Joaquin Niemann: How I control iron shots from the rough

October 09, 2023

JOAQUIN NIEMANN led the field at the 2022 Genesis Invitational in strokes gained/approach, gaining more than seven shots on the field en route to his second PGA Tour victory. Photographs by J.D. Cuban

Even the most accurate guys on the PGA Tour are missing fairways on at least 25 percent of their tee shots. That means we all have to know how to hit good approach shots out of the rough. Part of it is recognizing how the ball is going to come out based on the lie. But it’s also making a few simple adjustments in your setup and swing to make sure you catch it flush—which is the only way you’re going to get it to the green from the high grass. Read on to find out how I play into the green from the rough. —WITH KEELY LEVINS



To figure out how the ball is going to come out of the rough, first look at how much grass is behind it. Whether the ball is nestled down or propped up (known as a flyer lie), if you catch too much grass, it will come off the club hot and spin less. The reason is that the grass interferes with the grooves on the clubface, and those grooves create the spin you need to control distance. With no spin, you get those shots that fly far and run hard when they land. The ball might not always react this way, but you should be aware of the potential for a flyer. If there isn’t a lot of grass, you can expect a much more typical ball flight but still less spin than a shot from the fairway or first cut.



To set up in the rough, pick a club based on what you see. If there’s nothing in front of the green, I’ll use less club and hit a shot that lets the ball run on, taking advantage of the decrease in backspin with shots from the rough. I then set up with the ball no farther forward than center in my stance. Getting the ball position right is really important in the rough. You want to catch as much of the ball—and as little of the grass—as possible. Playing it more forward puts a lot of grass in the way of the ball, reducing your control.



Another key in taking less grass is getting steeper in my swing than normal. A swing that’s more vertical helps make sure you catch the ball solid, and the easiest way to create that angle of attack is by shifting your weight forward at address. If you pre-set your weight to favor your front foot, it will naturally make your swing steeper without having to do anything else.



There’s one more thing you need to do to make solid contact—stay down through impact. Your instinct might be to rise out of your address posture, trying to use your body to help lift the ball. But when you do that, you’re probably going to catch too much grass and chunk it, or catch the ball on the upswing and blade it. One technique that can help you out of the rough, especially with a flyer lie, is to play a punch shot. Address the ball just back of center in your stance with the shaft of your club leaning toward the target. Make a swing where you feel like you’re punching down on the ball with an abbreviated follow-through. If you want to get it to the green from the rough, it’s all about hitting these shots as solidly as you can.