First, we saw Tiger, then Tim Clark (see photos below), then Tom Watson, then Phil Mickelson. They were each slashing the ball out of the deep rough on Thursday's first round at Royal Lytham & St. Annes.
Tiger's first shot from the left rough on the 15th hole was so tough, he advanced the ball only a few yards into a slightly better lie. Watson, on the 18th hole, underestimated the severity of the taller grass grabbing the club's hosel. It severely closed the clubface, rocketing the ball only 50 yards ahead and straight left into the grandstand. Mickelson's lie on the third hole was so bad, he couldn't see the ball as he swung. He managed to punch it out into the fairway. On the seventh hole, the rough was so deep he was worried he might hurt himself and contemplated taking an unplayable lie. He played out sideways but flew the ball across the fairway into rough on the other side. Clearly unhappy, he took five shots to finally make the green. On the next hole, after a frantic search, he did take an unplayable lie from the rough and saved a bogey.
How do you handle lies in such deep rough? First you need to understand why the clubface closes so dramatically. It's because the tall blades of grass wrap around the club's hosel, stopping the heel of the club from moving, but the toe keeps turning over. The result: a closed clubface. Tiger was quoted after his round that the grass was so tall on his first shot that it wrapped around the actual shaft, not just the hosel. That's deep rough, for sure!
Lee Trevino always said the worse the lie, the tighter you should hold the club. He said to start with the clubface open, "then hold on real tight, as tight as you can."
So here are your basics in deep rough:
-- Start with an open clubface at address
-- Aim right (for right-handers) of where you want the ball to finish
-- Grip more tightly than normal
-- Hit down and through the ball, trying to hold the face square so it doesn't turn over
In Tiger's book How I Play Golf, he addresses a similar predicament--hitting a short pitch from rough around the green. Here's what he said:
-- I use my 60-degree wedge. The tall grass tends to close the clubface, and I need all the loft I can get.
-- I distribute 60 percent of my weight on my forward foot--the one closest to the green. That encourages a steep, knifelike angle of attack with the clubhead.
-- I hold the club more firmly than normal, especially with my left hand. Again, the rough will try to twist the clubface closed.
-- I make a very upright backswing, cocking my wrists abruptly.
-- On the downswing, the force of the clubhead should be expended downward, to penetrate the grass. I don't let the clubhead approach the ball on a level angle. I'd be at the mercy of the rough.
-- I restrict my follow-through. In fact, if I hit down sharply, there won't be any follow-through.
If you have a longer shot and the rough isn't too deep, sometimes a higher-lofted fairway wood is a better play than an iron because there is less hosel for the grass to wrap around. I actually carry my wife's old Callaway 9-wood (I put it in my bag when she got new clubs). It's like a magic club from the rough. The extra loft gets the ball up, and the direction is usually pretty straight.
As for the British Open rough, at least Tim Clark handled it with a great attitude in his first round.
*Photos by Darren Carroll/For Golf Digest