A Lesson Learned: Hitting the Links

By Tina Mickelson, PGA
Published on

Little did I know when I agreed to do this week's "A Lesson Learned" that this would be such an amazing week for golf fans. Where do I start? How about 19-year-old Jordan Speith winning on the PGA Tour? 19!!! Or Will Willcox shooting a 59 on the Tour?! All golfers should appreciate the unique and special nature of both of those accomplishments, and in keeping with the theme of these articles, can obviously learn many great golf tips by watching them.

But there was another great performance this weekend - across the pond as they say. Phil Mickelson showed great resiliance, creativity and a wide variety of shots on his way to a great win at the Scottish Open. He also happens to be my favorite player on the PGA Tour - and my little brother - so I'm admitting a little bias in choosing my topic.

I know many golf fans were watching with great interest, not only in rooting for their favorite players, but watching how the game is played on great links-style courses. I know I love to play links courses; it is a very different approach to the game, but the objective is still very much the same: get the ball in the hole in the fewest strokes possible. The challenge of course is how to do it on terrain and in conditions you may not be all that familiar with.

Actually, some of the most famous and popular golf destinations in the United States are links-style layouts. Major championship layouts like Pebble Beach, Whistling Straits and the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island are links-style layouts. Chambers Bay, which will host the 2015 U.S. Open, is as well as are Bandon Dunes, Sand Hills and Arcadia Bluffs. Obviously, these are some of the top golf destinations in the world and thus, you'll probably find yourself walking down some of these fairways at some point in your golf career.

So what do you need to know?

Links-style golf is charaterized by huge undulations in the terrain, firm ground conditions -even on the greens, deep and plentiful bunkers, thick gorse bushes around the layout, wild wispy fescue grass and most commonly, weather. Cold, wind and rain are often a part of the links golf experience. But this is not problematic for golfers. In actuality, they embrace it. It's part of the course and it is special.

When you are preparing for your round, whether it's in golf's motherland of Scotland or at one of the great links-type courses anywhere else, I urge you to work on three shots you'll need when you arrive.

1.) The knockdown driver: The biggest key to playing well on a links-type course is to keep your tee shot in the fairway. The gorse bushes and fescue grass aren't as visually intimidating as the trees you may be used to seeing, but they are actually more problematic for you. (Balls will disappear into the gorse and and those in fescue may or may not give you a chance to advance, but will rarely come out the way you think when you try to hit it. At least with trees, you can get a nice kick or hit under or around them.) For this shot, I urge you to do three things.
a.) Tee the ball low.
b.) Grip down on the driver for control and a shorter swing.
c.) Keep the clubhead low during the follow through. Your shot will not travel as far in the air, but will be less affected by the wind and will still roll quite a ways due to the firm fairways.

2.) The bump-and-run: Links-style courses offer players plenty of shots around the green - and you'll need to know how to play almost all of them. But usually, the rule of thumb is that the sooner you can get the ball on the ground, the better off you'll be. The best approach to your short game is to get the ball on the green and let it roll to the pin vs trying to fly it all the way to the hole. Practice chipping and pitching with lower lofted clubs (7-iron, 8-iron, etc.) to get comfortable with the varying distances your ball will travel with each club. .

3.) Bunker shots: There will be two types of bunker shots you need to know when you play links-style golf.
a.) The high bunker shot. You will not believe the size of some of the bunker walls you will see. How quickly can you get the ball up? For these shots, open the blade wide and focus on making contact with the sand behind the ball.
b.) The SMART bunker shot. Many shots in links-style golf, especially out of the bunkers, aren't really doable. Seriously. The best thing you can do for your score is to avoid the big number - even if it means hitting a shot away from your target.

One other thing about links-style golf is that it is almost universally encouraged for golfers to walk the course while playing. It's how the game was meant to be played and you really get an appreciation for the beauty and joy of the traditions, the architecture and the stunning aesthetics of golf when you are out there feeling the undulations under your feet and thinking about the shot as you walk toward it.

I would love to see my favorite Tour pro have another great week on a links golf course next week at Muirfield. And I'd love to hear how you enjoy your time on links-style courses as well. Send me a tweet at @TinaMickelson and let me know. Hope everyone has many more great weeks of golf fun like this past week was for me.

Tina Mickelson is a PGA Teaching Professional at The Santaluz Club in San Diego, Calif. Mickelson has been a PGA Professional since 1994 and is part of a large golf family with her brother Tim the Men's Golf Coach for Arizona State University and brother Phil, a PGA Tour member. She is a proud Callaway Golf Amabassador. You can follow/contact her on Facebook and Twitter. Mickelson is a popular instructor/speaker for group clinics and corporate events.