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Playing from the Rough Doesn’t Have to be Mission Impossible

By Keith Stewart, PGA
Published on

Amy Yang of South Korea makes a shot out of the rough on the ninth hole during the third round of the ANA Inspiration on the Dinah Shore Tournament Course at Mission Hills Country Club on April 1, 2017 in Rancho Mirage, California. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

The women of the LPGA are competing this weekend in golf’s first major championship of 2021; the ANA Inspiration. Played at Mission Hills Country Club on the Dinah Shore Tournament Course in Rancho Mirage California, these ladies will experience some interesting course conditions. This par 72 layout will be stretched out to over 6,700 yards.
Rough-lined fairways and water are lurking to catch errant shots and since playing from underwater really isn’t an option, let’s take their successful approach to the rough under consideration. The length was worth mentioning because if you miss the fairway from the tee, they will find themselves coming out of that rough with longer approach shots.
Select the Right Club
Long clubs with less loft are the hardest to hit in the bag to start with. Combine their usual difficulty with a lush lie and you’ll need a PGA Coach plan of attack. 
If the rough height is deeper than that of your actual fairway wood, put it back in the bag. It doesn’t matter if you're 195 yards away and that’s the club you need, it’s not a recipe for success. 
“Well, it worked once!” Let’s imagine using that strategy with your retirement investments. Not ready for that level of risk? Then put it back in the bag.  
Where long irons and fairway woods don’t consistently work, hybrids are like a machete. With club head mass like a fairway wood and the size of an iron head, they constitute the best of both worlds and tend to launch the ball much higher and with speed. Plan on seeing a lot of hybrids used by players who miss the fairway this weekend.
Choose the Right Landing Area
find the best landing area. This won’t always be directly toward the hole or target. Shots coming out the rough travel shorter and tend to be pulled. (That’s to our left for a right-handed golfer.) Fairway bunkers, tree groves and water always seem to be perfectly placed for errant recovery shots. Take the smart approach and aim conservatively when coming from trouble, don’t compound the problem.
Adjust Your Setup and Swing
Ball position will make a big difference. Take the ball and move it backward in your stance or toward your trail foot. A longer hybrid (replacing a 3-5 iron) will have a ball position closer to the lead foot, so this adjustment will now find the ball just forward of the middle in your stance. Moving the ball back will steepen your angle of approach to the ball in your downswing. With grass standing up behind the ball it will be a tremendous help.
Our tendency in moving the ball back in our stance leads to hanging back on the trail foot through impact. This can be a killer as that alters the bottom of the swing arc and thus changing that downward strike we are going for. In transition, feel an extra push into the ground with that lead foot. If you struggle with weight shift in general, this is a great key, but in the case of a rough situation it’s imperative. (Please note, these adjustments apply to all full swing shots from the rough, not just hybrid or long iron shots.)
Once the ball is struck it will take off lower and slower than usual with that same club. With that being said, it will come out successfully and if we chose a smart target, in a better location for turning our next stroke into a scoring opportunity.
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Keith Stewart, PGA


Princeton, NJ