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Chunk no more

PGA Tour coach: 2 shots you need for 'the most daunting short game lie in golf'

January 12, 2023
1297651162

Harry How

If you live and play south of the Mason-Dixon Line during the winter months, I am sure you consider yourself one of the lucky ones. A 12-month golf season makes a lot of Midwest and Northern golfers jealous. The downside is that you may regularly experience the most daunting short game lie in golf: tight, wet, dormant Bermuda grass. I’ve coached over 100 PGA, LPGA and PGA Tour Champions players over the years and every single player—without fail—has asked how to navigate this situation.

Tight lies are difficult regardless of the grass type, but when you have to play off wet, dormant Bermuda grass, the difficulty is doubled. These lies demand precise low point control, a shallow delivery of the club head into the ball and effective use of the bounce or bottom of the wedge.

Because the ground gives way so easily as the club descends into the ball, the technical flaws you get away with during the summer are exposed all winter long. If the sharp leading edge of the club head gets involved at all, or if you deliver the club even the slightest bit behind the ball, your gift is a debilitating result.

Maybe you’ve experienced it—chunk city—and unfortunately with the ball likely lying just a few feet in front of you, you are faced with the same terror again. What’s more, if that same lie and shot needs to be played into the grain of the grass and you need a bit of loft on your shot, then triple the difficulty.

To effectively navigate these daunting lies, you usually have two options: play it along the ground or hit a higher shot with a bit of stopping power. Here’s how to hit each of them:

The low shot along the ground

If possible, the low route is always the best choice, as long as you do it by putting with either your … putter, or a club with a radiused bottom like a 3-wood or 5-wood. Avoid chipping with a lofted club back in your stance. When the ball is played back in your stance, the club descends more abruptly and will dig. Fine off firm turf, but not a good idea here.

I prefer the putt-chip with a fairway wood over putter because the little bit of loft on the club will get the ball traveling along the ground more predictably, especially if it’s into the grain. You don’t need to do anything fancy. Using your putter grip, stand a bit taller than your normal putting set up and choke down a few inches. Stand close enough to the ball so that the toe of the club is gently rolled down toward the ground (heel up). Swing with rhythm, and with a bit of practice your feel for the proper energy should come along nicely.

The lofted pitch with spin

OK, I know that’s not the shot you want to talk about. “Coach, tell me how to do it when there is a bunker or rough in the way and I have to go up!” First off—and most importantly—ditch your lob wedge and channel your inner “Seve” by playing this shot with your middle wedge, which if you are doing it right has somewhere between 54 and 56 degrees of loft and the most bounce of all your wedges. Back in the day, there was no such thing as a 60-degree wedge. For versatility, the 60-degree should have a narrower bottom with less bounce, which makes it the wrong choice in this situation 100 percent of the time.

To execute this shot, you need to be somewhat skilled for sure, but the right strategy will put the odds in your favor. Set up with a narrow, open stance and a ball position that creates no shaft lean at address. Now open the face of the club so that the leading edge points toward your lead foot. Both of those moves add effective bounce and loft, as well as protection against digging into the turf.

We not only want the low point of the arc in front of the ball, but the face open to the club’s path and a release that allows the shaft to return to the same angle that you created at address—in this special case—zero degrees. Don’t swing back to the inside in the backswing and don’t hang on or drag the handle through impact. Take it back straight or slightly outside and allow the club head to naturally pass your lower body as you swing through. Remember to support the arm movement with a gentle turn of the upper body.

If you do it correctly, weight will flow into your lead foot during the motion. If you do it wrong, the club will either dig in, or the ball will launch right of the target for a right-handed player.

If that seems like a lot, let me sum it up for you simply. When faced with a tight, wet, dormant Bermuda lie, putt with your fairway wood when you can, and when you can’t, then play a higher than normal shot with your middle-lofted wedge. Now for those lucky ones playing golf all winter, get out and practice these shots so you can shock your friends with shot-making skill.

James Sieckmann is currently ranked No. 13 on Golf Digest's 50 Best Teachers in America. He is the Director of Instruction at Shadow Ridge Country Club in Omaha, Neb.