The most difficult thing about playing from the rough is its unpredictability. The length and type of grass, moisture, how the ball is sitting – all these and other factors can affect how the ball comes out.
If anything, short shots from rough are more difficult than long shots, because extra precision is required. If you've ever watched the U.S. Open, you've seen pros struggle to chip or pitch the ball close from the thick stuff.
While it's impossible to master greenside rough, there are several ways to maximize your efficiency. Keep these tactics in mind whenever you encounter a patch of gnarly grass:
- Sand wedge works wonders: Because of its heavy sole, the sand wedge is often the most effective club on shots from rough. The added heft keeps the rough from slowing down the clubhead and delivers more solid contact.
- Ball sitting up – chip it: If the ball is perched high in the rough, with half-inch or more space between the ball and ground, be careful not to slide the club completely underneath it. Choke up on the grip and use a sweeping, chipping-style motion, keeping the hands ahead at impact. A hybrid club could be your best bet.
- Ball sitting down – pitch it: With the ball nestled down, the low approach angle of a standard chip can cause the club to get hung up. Opt for a higher pitch shot with the sand wedge: open your stance and clubface, then pick up the club abruptly and drop it steeply onto the back of the ball. The idea is to make minimal contact with the grass.
A little pre-round reconnaissance can give you an idea of what you'll be up against – and how best to handle it. Hit a few practice shots from varying lies in the greenside rough for better on-course results.
Consider Variables When Playing from Greenside Rough
Missing greens is simply a part of the game of golf. You shouldn't be too hard on yourself when you miss a green in regulation – in fact, you should expect to miss at least a few during the course of every round, even if you are a pretty good player. Professional golfers miss greens in nearly every round they play as well, so this is not a problem which is unique to the amateur game. Players on the PGA Tour often come in somewhere between 70%-80% of greens hit, meaning they are chipping on roughly a quarter of all holes that they play. Simply put, you are going to miss greens, and how you handle those missed greens will have a lot to do with your score at the end of the round.
Most of the time, missing the green is going to result in having to chip from the greenside rough. This will not always be the case, of course, as you could find your ball in a greenside bunker or on a fairway cut. However, it is most common that you are going to find your ball in the rough, even if that rough is not particularly long. Since this is such a common scenario to encounter during a round of golf, we have dedicated this article to the skill of playing from the greenside rough. There are a number of variables at play when you confront this type of shot, meaning you need a combination of skill and experience to come away with a good result.
One of the best things you can do for yourself as a golfer is to get comfortable playing from as many different lies as possible. You never quite know what you are going to find when you start out on the first tee, and it really isn't possible to prepare for everything that could come your way. With that said, if you are prepared for a wide range of circumstances, you will have the best possible chance to be happy with your score when all is said and done. As you continue to practice your game, make it a goal to add as many shots to your arsenal as possible, including a number of shots which can be used from the greenside rough.
Before we get into the topic at hand, it should be noted that there are two parts to the up and down equation – the chip shot, and the putt. While we are going to work on your chipping skills from the rough in this article, it would be a terrible mistake to ignore the putting side of the equation. You have to putt well in order to shoot low scores, and the par-saving putts you make after a chip onto the green are some of the most important of the day. Turning bogeys into pars with great chipping and putting skills can take pressure off of the rest of your game. By all means you should use the information below to practice your chipping from the rough, but be sure to give your putting stroke its fair share of time as well.
All of the content 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.
A Long List of Lies
The biggest variable that you will have to deal with when chipping from the greenside rough is simply the lie of the ball in the grass. Just categorizing your ball as being 'in the rough' is far too vague and general, as you can draw a number of different lies within the rough, even on the same course. The ability to judge your lie successfully comes mostly from experience, but you can educate yourself on this topic to gain a head start. The list below includes some of the common lies you will find in the rough when you miss a green.
- Short rough, ball sitting up. On the average public golf course, this is probably the lie you are going to encounter most frequently. Public golf courses usually keep their rough relatively short to make the game easier for players of all skill levels – and to help pace of play, as well. When you play a course with relatively short rough, the ball is often going to sit right up on top of the grass. While that might look like a great lie to play from, it will actually present some significantly challenges. For one thing, you are going to get little to no backspin on a shot played from this kind of lie. Also, since the ball is sitting on the top of the grass and not actually on the ground, it is easy to go under the shot. Amateur players will commonly leave this shot well short of the target because they make contact with the ball high on the face. To perform well from this lie, you need to focus on finding the sweet spot at impact, and you should plan for plenty of bounce and roll due to the lack of spin.
