Basically defined, rough is tall grass bordering a hole's fairway and green. Depending on the golf course, the grass type, the time of year and prevalent weather conditions, rough can vary widely in height and thickness. Sometimes, it's barely distinguishable from the fairway. Other times, it's 4-6 inches deep. Typically, it's somewhere in between.
You already know that the rough is supposed to be avoided, meaning there's a disadvantage to playing from it. The biggest issue is that the tall grass slows down your club before contact, causing shots that fly shorter distances than those hit from the fairway. The thicker the rough, the more it will interfere with your club and the shorter your shots will be.
Playing from fairway rough calls for some minor adjustments to your normal swing. If the rough is especially deep, you'll need to get the ball up quickly. Use a high-lofted club, such as a wedge or 9-iron. Then follow these steps to recovery:
1. The goal is to get the ball back onto the short grass, so make sure to aim toward the fairway, not at the green.
2. Grip down (choke up) a couple of inches on your club and place the ball in the center of your stance.
3. Make sure your hands are ahead of the ball, with the shaft leaning toward your target.
4. Take a short backswing, with the hands reaching about waist height, and chop down on the back of the ball.
5. It's important to accelerate through the ball to prevent the grass from slowing the club too much. In other words, swing hard.
6. The ball will pop up and out of the rough.
Remember, the taller the rough, the more effect it will have on your shot distance. From shorter rough, the ball may travel nearly as far as a solid strike from the fairway.
Top Tips How to Hit from the Fairway Rough
Obviously, it would be great if you could hit every fairway throughout your round - playing from the short grass always makes the game easier. Of course, that isn't going to happen, as golf is a difficult game and poor shots are just part of the deal. In fact, even some of your good drives won't wind up in the fairway, as they could catch a gust of wind or a bad bounce and wind up in an ugly spot. So, if you are hoping to be able to post good golf scores on a regular basis, it is crucial that you learn how to play good shots from the fairway rough. You will never be able to control the ball from the rough in the same way that you can from the fairway itself, but you can teach yourself how to get decent results in order to keep your score on track.
Even if you are a good driver of the golf ball, you are likely to play from the fairway rough at least a handful of times throughout the day. If you struggle from the tee, you may need to hit out of the rough on almost every hole. No matter how frequently you find yourself in the longer grass, the important thing is that you have a game plan in place to deal with these potentially challenging shots. Most courses don't have long rough like would be seen at a U.S. Open or other big events, but even just a couple inches of rough can have a serious impact on the shots you can hit into the green. Once you know what the rough is going to do to your ball, and how you can counteract those effects, you will stand a much better chance of getting out of the rough in good enough shape to escape with your par.
A big part of playing from the rough comes down to lowering expectations. When you hit an approach shot from the fairway, you have the whole world at your fingertips. You can basically hit any type of shot that you wish, and you can use whatever club you feel meets the requirements of the shot. That is not the case when in the rough. Depending on the depth and density of the rough, you might not be able to even try certain types of shots, and some of the clubs in your bag will be a no-go. With all of that said, you have to realize that the chances of hitting a great shot from the rough are relatively low, and you should instead be focused on getting back in position as quickly as you can. The mindset that you have in the rough should be more concerned with limiting the damage rather than hitting incredible shots and making birdies. As long as you are thinking realistically about the situation you face, you will stand a far better chance of succeeding.
All of the instruction below is based on a right handed golfer. If you happen to play left handed, please take a moment to reverse the directions as necessary.
How the Rough Affects Your Golf Ball
What is it about playing from the fairway rough that changes the way your ball flies through the air? This is a question that experienced players take for granted - but newer golfers are often quite confused by the issues at hand here. One of the best things you can do when trying to improve your game in any specific area is to educate yourself on how golf works with regard to that area. So, in this case, learning about why the golf ball behaves as it does when coming from the rough will greatly help you perform better down the line. Knowledge is power in golf just as it is in life.
Following are a few points to understand with regard to how your ball reacts when coming out of the rough.
