A Lesson Learned: Pitch out of thick rough

Tiger Woods
Getty Images
Tiger Woods celebrates his incredible pitch shot that propelled him to his 73rd career PGA Tour win.
Blake Cathey, PGA

Problem Area: Short Game
Series: Lesson Learned

Published: Sunday, June 03, 2012 | 9:49 p.m.

The purpose of 'A Lesson Learned' is to find the one shot or type of shot that helped determine a winner at the week's feature event and use it as a way to help YOUR game. But what shot do you pick this week? Just kidding. I think those who saw Tiger's incredible chip/pitch out of the deep rough on No. 16 Sunday will remember it as one of the greatest shots of the year, maybe one of the best of Tiger's incredible career. When Jack Nicklaus calls it "the most unbelievable, most gutsy shot I have ever seen", you know it's pretty special.

Let's set the scene for those that might have missed it. Tiger Woods, trailing by one at the time, had just hit his 8-ion shot on the par 3 16th into perhaps the worst spot he could. Into the thick rough over the green on the right, a chip that came up short would stay in the rough, a chip hit too hard would fly down the ridge and perhaps into the water. His lie was not good and if he wanted to have any chance to win, he needed to save par - something that seemed unlikely from his predicament.

Well, the skeptics were right - sort of. Tiger did not make par. He took a mighty swing that resulted in the prettiest, softest pitch that just landed on the green and started to roll towards the pin. Incredibly similar to Tiger's famous Masters chip on the 16th at Augusta National, this chip seemd as if it might stop or just miss right before dropping in for what may have been the loudest birdie in Muirfield Village history.

So how do you hit this shot? You've probably hit it many times actually, just most likely out of a bunker. Yes, the same technique that you'd use to get out of a bunker, you should use to hit the soft high flop out of thick rough.

There are three main points to remember:

  • Set the ball forward in your stance, open the clubface. Just like a bunker shot, you want to hit slightly behind the ball and use the rough as a springboard to gently pop the ball out.
  • On the backswing, keep a quiet lower body. Most amateurs struggly with this, often straitening up in the back swing and shifting their low point of the swing. If you get too steep, you will slide right under the ball and the ball will not go far enough.
  • Fire through on your swing, maintain your spine angle, and fully rotate your hips. Watch Tiger's body as he finishes the swing. Notice how his belt buckle finishes to the left of the target line.

The goal here is get the ball on the putting surface, hopefully with a makeable putt. If you can get it close, that's an added bonus. If you can make it, well, that's Tiger-esque. But it certainly doesn't have to mean a big number. Play it like a bunker shot, commit to the swing and watch the ball float softly onto the green.

Blake Cathey is the Lead Instructor at the Kiawah Island Golf Academy on Kiawah Island, SC.  

Try this ...