- Short rough, ball sitting down. This lie is not as common, but you might find your ball sitting down in the short rough from time to time – especially if the course features a light, wispy strain of grass. Finding your ball sitting down in the short rough is a case of good news and bad news. On the positive side, you may be able to get a little bit of spin on this shot, and it should be far easier to make solid contact (since the ball is actually sitting on the ground). However, those positive notes are balanced out by the fact that you are going to have a harder time getting under the ball to hit a high chip shot. When the ball sits up, it is basically on a tee, making it easy to hit a lofted chip or pitch. A ball which is sitting down does not afford you that advantage, meaning you will need to opt for a lower trajectory on your shot.
- Long rough, ball sitting up. As the rough gets longer and longer, it becomes less and less likely that you are going to find your ball sitting up on the top of the grass. Those long strands of grass are usually rather weak, meaning your ball will sink down to the bottom quite easily. Should you find your ball up at the top on a rare occasion, you will need to pick the shot cleanly without hitting down through impact. You will have the same problem here as you had with the short grass, in that the ball is not going to be sitting on the ground. If you hit down through impact, you are more likely to go right under the ball than anything else. Shallow out your technique when you face this circumstance, sweep the club through the ball, and loft the shot up onto the putting surface. There will be basically no backspin on this shot, so you will need to hit the ball high if you wish to stop it relatively quickly.
- Long rough, ball sitting down. This is by far the more common of the two long rough lies that we have listed in this section. Most of the time, when your ball finds the long rough around the green, it is immediately going to sink to the bottom. If you are playing a course with particularly long rough, you might even have trouble finding the ball when you get up near the putting surface. The average golfer isn't going to encounter this type of rough very often, but it is a significant challenge when you do find a course which allows its rough to grow out. In this situation, you will have very few options at your disposal, as the long grass is simply in the way of a clean strike on the ball. Shots played from this kind of a lie are nearly impossible to predict in terms of distance, and they come out with very little spin. Hitting down steeply from above will help your chances of success, but even then you are going to need some luck on your side to wind up with a shot that finishes near the hole.
- Long fescue. If you happen to play a course with features fescue grass, you are in for an interesting and unique challenge. When fescue is allowed to grow long around the greens, it becomes thin and wispy, and the ball will almost always sit down on the ground. Playing from fescue is something you need to practice in order to learn how to handle this situation effectively. You can actually spin the ball in many cases, since there isn't much grass between your club and the ball, but the fescue can 'grab' onto the shaft as you swing down – twisting the club head and ruining your shot. An aggressive action is needed to cut through the fescue, and you need to make clean contact in order to get as much spin as possible on the shot.
Unfortunately, the list above – while it is a long list – only covers a portion of the many potential lies that you could find around the green. Experience is your best friend when it comes to playing well from the greenside rough, but understanding the lessons in this section should help get you off to a good start.
A Variable Within Your Control – Club Selection
There is nothing you can do about most of the variables you will encounter on a golf course. Things like wind, the lie of your ball, the slope of the ground, rain, and more area all elements over which you have no control. One variable you can control, however, is club selection. For any given shot, you have a number of viable club options available to you. It is up to you to select the best club for the task at hand. Learning how to pick the right club for chipping from the rough is a skill which will go a long way toward producing better results around the greens.
Generally speaking, your best bet from the rough is to use as little loft as possible while still making solid contact with the ball. If the ball is sitting up on top of the grass, you should be able to use something like a nine iron or pitching wedge to bump the ball onto the green. However, as the lie gets deeper, you will need to move down into your sand wedge or lob wedge to cut through the grass effectively. During your next chipping practice session, experiment with various clubs from various lies to get an idea of which combinations work best for you.
Of course, you do need to be able to stop the ball in time to leave it near the hole, so using higher loft even from a good lie may be required on occasion. If you only have a few paces between the edge of the green and the hole itself, use loft to stop the ball quickly since you are going to struggle to impart much spin. Developing the ability to hit a high chip shot from the rough when needed is something that can quickly shave strokes off your score. If you only have a low chip shot in your arsenal, you will have almost no chance to get up and down when short-sided.
