-iron that ended up near 200 yards once!
Avoid the fairway pot bunkers at all costs. If you get in one, take your sand wedge and play back to the fairway. I observed a number of players trying to play at the green. This is a HUGE mistake. Forget your distance to the hole, forget the green and get back on the fairway. It will save you a lot of strokes. Bobby Jones once remarked that the toughest shot in golf is the “pitch back to the fairway.”
In the greenside bunkers, there is less of a problem, but I might offer this advice: You are likely to find wetter, heavier sand than you might in the U.S. These shots require less bounce on the sand wedge or lob wedge, so one might consider that in your club selection. If you play your regular sand wedge, you may want to open it less at address and not “fan it” as much taking it back. This will minimize the bounce, let the leading edge work a little more than we might in fine, loose sand and help you explode better on to the green.
Another distinction…actual yardage means less than it does here at home. The wind, the elevation, the roll of the golf ball, all affect your club selection much more so than the actual yardage. The best advice here is get a good caddy who knows the actual distance, but will give you the real playing yardage.
The greens are large, quite undulating amd MUCH less defined. They also roll slower than out golf courses, because they are so exposed. A green speed over 10 is unlikely. The biggest difference we encounter is the effect of the wind on putts. If you get an experienced caddie, he/she is likely to remind you FIRST of the wind factor on the putts. For those of us who play in the states, wind is not the first thought we have on the putting surface. But it needs to be on the seaside fine fescue links greens. If those greens were at the speed of some creeping bent grasses, rounds might take in excess of six hours!
If you love of the game, and it is at all possible, go play golf in Scotland and or Ireland. There is something mystical about crossing the Swilcan Bridge, or playing out of the road hole bunker that no other place in golf offers. Walking the ancient fairways of Ballybunion or St. Andrews, where it is likely that every great player who has ever lived has played, (Augusta by comparison has been played by every great since 1934; Old Tom Morris was long gone by then) is a truly memorable experience.
These countries gave us our game game as we know it, and it is their national pasttime. I do not mean to discredit Cypress Point or Pine Valley, Merion or Oakmont one bit. They are wonderful fields of play (and much more difficult in my opinion) but they go back 100 years, not perhaps 500 years or more. The hallowed grounds that comprise the old links courses have been there since time began, and the idea of hitting a ball in a hole with a stick started there, and these things are palpable when you play there. But be prepared, it is a different game to be sure. And be sure to pack for every weather situation you can imagine. Even in the same day! I asked my caddie at the Old Course what the weather forecast was. He replied, “I can give you a 3-hole forecast at best.” And right he was. There were at least six weather changes that day. Anyway, I hope these tips help you if you ever get across the pond.
PS: Be prepared for five-plus hour rounds. Most of these courses are “bucket list” destinations and tourists take their time!
Ways to Win: Horses for Courses – Rory McIlroy rides the Rors to another Quail Hollow win
Tell me if you’ve heard this before: Rory McIlroy wins at Quail Hollow. The new father broke his winless streak at a familiar course on Mother’s Day. McIlroy has been pretty vocal about how he is able to feed off the crowd and plays his best golf with an audience. Last week provided a familiar setting in a venue he has won twice before and a strong crowd, giving McIlroy just what he needed to break through and win again. A phenomenal feat given that, not long ago, he seemed completely lost, chasing distance based on Bryson DeChambeau’s unorthodox-but-effective progress. McIlroy is typically a player who separates himself from the field as a premier driver of the golf ball, however this week it was his consistency across all areas that won the tournament.
Using the Strokes Gained Stacked view from V1 Game shows that Rory actually gained the most strokes for the week in putting. Not typically known as a phenomenal putter, something about those Quail Hollow greens speaks to McIlroy where he finished the week third in strokes gained: putting (red above). He also hit his irons fairly well, gaining more than 3.6 strokes for the week on a typical PGA Tour field. Probably the most surprising category for McIlroy was actually driving, where he gained just 1.3 strokes for the week and finished 18th in the field. While McIlroy is typically more accurate with the driver, in this case, he sprayed the ball. Strokes gained: driving takes into account distance, accuracy, and the lie into which you hit the ball. McIlroy’s driving distance was still elite, finishing second in the field and averaging more than 325 yards as measured . However, when he missed, he missed in bad spots. McIlroy drove into recovery situations multiple times, causing lay-ups and punch-outs. He also drove into several bunkers causing difficult mid-range bunker shots. So, while driving distance is a quick way to add strokes gained, you have to avoid poor lies to take advantage and, unfortunately, McIlroy hurt himself there. This was particularly apparent on the 72nd hole where he pull-hooked a 3-wood into the hazard and almost cost himself the tournament.
It’s rare that a player wins a tour event without a truly standout category, but McIlroy won this week by being proficient in each category with a consistent performance. From a strokes gained perspective, he leaned on his putting, but even then, he had four three-putts on the week and left some room for improvement. He gained strokes from most distances but struggled on the long ones and from 16-20 feet. Overall, we saw good progress for McIlroy to putt as well as he did on the week.
McIlroy also had a good week with his irons, routinely giving himself opportunities to convert birdies where he tied for seventh-most in the field. When he did miss with his irons, he tended to miss short from most distances. His proximity to the hole was quite good, averaging below 30 feet from most distance buckets. That is surely a recipe to win.
When you add it all up, McIlroy showed little weakness last week. He was proficient in each category and relied on solid decision-making and routine pars while others made mistakes on the weekend. Sometimes, there is no need to be flashy, even for the best in the world. It was good to see McIlroy rejoin the winner’s circle and hopefully pull himself out from what has been a bit of a slump. Golf is better when McIlroy is winning.
If you want to build a consistent game like Rors, V1 Game can help you understand your weaknesses and get started on a journey to better golf. Download in the app store for free today.
Club Junkie: Fujikura MC Putter shaft review and cheap Amazon grips!
Fujikura’s new MC Putter shafts are PACKED with technology that you wouldn’t expect in a putter shaft. Graphite, metal, and rubber are fused together for an extremely consistent and great feeling putter shaft. Three models to fit any putter stroke out there!
Grips are in short supply right now, and there are some very cheap options on Amazon. I bought some with Prime delivery, and they aren’t as good as you would think.
Golf’s Perfect Imperfections: No steering & no forcing
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