Attack Soft Lies and Pine Straw Like Fairway Bunkers, Golf Tip

If there's anything worse than a rock-hard lie, it's a super-soft lie. A golf ball sitting on just-soaked fairways or pine straw, for example.

First, both situations call for a little pre-shot study.

On wet turf, you may be entitled to relief from casual water. If water is visible above the ground and interferes with your ball or stance, you may drop without penalty within one club length of the closest point of relief, no nearer the hole.

As for pine straw, you can remove straw from around the ball or your feet – but if the golf ball moves, you incur a one-stroke penalty. It's wise to hover the club just above the straw so you don't risk disturbing it.

To play from soggy or cushiony spots, adopt the same method you'd use in a fairway bunker:

• Since your feet will sink, grip the golf club down about an inch on the club.

• Assume a slightly wider stance than usual, with the ball positioned midway between the feet.

• Make an abbreviated backswing to ensure solid balance.

• Concentrate on hitting the ball before the ground; a thin shot is better than a fat one.

Attack Soft Lies and Pine Straw Like Fairway Bunkers?

Attack Soft Lies and Pine Straw Like Fairway Bunkers?

Golf would be a relatively easy game if you were always able to play from a clean lie. If the entire golf course was made up of fairway length grass, which was well-manicured and contained no divots, your scores would surely go down. Of course, your interest in the game would probably wane over time, as this kind of golf would be rather boring. It is the variety of the game that makes it so much fun, and sometimes that variety shows itself in the form of a bad lie.

In this article, we are going to talk about soft lies and playing from the pine straw. No matter where you happen to play golf, you are certainly familiar with at least one of these two situations. If your local course features pine straw off the sides of the fairways, you know all about how tricky it can be to hit a clean shot from those kinds of lies. Even if you live and play where there are no pines in sight, you have still encountered plenty of soft lies over the years. It is never fun to draw a soft lie, but you can get out of the situation with minimal damage if you use the right approach.

The title of this article compares playing from a soft lie, or a pine straw lie, to playing out of a fairway bunker. That is an accurate comparison. The technique you will use, and the strategy you will use, it going to be very similar across all of these situations. There are minor variations to keep in mind, of course, such as the fact that you probably don't have to clear the lip of a bunker when hitting off of pine straw. Still, thinking about these shots as being in the same category will help you understand how to deal with them more successfully. A combination of proper physical technique and solid decision making is going to be necessary in order to achieve the best possible outcomes.

Before we get into the specifics of these kinds of lies, it is important to touch on a general point regarding playing a shot from a poor lie. Anytime you are dealing with a less-than-perfect situation on the course, your first reaction should be to give yourself more margin for error. That means aiming for a conservative target and making a comfortable swing. Trying to pull off a great shot when you have a poor lie is a recipe for disaster. This is the time to be patient, 'take your medicine', and do your best to record a par – or even a bogey - before moving on to the next hole. If you take this approach, you are far less likely to find yourself writing down a big number on the scorecard. It won't always be easy to stay patient in these situations, but that is exactly what you need to do.

All of the content below is written from the perspective of a right-handed golfer. If you happen to play left-handed, please take a moment to reverse the directions as necessary.

Understanding Fairway Bunker Shots

Understanding Fairway Bunker Shots

If you are going to copy fairway bunker technique for use on soft lies and pine straw, you need to understand fairway bunker technique properly. This is a part of the game that gives many amateur golfers trouble, and for good reason – fairway bunker shots are extremely difficult to hit. Simply striking the ball cleanly is a challenge, and even if you get over that hurdle, you will still have to clear the edge of the bunker to take the shot all the way up toward the target. Greenside bunkers tend to get more of the attention from amateur players, but it is really fairway bunkers that pose the bigger threat to your score on any given hole.

To make sure you have a clear understanding of how you should be approaching fairway bunker shots, we are going to lay out the key points below.

