The first objective off the tee is hitting the fairway, but even the pros miss their share of short grass. It’s then that their expertise at “reading” the resulting rough golf lies kicks in, and they find a way to a better spot … or, hopefully, the green. You can be an expert, too. Properly reading how a golf ball has come to rest in the rough, whether in the full swing or short game, is critical to scoring well. The critical points to consider are:
Will the lie allow me to take my normal set-up and swing, or do I need to make adjustments to one or both? Also, you will need to consider how will these adjustments affect the ball flight.
- Will the ball come out faster or slower than normal?
- Will it fly higher or lower?
- Will it spin more or less?
- Will it affect the direction or curvature of the shot? Considering these four keys will help you select the correct club, type of shot and target — all musts for success on the course.
Consider the two balls in Photo 1. The ball on the right is sitting up in the grass, allowing you to play a normal shot. The ball on the left is sitting down enough that a normal set-up and swing will most likely result in a topped shot. Most amateurs will send themselves into a downward spiral thinking their swings have fallen apart after a topped shot when it was due to failing to read the lie properly and making the proper adjustments.
Check out the differences in the set-up for the two lies: In Photo 2, you can see that I’ve taken a normal set up.
The ball is approximately one club head width inside my left heel, my weight is 50/50, my hands are even with the ball, my right shoulder is lower than my left and my spine is angled away from the target. These set up keys promote a shallow angle of attack.
Notice how different my set up is in Photo 3. To steepen my angle of attack, minimize any grass between the club face and ball and ensure the most solid contact, I’ve made several set-up adjustments. The ball is further back in my stance, I have more weight on my lead leg, the shaft is leaning more toward the target, I have minimal spine tilt away from the target and minimal shoulder tilt. These adjustments promote a more vertical swing with more of a downward path of the club into the ball.
Notice the difference in the positions halfway back in my swing. In Photo 4, my normal set up results in a swing where my left arm is across my chest and the club is on plane. In Photo 5,the adjustments to my set-up for the bad lie have resulted in a much more vertical arm and club plane. They will also cause the ball to come out slower than normal, thus flying shorter, lower with less spin and more to the right.
Knowing how the ball comes out will allow me to choose the proper club and target, giving me the best chance to hit a good shot.
Dale Abraham is Director of Instruction at Bighorn Country Club in Palm Desert, California, in the winter and Telluride Country Club in Telluride, Colorado, in the summer.