The objective of golf is pretty simple: Get that little, white ball in the hole in the least number of strokes possible.
While the objective is simple, the execution is, well, not so much.
Whether you're a Tour-caliber player, or just the average golfer, you're going to face circumstances throughout the course of a round that can make or break your score.
When faced with those obstacles, it's not uncommon to think of the phrase, "take your medicine."
In other words, don't try to be a hero. Just extract yourself -- your ball -- in the smartest way you can and, hopefully, in the least number of strokes as you can.
All of that brings us to PGA and FedExCup Champion Justin Thomas and a decision he made on Saturday at East Lake in the season-ending Tour Championship.
The sixth hole at the famed Atlanta course is a 524-yard par 5. With a player like Thomas on par 5s, he's typically hoping to have a chance at eagle, expecting to make birdie and trying to avoid par or worse at all costs.
During the third round, Thomas was out of position off the tee. His ball sailed right and into some trees. When he arrived at the ball and surveyed the situation, he quickly realized that with the ball at the base of a large tree, the way it was positioned, there was no chance he would be able to take a right-handed swing.
So, what could he do? First off, he could have taken a one-stroke penalty for an unplayable lie. In that case, he would have had three options:
1. Go back to the place where you played your previous stroke. In this case, re-tee. Thomas certainly didn't want to give up all that yardage on a par 5.
2. Take a drop within two club lengths, moving no closer to the hole. Perhaps better than option 1, but his ball still would have been in jail for the third shot.
3. Move the ball straight back as far as you want, while keeping a line between the flagstick and where your ball was originally. This would have meant, again, more jail and having to still find a way to navigate over or around trees.
Instead of all that, Thomas got creative. He decided that rather than take a penalty for an unplayable lie, he'd rather save the stroke and try to play his ball back into play a different way.
With that, Thomas played a left-handed shot with the back side of his right-handed club and punched the ball back into the fairway. It was a terrific play. He still bogeyed the hole, but it was minimal damage considering the way things were looking after the tee shot.
Lou Guzzi, the 2013 PGA National Teacher of the Year, thought it was a brilliant play.
"Tour players will do anything to save themselves from having to apply a penalty stroke," Guzzi said. "They also practice for every scenario they'll face in a round. I'm sure Justin has practiced that shot before."
Guzzi remembers reading Gary Player's book, "Golf Begins at 50." In it, the nine-time major champion -- a noted fitness enthusiast -- wrote about the importance of taking practice swings in the opposite direction. In other words, if you're a righty, take some practice swings from the left side and vice versa.
"The idea," Guzzi explained, "is to keep your body balanced. Player's thought is that if you swing in the opposite direction, your muscles will be conditioned both ways. Rehearse that swing and then hit some balls and practice in the opposite direction, so when you're in a situation like Thomas, you can do what he did and save yourself a stroke."
Practice is essential, too. That shot -- even with a half-swing like Thomas took -- isn't nearly as easy as it looks.
"The potential for a whiff on that is quite high if you haven't practiced that kind of shot," Guzzi said. "The average amateur never thinks of practicing that way."
So how can you practice the shot and, better yet, pull it off if you find yourself in a similar situation?
"First off, when you hit a shot with either the back of a club, or even with the face sort of upside down -- think toe pointing to the ground -- you're going to need to use something that's less lofted," Guzzi said. "You want something like a 5, 6 or 7 iron. Anything with more loft than that and, if you make contact, you're just going to top it. You want something where the face is going to be pretty flat."
Once the club is selected, it's time to rehearse the practice swings. That's essential, because this method is going to feel weird as it's not what the body is used to.
"As you step in to play the shot," Guzzi said, "I want you to be aware of two things: 1. Stay steady; 2. Really pay attention to that ball until it leaves the clubface."
If you do those two things, you can save yourself at least a stroke or more like Thomas did on Saturday.
"My best advice -- prepare ahead of time," Guzzi said. "Get out on the range and dedicate time to trying to pull off shots you might think you'll never face. They will pop up every blue moon on the course. If you've practiced them, you'll be ready and have a lot more confidence too."
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