One other point which needs to be made in regard to club selection is the way you construct your set of clubs in the first place. You should have at least three wedges total in your bag (including the pitching wedge). If you only have two wedges, say a pitching wedge and a sand wedge, you will not be well-prepared for the variety of situations you could encounter on the course. Most players will be served well to have three wedges, and some will even find that four wedges are necessary to fill in all the gaps. If you have a long club such as a three or four iron which is rarely taken from the bag, think about replacing that club with an extra wedge to provide a boost for your short game.
Obviously, you would love to hit the green on each and every hole that you play. Just as obviously, that is not going to happen. As we highlighted at the start of this article, even the best golfers in the world miss greens on a regular basis. So, when you do miss those greens, you want to make sure that you are putting the ball in the best possible position to get up and down successfully. If you can turn missed greens into pars at a high rate, your overall scoring average is quickly going to fall.
So what can you do to help your ball find a better spot around the green more frequently? The following strategic points are a good place to start.
- Play to the wide side. This is one of the most important things you can do with your approach shots. While it is always tempting to take dead aim right at the flag, that plan is not always the best way to go. If the flag is cut particularly close to the edge of the green, for instance, and you happen to miss on that side, you will be left with a difficult short-sided chip from the rough. It is always difficult to get up and down from the short side, meaning even a small miss with your approach shot could quickly turn into a bogey. Rather than aiming right at the flag with each approach, aim out to the wide side and give yourself some margin for error. This simple aiming adjustment will make it very unlikely for you to find the short side, and you should have a great chance to walk away with at least a par as a result.
- Play to the low side. This is the same concept as the previous point, except here you are going to favor the low side rather than the wide side. Why the low side? Simple – your short shots are going to be far easier when played uphill as opposed to downhill. Controlling the distance of your chip shots is the hardest part of the short game, but playing uphill while chipping from the rough make the job a lot easier. Chipping from the low side is always a nice advantage to have, but it is even more important when playing a firm and fast golf course. If playing on firm conditions, staying below the hole is the single most important thing you can do to keep your round on track.
- Consider the bunkers. If you are playing a course which has allowed its rough to grow out significantly, you might want to consider greenside bunkers as a decent place to be. Unless the bunker in question is particularly deep and nasty, you will usually be better off in the sand than in the long rough. You can spin shots from the sand, and you will be able to more easily predict the distance your shots will travel. If hitting the green is out of the question – due to a bad lie for your approach shot, for instance – knocking the ball into the greenside bunker intentionally is a viable option.
Golf is a game with strategic decisions waiting to be made around every turn. Unfortunately, most golfers ignore the strategy side of the game entirely, as they obsess about simply hitting their shots as far as possible. If you are willing to think critically about your shots and approach the game from a strategic standpoint, you can quickly gain a leg up on the competition.
One final variable which you will need to consider when playing from the greenside rough is the condition of the course. This is a variable that is going to change from day to day depending on the weather and the course maintenance schedule, so you can never get too comfortable on this point. Always pay close attention to the conditions throughout the day and adjust your game based on what you find.
If you are playing on a rainy day, watch as water accumulates on and around the greens. When you see that the course is becoming saturated, you should expect your ball to stop extremely quickly after it lands. Also, you will get even less spin than usual when chipping from the rough on a wet day, as the water is going to reduce friction between the club face and the ball. Most people think about playing on a rainy day as being easy because of soft conditions, but there are challenges that come along with the rain as well.
The speed of the greens is another course condition element to take into account, even when you are chipping. Fast greens make it extremely difficult to get up and down from the short side, or from the high side of the green. Either way, your ball is going to race away and you will have difficulty stopping it in time to set up a short putt. When you notice that green speeds are near the top end of the scale, place an extra emphasis on keeping your ball in the proper position all day long.
Chipping from the greenside rough is always going to be a challenge. With that said, you can improve your performance on these kinds of shots simply by pay attention to details and practicing your technique frequently. You will never be as consistent from the rough as you will be from the fairway, but there are still plenty of up and downs to be found from the longer grass. Use the information provided above to work on this important area of your game – good luck!