The great Gene Sarazen invented the sand wedge by adding “bounce” to the bottom of a standard wedge.
The thickened sole is designed to displace more sand from a bunker and prevent the blade from sliding too cleanly underneath the ball. Bounce also makes the sand wedge a valuable tool when playing from greenside rough, especially when the ball is nestled down.
In these cases, the thinner, lighter blade of a lob wedge, gap or pitching wedge can get snagged and slowed down by the grass, killing clubhead speed and causing weak contact. The sand wedge is also a better option when the ball is sitting up in tall, fluffy grass, when a club with a thinner sole might slide completely underneath it.
When using the sand wedge from the rough, let the club's heft work for you. Think of dropping the clubhead down and under the ball, rotating your body more than you would on a normal pitch shot, while holding the clubface open through impact.
It's important to place your hands slightly ahead of the ball at address, but not so far forward that you de-loft the club and minimize the effect of its bounce.
Use Sand Wedge to Pitch from Thick Rough
Finding your ball in the thick rough is never a pleasant experience. As soon as you see your ball sitting down in the deep rough around the green, you know you are in a bit of trouble. Sure, it might not be as bad as hitting your ball into a water hazard, but sticking your ball in the deep grass is still likely to lead to a bogey. However, you don't have to give up immediately when you find such a difficult lie near the green – by using your sand wedge properly, you just might be able to get up and down from this tough spot.
For some beginning golfers, the name 'sand wedge' can be confusing. With the word 'sand' right there in the name, isn't it a club which should only be used from the bunkers? No – certainly not. Although it is called a sand wedge, this lofted club can be used from anywhere around the green. Professional golfers frequently hit chip and pitch shots with their sand wedges, and you should be doing the same. The sand wedge is actually one of the most versatile clubs in your bag, as it can help you get out of a number of tricky situations. Learn how to use this wedge properly and you will become a better all-around golfer.
One of the challenges that comes with pitching from the thick rough is the fact that many golf courses today do not feature thick rough. It has become common for courses to mow their rough short in order to make the game easier and to help pace of play. That is all well and good, but it can leave you unprepared when do play a course with long grass around the greens. Without the experience of hitting these kinds of shots under your belt, pitching the ball close from the deep rough can seem like an impossible task.
To teach yourself this valuable skill, try to find a course somewhere near your home which allows its rough to grow. If you are able to find such a course, and that course happens to have a short game practice area, you will be in luck. Spend some time chopping the ball out of the long rough and you will quickly get a better idea for how to get out of this situation. You will never be able to control the ball as well from the thick rough as you do from the fairway cut, but it is certainly possible to improve your skills over time with consistent practice.
In this article, we are going to offer some advice on how to use your sand wedge effectively from the thick rough. You may wish to use a different club to hit this shot from time to time, but the majority of your chip and pitch shots from the deep rough are going to be played with the sand wedge. Take some time to read through this article and you will be well-prepared to go out and practice this shot for yourself.
All of the content below is based on a right-handed golfer. If you happen to play left-handed, please reverse the directions as necessary.
A Primer on Pitching from the Rough
Pitching and chipping from the rough is completely different from hitting the same length shot off of the fairway grass. No matter what club you have in your hands, you need to understand some basics if you are going to pitch from the rough successfully. In this section, we are going to cover the basic points related to chipping out of long grass. These points apply to any shot you hit out of long grass around the green. Once you have a firm grasp on the points supplied in this section, you can then move on to learning how to use your sand wedge specifically to pitch the ball out of thick rough.
- No spin. This is the major difference between chipping from deep grass and chipping from the fairway. When your ball is sitting down in the long rough, you should expect to impart no spin whatsoever on the ball. Since the grass is going to be trapped between your club face and the ball at impact, you won't be able to create the friction necessary to produce backspin. This means, of course, that the ball is going to bounce and roll significantly after it lands. You may be able to spin your shots effectively from the short grass when pitching, but that is not going to be the case out of the rough. As you plan out each shot, keep in mind that you are going to need to give the ball plenty of space to roll out after it lands (depending on course conditions – the ball may not roll out much on a soft, wet course).