  • Use a shallow angle of approach. This is the key to hitting a solid fairway bunker shot. When playing from the fairway itself, you likely hit down on your irons and take a divot out of the turf. In doing so, you impart backspin on the shot and the ball climbs nicely into the air. This is the proper way to play from the grass, but it is not going to work in the sand. If you swing down into the ball in a fairway bunker, the sand will give way under the ball, and the shot will not travel very far at all. In fact, it might not get out of the bunker. The only time you can get away with hitting down on the ball in a fairway bunker is when the sand is hard-packed, such as it may be after a heavy rain. In the absence of hard-packed sand, however, you are going to need to 'pick' the ball off the top of the sand. That means using a shallow angle of attack where the club skims right across the top of the surface of the bunker. Later in the article, we will address the changes you can make to your golf swing mechanics in order to promote a shallow angle of attack.
  • Keep your feet quiet. It is ideal to have quiet feet anytime you are playing a golf shot. Even though your golf shoes should have some features on the sole to promote traction, you still don't want to risk slipping during the swing by moving your feet all around. This concept is even more important in a fairway bunker. Sand is slippery by nature, and it is easy to wind up slipping if you are too aggressive with your swing. Keep your lower body relatively quiet while hitting this kind of shot and wiggle your feet down into the sand slightly to lock them into place.
  • Make a controlled swing. You can't try to swing too hard from a bunker. There are a number of things which can go wrong, from slipping in the sand (as mentioned above) to simply making poor contact. The shot you decide to attempt from a fairway bunker should be one which can be achieved with a 'regular' or 'normal' amount of effort. If you go above and beyond the amount of effort you usually put into a golf shot, you are only inviting trouble. In fact, not only should you avoid trying harder in the sand, you should turn down your effort by 10-20%. The best way to play a fairway bunker shot is with a comfortable, controlled golf swing. If you feel like you are maxing out your effort in order to send the ball on its way, you have picked the wrong kind of shot to attempt.

These three points make up the basis for what you should be trying to do when you play a fairway bunker shot. You should be using a shallow angle of approach, combined with quiet feet and a controlled swing, in order to strike the ball cleanly. Even when you do everything right, this is still a difficult shot to hit consistently. However, using the right fundamentals – and practicing those fundamentals regularly – can help you succeed more often than you fail.

Similarities and Differences

Similarities and Differences

With that explanation of fairway bunker shots out of the way, we can now get down to the topic at hand – soft lies and pine straw. How should you approach these shots? In some ways, you are going to play them just as you would fairway bunker shots. However, in some important aspects, you are going to approach these shots differently. In this section, we will highlight the similarities and differences that you need to understand in order to have success from these various types of lies.

Please consult the list below to understand how you'll need to change your approach (or how to keep it the same) when moving from a fairway bunker out to a soft lie elsewhere on the course.

  • Similarity – Shallow angle of attack. This is going to stay the same pretty much any time you are dealing with one of these kinds of lies. If there is not firm ground directly below the golf ball, you are going to need to shallow out your approach to impact. Hitting down on the ball without firm turf to support the shot is a recipe for failure. Do your best to pick the ball cleanly off the top of the ground while disturbing the area underneath the ball as little as possible. These can be tricky shots to pull off, especially if you are nervous, but using a shallow swing through the hitting area is your only viable option.
  • Difference – Consider taking a low path. When in a fairway bunker, you usually can't opt for a low shot. From a soft lie elsewhere on the course, however, or from the pine straw, you may be able to use a low shot effectively. Check the path between your ball and the target and determine how much height will be needed in order to be successful. Generally speaking, it is easier to hit low shots in this situation, as your impact with the ball will not need to be as solid in order to hit a good shot. For instance, you may choose to play a low running shot with a five iron when you are on the pine straw, which most would consider to be a high-percentage play. This would be an easier shot to execute than a high wedge shot, which you will have to strike perfectly. The option to go low is one of the reasons shots played from soft lies outside of bunkers are usually easier than having to play from the bunker itself.
  • Similarity – Watch your footing. Just as was true in the bunker, you are also going to have to be careful with your footing when playing from a soft lie or pine straw lie in other places on the course. Your golf shoes likely won't have the same 'bite' on the ground that they have out in the middle of the fairway, so you need to take precautions to avoid a slip during the swing. Don't try to hit these kinds of shots too hard, and try to restrict your turn slightly to maintain excellent balance.
  • Difference – Less predictability. For the most part, you are going to draw a fairly predictable lie when you find your ball in a fairway bunker. Since you probably hit a long club like a driver or three wood from the tee, your ball should have come in on a shallow angle, and you should have a decent lie on top of the sand. It is always possible to draw some bad luck and end up with a lousy lie, but that shouldn't happen very often. As long as the other golfers on the course have been raking the bunkers properly, you should be okay as far as the lie goes. That is not necessarily the case when you find other tricky lies outside of the bunkers. Of course, no one is raking the pine straw or cleaning up the soft lie areas you may find, so anything can happen when your ball strays into such territory. You can't do anything about the kind of lie you draw, but you can pay close attention to make sure you hit a smart shot. If you are worried about the lie of the ball, play the shot safe and make sure you don't put yourself in an even worse position.

You will do well to copy the basic swing technique you use in the fairway bunker when you are forced to play from a soft or pine straw lie. However, you can't completely take all of your strategy with you out onto the rest of the course. Lower shots are a good idea from soft lies when you are not in the bunker, and you will need to spend more time reading the lie in a situation such as when you have to play from pine straw. By knowing the similarities and the differences in these kinds of shots, you should be able to make smart choices on the course.