CATCH IT CLEAN: Play the ball back and swing steeper to avoid getting a lot of grass at impact.
It's not often that average golfers hit a good shot that ends up over the green. That's because they almost never take too much club on approach shots—and usually take too little. So when they do hit one long, it probably means they skulled it.
But one solidly-struck shot that sometimes goes over is the short iron from the first cut of rough—that fluffy strip of grass that borders the fairway. Most golfers love this lie, because they get a little cushion under the ball. The trouble is, the ball tends to jump out of the short rough—hence the name "flyer lie." What makes it jump? Grass gets trapped between the clubface and the ball at impact, so the face can't grip the ball like it normally does. As a result, the shot flies like a knuckle ball and runs hard after it lands.
To minimize the effects of the flyer, make a few adjustments to help you catch as much of the ball as possible. First, play it farther back in your stance, about middle for a short iron. This will lean the shaft more toward the target. Then, hinge your wrists abruptly on the backswing, which sets up a steeper angle into impact (see photo). Finally, as you swing through, keep the back of your top hand going toward the target for as long as you can. This will guard against the face twisting if it catches the grass first.
Drop a few balls and practice this technique. It's OK to love the flyer when you're hitting a hybrid or fairway metal, but when you need to stop an iron on the green, try to catch the ball as cleanly as you can.
Sometimes you miss a green and find your ball perched high in the grass. Lucky you, right? Well, only if you know how to play the shot. The standard chipping or pitching technique, where you hit down on the ball, can cause the clubhead to slide right under it and produce a weak shot. The trick when the ball is sitting up is to make more of a sweeping motion, like a long putting stroke. Set up with the ball off your back foot (see photo), and keep your lower body still and your wrists firm as you make a level sweep back and through. You'll pick the ball off the top of the grass for solid contact.
BUTCH HARMON, a Golf Digest Teaching Professional, runs the Butch Harmon School of Golf, Rio Secco G.C., Henderson, Nev.