- Easier to elevate the ball. It is not all bad news when you find your ball in the long rough around the green. While spin is now out of the equation, you can instead use loft in an attempt to stop your shots quickly. In thick rough, it is unlikely that your ball will actually be sitting down on the ground – instead, it will be suspended at least an inch or two off of the ground, held up by the strength of the grass itself. If you are planning to hit a high pitch shot, you can use this type of lie to your advantage. By opening the face of your wedge and swinging down under the ball, it is possible to pop the shot high into the sky. Thanks to this vertical trajectory, such a shot should roll relatively little after it lands. Of course, as you might expect, this type of shot is rather difficult to execute. To add this option to your arsenal you are going to need to practice the appropriate technique consistently over a period of time. The benefits are worth the invested time, however, as hitting the ball high is really your only option for stopping this type of pitch shot quickly after it lands.
- Distance control difficulty. In addition to the lack of spin, one of the other challenges you will face when pitching from the rough is controlling your distance successfully. As mentioned above, grass is going to be trapped between the club face and the ball when you make contact with this kind of shot. As a result, you will have less control over the distance the ball travels in the air, as there is no way to predict exactly how the grass is going to affect the quality of the strike. Sometimes, grass between the club and ball will make little difference, while in other cases it will take a tremendous amount of energy out of the shot. This is always going to be something of a guess, even for the best players, which is why all golfers struggle to control distance while chipping from the rough.
- Adapt to the conditions. The weather conditions you face during a given round will greatly affect how the ball comes out of the heavy rough. For instance, if you are playing on a warm, dry day, the rough will be growing rapidly and it may be even more difficult in the afternoon than it was in the morning. On the other hand, playing from the rough on a rainy day is challenging because the water on the grass will add to the resistance that you feel as you swing. While there is nothing you can do to change the conditions you are facing, of course, you can pay close attention to them and adapt as you go. With experience, you will learn how to judge the impact of weather conditions on your pitch shots from the rough, and you should get better and better at making adjustments on the fly.
There is nothing particularly easy about hitting a pitch shot from the rough. Yes, hitting your ball from this position will allow you to get the shot up into the air, but even those shots are tricky and difficult to control. Even after you have learned how to play this shot with your sand wedge, the best plan of action will always be simple – avoid hitting your ball into the deep rough in the first place.
Why Use a Sand Wedge from the Rough?
Club selection is an important skill in golf. The ability to pick the right club in the right situation is one of the talents that separates high-level golfers from less-capable players. In this case, when chipping from deep grass around the green, you need to be able to reach for the right club for the job at hand if you are going to succeed. In most cases, that means choosing your sand wedge. Why? Take a look at the points below.
- Leading edge to cut the grass. One of the best things about using a sand wedge from the thick rough is having the power of the leading edge of the club on your side. The leading edge of a sand wedge is going to be relatively 'sharp' as compared to other options in your bag. When you make an aggressive swing down into the rough, that leading edge is going to move a lot of the grass out of your way. It won't do a perfect job of clearing the rough from your path, but it is going to make it much easier to achieve reasonable contact. If you were to play this shot with, say, a nine iron instead of a sand wedge, you would not enjoy the same benefit. The grass would simply gather along the front of the wedge and impact would be severely compromised. To make sure you clear as much of the long grass out of your way as possible, reach for your sand wedge more often than not.
- Easy loft. Most of the time, you are going to need to get the ball up quickly if you are going to hit a good shot from the long rough. Pitching the ball forward rather than up is a bad idea, as there is more grass lurking in front of the ball. With a sand wedge in your hands, you won't have to work in order to elevate the ball, as the loft of the club will do the job for you. Should you need to hit the shot even higher than the standard loft will allow, you can lay your wedge open to create an extremely lofted club. Getting the ball up and out of the long grass as quickly as possible should be your first objective, and the sand wedge is the right tool for that task.
- An aggressive swing. You are going to need speed in order to cut through the rough effectively. However, if you swing too hard, you are at risk of sending the ball across the green and into the rough on the other side. By using a sand wedge, you permit yourself to swing hard without running so much risk of hitting the ball too far. It is hard to balance the swing you need to make with a nine iron or pitching wedge on this point, as those clubs are likely to cause the ball to come out hot. With a sand wedge, an aggressive swing which cuts under the ball can meet all of your needs. The ball will come out high and (hopefully) soft, and you will be able to swing hard enough to avoid getting tangled in the grass.
