Knock It Stiff

When To Go for It, When To Play It Safe

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Play It Safe
You might be asking yourself why I’m not aiming at the green on this shot. I’ll give you a hint: See all that blue stuff? I don’t want my ball to go in it!

With so much water guarding the front of the green, I feel as though it’s just too risky for most higher-handicappers to challenge it. (In fact, while we were shooting this tip, a group of golfers played through. Two players dunked their tee shots in the water, and the other two tugged them so far left, they went out of bounds. I can’t be sure, but I’d guess the results would not have been the same if only the fairway lay between the ball and the green.)

If you’re at all uncomfortable with a visually (and mentally) challenging shot like this, play it safe, as I’m doing here. Take one less club and aim toward safety (in this case, the fairway). After hitting there, I had a relatively easy pitch shot to a wide-open green. I walked away from the hole happy that I didn’t lose any unnecessary shots. In situations like this, play it safe, and your scorecard will reflect your wisdom.

One of the things I like about golf is that wind and turf conditions alter how the course plays from one day to the next. These factors influence how your ball reacts once it hits the green.

When the course is damp, play aggressively. Hit your approach shots toward the pin so they “stick.” When the course is firm, play more conservatively. Hit it lower, and play for some roll.

Also, consider switching out your wedges. On firm courses, play a wedge with less bounce so it “cuts” into the turf. On soft courses, play a higher bounce model that doesn’t get stuck in the turf. Hit low shots into the wind and higher ones with the wind at your back so you can pick up a few yards.

Most amateurs don’t hit the ball far enough on their approach shots. Instead of hitting a smooth 5-iron, they typically try to “muscle” a 6-iron. Unfortunately that usually leads to overswinging and mis-hits, not to mention over-the-top swings that produce the dreaded big slice (if the clubface is square or open) or a pull (if the face is shut).

Consider my situation here. I’ve got a lot of trouble between me and the flag: a long lake and a kidney-shaped bunker—two places I really don’t want my ball to find. So, rather than trying to “career” my shot, I’m simply going to take one extra club and make a smooth, balanced swing (in this case, a 9-iron instead of a wedge). Good, solid contact will do more to launch my ball the right distance than will tensing up and taking a massively wild swipe at it.

The next time you’re in this situation, take one more club, maybe choke down on it and swing smoothly and within yourself.

You’ve probably seen Tour pros throw grass clippings up in the air to check the wind (see inset photo here). While doing this isn’t necessarily wrong, it’s only one ingredient to finding how hard the wind is blowing.

Tour pros also check the wind by looking at the surrounding trees. It makes sense. After all, golf balls fly higher than your head height (and the height those grass clippings reach). Sometimes, the wind in the trees blows harder than the grass you toss; other times, it blows softer. Always go with the trees.

Keep an eye on the flag, too. See if it’s flapping and how it compares to the wind in its vicinity. If it isn’t flapping, that doesn’t mean the wind isn’t blowing up above it.


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