- The ball isn't going to spin very much. This is the main point that needs to be picked up when playing from the rough. When you hit your ball out of some longer grass, it is not going to have the same spin rate as it would when played from the fairway or from the tee. Even if you make the exact same swing with the same club, the spin rate is going to be significantly less when coming out of the rough. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, and most importantly, some of the grass in the rough is going to get trapped between the club face and the ball. When that happens, the club face will not be able to 'grab' onto the ball and make it spin. Instead, the ball shoots out of the grass with very little spin of any kind. Also, your ball is often not actually on the ground when you are in the rough - instead, it frequently will be hovering an inch or two above the top of the ground. Since you won't be able to 'pinch' the ball between your club and the ground, you won't be able to generate as much spin. It all adds up to this - you should not expect your ball to spin much at all when you are playing from any kind of rough.
- Your club head is going to slow down. As soon as your club head starts to enter the rough in the downswing, it is going to be slowed down by the resistance offered by the grass. This is one of the big problems when playing from the fairway rough, especially from long distance - you just can't maintain your club head speed all the way through the shot. In this case, it is more important to look at the thickness of the grass rather than the length. If it is particularly thick, it is going to rob you of most of your swing speed even if it isn't all that tall. When trying to pick a club and plan a shot from the rough, keep in mind the fact that your club head speed is going to be reduced before you are ever able to get to the ball.
- It is going to fly low. This is a point that is directly related to the lack of spin that will be placed on the ball. Without spin, the ball isn't going to climb high into the air, so you should expect your shots from the rough to simply shoot out low to the ground. The ball obviously isn't going to carry as far in the air when it comes out low either, so you will need to pick a target that gives you plenty of room to bounce the ball up to the hole whenever possible.
- It's going to bounce when it lands. This is the last point that you need to understand, and it is again related to spin. If you manage to get the ball up out of the rough good enough to where it lands on the green, you can expect it to take a big bounce and probably roll out thanks to the lack of spin on the shot. This is a point that is highly dependent on course conditions, however, as the ball will still stop when playing on a soft course even if you don't have much spin.
You aren't going to have success playing from the fairway rough until you understand the points on the list above. Once you accept the fact that you aren't going to be able to spin the ball significantly, and you likely aren't going to be able to carry it all the way to the target, you will become a better player from the rough. It is possible to produce some good shots from the longer grass from time to time, but only if you are willing to accept your limitations and find creative ways around them.
How to Swing from the Rough
There is a specific type of golf swing that you are going to want to use while in the rough. You don't have to completely change the way you swing in order to get out of the longer grass, but you do want to tailor your technique to the demands of this kind of shot. It is going to be difficult to produce good shots if you are unwilling or unable to tailor your swing as needed, so make sure to adjust based on the points below and you will be on your way to improved play from the fairway rough.
The following points are the main keys that you want to keep in mind when tailoring your swing to work out of the fairway rough. You can practice these points on the driving range (even though your ball won't actually be in the rough on the range) so you are ready to put them into use out on the course.
- Swing on a steeper plane. The golf swing needs to be on a relatively steep plane when playing from the rough in order to avoid having your club head get caught up in the long grass prior to impact. If you were to swing down on a shallow plane, the club would have more time to get hung up in the rough - meaning you would lose more swing speed, and the face would likely get twisted off line. So, if you are someone who usually swings on a flat plane, work on making a steeper swing when in the rough to improve your results. Obviously, if you already swing on a steep plane for the rest of your shots, no adjustment will be necessary.
- Lead with your hands. This is a point that gives many amateur golfers trouble, but it is absolutely crucial when playing from the rough. If you are going to make good contact with the ball - or, at least, as good as you can make when hitting out of the long grass - you have to keep your hands moving ahead of the club in the downswing. Holding onto your lag in the downswing will provide you with more power (and a steeper angle) as you hit down. Leading with your hands is the best way to get the ball up out of the grass successfully, and working on this point could actually help with your 'regular' swing as well. To lead with your hands, focus on taking the back of your left wrist through the ball while keeping it flat. If there is no breakdown on that wrist as you swing through, the angle you hold should be excellent.