Once you get used to using your sand wedge from the long rough, you will find yourself wondering how you ever played these shots with any other clubs. The sand wedge really is the perfect tool for the pitch shot from the thick rough. With a bit of practice time under your belt, you should see your confidence begin to grow as you get more and more comfortable with this intimidating shot.
Some Technical Keys
The swing you need to use when pitching from the long rough is not significantly different from the swing required to hit any other pitch shot. However, there are a few adjustments you need to make when you step off of the fairway and into the longer grass. For one thing, you need to set your weight firmly into your left side for these kinds of shots. Setting up with a majority of your weight on your left side will promote a downward blow, which is exactly the right way to deal with this pitch. Hitting down through the shot will help you to avoid some of the grass behind the ball. By avoiding as much grass as possible, you will have a better chance of making clean contact.
Rather than choking down on the grip of the club, keep your hands up near the top of the grip and use the weight of the entire club to cut through the grass. Many people choke down on their wedges while pitching for control purposes, but choking down is going to make the club effectively lighter. You don't want lightness in the short game – you want to feel the heft of the club, as that feel is going to help you control the distance of your shots. Keep your hands up near the top of the club and use the entire wedge to help you get out of this tricky situation.
So far, you have placed your weight onto your left side and you have kept your hands up near the top of the grip. To add to those two points, you are going to need to play the ball from the middle of your stance. It may be tempting to put the ball up near the front of your stance since you are trying to elevate the shot, but doing so will put more grass in your way. The point of leaning left is to avoid the grass on the downswing, so don't counteract that adjustment by using a forward ball position. Instead, play the ball in the middle of your stance and trust the loft of the club to give you the necessary height.
One final technical point to keep in mind is that you need to hold on to the club a bit tighter than you would otherwise. 'Normal' golf shots are best played with a relaxed, loose grip – but the story is different when you find your ball in thick rough. To avoid having the club twist in your hands as you swing, firm up your grip pressure at address. You still shouldn't be holding on as tight as you can, but add pressure from your normal grip to make sure you stay in control through impact.
In addition to executing a solid swing through the rough, you also need to think intelligently if you are going to succeed on these pitch shots. There is strategy involved in every single shot you hit during a round of golf, and that is certainly true of pitching out of the deep grass. Many amateur golfers fail to take the necessary time to plan their short game shots, and the results speak for themselves.
If you would like to add a layer of strategy to your game when pitching from a tough spot, review the tips below.
- Get the ball on the green. As far as strategies go, this one is rather simple. It is important, however, as the last thing you want to do is have to chip the ball twice in order to put it on the putting surface. Even if you aren't able to pitch the ball close to the hole, you do need to make sure you at least pitch it onto the green with your first try. The goal is to get up and down, of course, but pitching on and two putting is not a terrible outcome. The outcome you need to avoid is hitting two chip shots and then taking two more putts to finish the hole. Taking four to get down from the side of the green is not acceptable, and this kind of mistake will cause your score to get out of hand in a hurry.
- Run the ball below the hole. You should understand by this point that you are not going to have great control over the golf ball when pitching from the rough. With that in mind, it is important to aim for the low side of the hole with your shot – that way, even if you don't leave yourself a particularly short putt, you will at least have the opportunity to be aggressive by putting uphill. Should you find the ball on the high side after your chip, you will have to putt tentatively to avoid rushing the ball past the hole. Take note of where you would like to putt from before playing the shot and do your best to at least find that side when the ball comes to rest.
- Leave the pin in. Even if you usually take the pin out of the hole on your chip shot, consider leaving it in when playing out of the long grass. Again, this comes down to control. You are unlikely to have great control over the speed of the ball, so leave the pin in place as a possible backstop if your shot happens to be on line. The pin will rarely come into play on this type of shot, but it can save you a stroke on occasion.
Pitching from the thick rough is a skill you hope not to use often on the golf course. If you regularly find yourself playing shots from the long rough, the rest of your game needs some attention. However, it is likely that you will find this situation once in a while, so you want to be prepared when it does come up. Use the advice contained above, along with some practice, to sharpen your skills when chipping and pitching from long grass. Good luck!