What we can learn from how Justin Thomas won the Honda Classic

By T.J. Auclair
Published on
What we can learn from how Justin Thomas won the Honda Classic

Justin Thomas faced a difficult lie from PGA National’s gnarly rough on the 18th hole Sunday. 
The shot he decided to hit next helped him hold off Luke List and join Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth as the only players on the PGA Tour in the last 30 years to have at least eight victories before their 25th birthday. 
Here's what JT did and how it can help your game, too.
On the par-5 hole, List found the fairway with his drive, while Thomas went into the right rough... and the rough at PGA National is nasty. With water all along the hole, that took going for the green in two completely out of play. 
Advantage List, right?
Maybe, but not necessarily.
Thomas managed to hack his shot from the rough out 212 yards down the fairway, leaving himself 114 yards to the hole. From there, he stuffed his third shot tight and made the birdie putt. List also made birdie -- after reaching the green in two -- and the duo headed to a playoff, which Thomas promptly won.
And that likely wouldn't have been possible if it weren't for Thomas's prudent play from the rough with his second shot on 18 in regulation.
"The first thing that people need to understand is that when you're in the rough, 200 yards away, you're not entitled to hit a 200-yard shot to the green," 2013 PGA National Teacher of the Year Lou Guzzi told "Justin Thomas had a lot more than that left on 18 and it was almost a good thing because it takes the temptation to go for it away from you."
Here are Guzzi's tips for escaping deep, gnarly rough.
1. Evaluate the lie. 
"How deep is it? How much grass is behind ball? Which direction is the grass growing?" Guzzi said. "Is the grass growing toward the target? If so, that ball is going to come out hotter, which means you'll get more roll out because there's less resistance.
"People think that when they're in the rough, they're going to try and get to the ball," he added. "You're not. The grass behind the ball is a part of the shot. One thing I like to do is find a condition close to where I'm at, make a practice swing and feel the resistance. Get a feel for that shot. When ready to play, move the ball a little further back in stance so you'll have a steeper angle of attack to get through the grass and get the ball out."
2. Don't be afraid to open the clubface.
"The rough has a tendency to turn the clubface in, or close down the face, de-lofting your club," Guzzi said. "If you open the face a touch, the rough won't have as much impact on the shot because when it rolls the clubface over, it will be doing so closer to 'square.' Just be aggressive and have good acceleration through your swing."
3. Consider how much the ball will roll out when it hits the ground. 
"If you have a flier lie, there are instances -- depending on the club you hit -- where the ball could roll out another 50-60 yards," Guzzi said. "I played in a tournmant where I hit left rough on a par 5 and had 210 into the green with nothing in front of the green -- no water or bunkers. The green's open. I hit a 6-iron, which I usually hit 170 carry. I had a flier lie and knew it would come out hot. In the case of that kind of condition, I took advantage because I knew if i hit the ground running at 150, it would roll 50-60 yards onto the green. That's what it did."
4. Sometimes the rough can be your best friend.
"As we said earlier, there's a point where the rough can be a good thing because it takes temptation away from the player," Guzzi said. "Perhaps there's a par 5 with trouble that you want to go for in two. If you're not in an idle position off the tee, maybe that's not the best play. And if you're in the rough, maybe it's a play you can't consider anyway. Like what happened with JT on Sunday, you can then focus on not necessarily getting it as close to the green as possible, but as close to your most comfortable yardage as possible."
That certainly paid off for Thomas, evidenced by that third shot that led to the kick-in birdie.
Something we should all remember when we're in the rough: Even with a great lie, your ball isn't going to carry with each club the way it does from a perfect lie in the fairway.
"The biggest mistake for the amateur player is taking the club they're used to hitting a certain yardage in perfect conditions and not factoring in the consequences from out of the rough," Guzzi said. "They try to hit a 5 wood and the condition of the shot calls for a pitching wedge. You have no chance. No one does. It's the lack of understanding on how to play out of the rough. If it was a piece of cake, they'd call it 'the easy.'"