- Don't overswing. There is a natural tendency by amateur golfers to swing extra hard when the ball is sitting down in the rough. The intention is good, of course - they just want to provide as much speed as possible in order to get the ball up and out. However, swinging extra hard rarely leads to good things in golf. Most likely you will end up losing your balance and make poor contact with the ball as a result - and that isn't going to help you get any closer to the target. Instead of swinging as hard as possible, focus on staying balanced and making clean contact. If you can do those two things, there should be enough speed to at least get the ball back to the short grass.
- Pay attention to side hill lies. Often, the ground where you are standing in the rough will not be flat. If that is the case, make sure you have good footing and good balance prior to making any swing. When you are standing on a significantly sloped piece of ground, take a little bit of the effort out of your swing in order to make sure you stay balanced all the way through to the finish. You won't be capable of hitting the ball as hard from an awkward lie as you would be from flat ground, so this is another point where it is important to know your limitations.
Making appropriate swings based on the rough that you are facing is one of the most important things you can do. Take the tips above to heart and try to follow them as closely as possible when playing from longer grass. As long as you work with these tips and you stay within your limits as far as how hard you can swing, it should be possible to get your ball back in play quickly without too much damage to the scorecard.
Picking the Right Shot
Now that you know how the ball is going to react when hit from the rough, and how you need to swing in order to get good results, it is important to talk about picking the right shot for the situation. Your decision making in the rough is arguably more important than the actual swing you make, as your shot selection is going to largely determine how the shot comes off. As you can likely imagine, being patient and picking smart shots is going to be the key to success.
The first thing you want to look at is the path that you have to the hole. Is there more long grass in your way, or do you have some fairway-length grass that you can use to bounce the ball up to the green? If you have plenty of short grass in front of you, the best thing you can do is play a low shot that will bounce and roll toward the target. Not only is this the easiest shot to hit from the fairway rough, it is also the safest as a low shot is unlikely to go far offline.
When you have something in your way, however, is when things start to get tricky. If there is long grass in your way, or a deep bunker or a water hazard, you will have a choice to make - do you go for the green, or do you lay up short of the trouble? This is where it is important to be conservative and patient. If you aren't completely convinced that you can carry the ball far enough to clear the trouble, you will want to pitch the ball into the fairway and play it safe. Only when you are 100% confident that you can carry the ball far enough to stay out of trouble should you go ahead and go for the green.
One other point to consider is the location of the hole on the green. Ideally, you would be able to place your ball on the low side of the hole in order to leave yourself an uphill shot. You are likely to miss the green when coming in from the rough, so try to miss on the low side when at all possible. Uphill chip shots are significantly easier than those that head downhill, especially when the course is dry and the greens are fast. Playing to the low side is something that is often ignored by amateurs but is always considered by the pros - think more like a pro and your performance from the rough will improve.
It is impossible to have one single plan for your approach shots from the rough simply because there are so many possible situations that you can face on the golf course. However, it is important to have an overall goal of being patient and 'taking what the course gives you'. It is usually when you try to force the action that you get in trouble and wind up making double and triple bogies. Don't allow your frustration to get the best of you - be patient, think smart, and always try to minimize the damage when you find the rough.
Short Game Thoughts
Of course, there is rough around the greens just as there is out by the fairway. When you miss a green, you are very likely to find the rough, so you will have to know how to get out of this situation safely if you are going to avoid wasting shots within short range of the hole. Following are a couple of basic tips to keep in mind when chipping from the greenside rough.
- Still no spin. Just as when you are playing from the fairway rough, you aren't going to get much spin on the ball when chipping out of the rough from around the green. With that in mind, play your shots to bounce and roll out significantly more than they would if you were chipping from short grass. Before starting a round, try to hit some chip shots from the rough around the practice green so you can get familiar with how the greens are going to react to chip shots from the longer grass.
- Watch the height of the lie. The biggest problem you will have when chipping from the rough is that the ball might not actually be sitting down on the ground. If the ball is resting up in the air on top of the grass, it will be easy to 'go under the ball' and leave the shot well short of the target. It is crucial to keep your eyes on the ball while chipping to make clean contact in order to get the ball to go the right distance.
It should go without saying that you would rather be playing from the fairway than the rough. However, when you do venture into the rough, you need a plan of attack to get your ball out and back in play as quickly as possible. By using the information included above, you should be able to deal with fairway rough without too much of a problem during most of your rounds. Good luck and play well!