How to Hit Out of the Rough

By Bradley Turner, Keiser University College of Golf Director of Online Golf Instruction – MBA, PGA

If you are an avid television viewer of professional golf tournaments, you have undoubtedly heard announcers emphasize the importance of playing approach shots from the fairways. The ability to make clean contact with the golf ball, void of interference from long grass, is the best way to control a golf ball. Yet, even the best players will find their golf ball in the rough four to five times during a round of golf. This article will help explain some of the challenges in hitting out of the rough, along with suggested adjustments to your swing technique.

Height of Grass

The longer the grass, the more difficult it is to make good contact with the golf ball. Generally, the longer the grass, the more lofted club you need to get the ball back in play. If you have difficulty finding the ball in the rough, you will likely need a 9 iron or wedge to extricate the ball out of the long grass. Surrendering to a bogey is often the choice of a wise golfer. If you know you cannot get the ball near the green because of the long grass, make sure to advance it back into play from the short grass.

This is clearly the most important aspect of hitting the ball out of the rough. The rough, by most golfer definitions, suggests the grass is cut at a higher length than the fairway. If the ball is found in light rough, then you may be able to make good contact with the ball but be aware of the flyer. A flyer golf shot occurs when grass gets between the golf ball and the club face. Since grass is mainly composed of water, the friction is reduced at impact resulting in less backspin and overall greater distance. As the ball lands on the green, the reduced backspin makes it very difficult to get the ball to stop. If you anticipate a flyer, then take less club to prevent the ball from going over the green!

Types of Grass

The type of grass on your golf course is another important factor in hitting out of the rough. If you live in a northern climate, you are likely playing off bentgrass, bluegrass, or fescue grass. Northern grasses have rhizomes, which are basically the grassroots that grow directly down into the soil. Southern grasses, such as bermudagrass, have rhizomes too, but bermudagrass also has stolons which are roots that grow on top of the soil. As you can imagine, when the club contacts a thicker material like a root, the club will slow down significantly. Bermudagrass rough does not need to be long to be a big problem for golfers. Whether it is bentgrass rough or bermudagrass rough, the technique in extracting the ball from these challenging situations is very similar.

Resistance Factors – Healthy Grass

Since 80% of a grass plant is comprised of water, the overall health of the grass contributes to additional resistance factors at impact. If the rough has a rich green color, the grass is properly hydrated, creating additional problems for golfers. On the other end of the spectrum, if the grass is turning brown, there is less water in the grass plant, making it much easier for any golfer to hit out of the rough. Let’s explore some tactics for getting the ball out of the rough and back in play.

Angle of Attack Solutions for the Rough

Increasing the angle of attack is the primary solution to improve the probability of good contact out of the rough. The idea is to minimize the amount of grass the club head must move through before impact. For example, imagine using a putter from some light rough around the green. How could you get the ball onto the putting surface? If you used your normal putting stroke, the putter would undoubtedly become restricted by the grass, making contact with the ball very difficult. If you hinged the club up in the air very quickly and attempted to drop the club on the ball at an acute angle, you might contact the ball before the grass. This is referred to as increasing the angle of attack!

To help you with increasing the angle of attack, position the ball back toward your trail foot. By changing the ball position, you can automatically increase the angle of attack. A second step is to keep most of your weight leaning on your lead foot. As a right-handed golfer, I move the ball back in my stance and then attempt to stay on my left leg throughout the swing. Finally, if you can learn to hinge the club up in the air immediately at the start of the backswing, you will add more angle of attack to the shot.  These three steps are the primary technique used by world-class players.

Last Items

The technique described above will increase the club’s angle of attack and reduce the amount of effective loft resulting in lower trajectory shots. It is advisable to use this technique with short irons and possibly a mid-iron.  This will not work with long irons since there will not be enough effective loft at impact to keep the ball in the air. The other key factor in hitting out of the rough is the individual player’s strength and clubhead speed. The stronger the player with higher club head speed, the easier it is to overcome the resistance from the rough. If a Ford Expedition is moving at 50 mph and a Honda Civic is going at the same speed, which vehicle will be more resistant to an adverse impact? Bigger and stronger is better in car accidents and when hitting a golf ball out of the rough.

Applying the techniques described in this article might take some practice, but you will successfully enhance your ability to hit the ball out of the rough. Eventually, you will know when you can make good contact with the ball and try and reach the putting surface. You will also learn when the smart play is to wedge it out onto the fairway and avoid compounding your problem.

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