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Three shots you need to escape trouble around the greens

Min Woo Lee and Minjee Lee at the Tinity Forest Golf Club in Dallas, Texas, Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021. (Cooper Neill / Golf Digest)

If you were playing in a mythical sibling world championship, you wouldn’t want to run across Minjee and Min Woo Lee in your draw. Minjee is a six-time champion on the LPGA and won her first major at the Evian last year. Min Woo, two years younger, has two wins in Europe and cracked the top 50 in the world rankings for the first time, which means you’ll see him at the Masters next month.

They both possess magical short game touch, and we asked them to demonstrate three tricky greenside shots—a wet bunker shot, a tight lie pitch and a trouble shot from gnarly grass—and describe how you extricate yourself from similar situations at your course.

Wet Sand: Control comes from spin or trajectory

Minjee is perennially one of the best-ranked sand players on the LPGA, and she does it with metronomic consistency, not high-speed risk. “You don’t need extreme loft on the club to hit a good bunker shot,” she says. “It’s more about hitting where you want in the sand to control the spin. Closer to the ball means more spin, and a little more behind it means more run out.” To get this, do two things. First, start with your weight on your lead leg and leave it there without making a big shift back. Next, actually work on where you hit the sand. Draw a line a finger-width behind the ball in the bunker when you practice and see how close you can come to that line.

Min Woo almost exclusively uses a 60-degree wedge from sand, which lets him control how much the ball runs out with both backspin and a steeper trajectory. “But the only way you can get the use of the loft from the club is to actually get to the ball with more of it than you started,” he says. “That means opening the face at address and opening it more in the backswing. Then you need to use your hands to swing the clubhead so it passes your hands before it gets to the ball.” Releasing like this makes more speed, uses the bounce and gives you the full loft on the club.

Greenside trouble shot: Get it out

Lie diagnosis is your first job when it comes to a greenside shot. If the ball has lots of gnarly rough around it, you have to figure out if you’re going to reach it by coming down steeply or with more speed. That’s especially tricky when the shot is shorter, which can make using more speed scary. “On this shot, I could see that the ball was really surrounded, which means you want to use almost the same technique as a bunker shot,” Minjee says. “You’re basically exploding the ball out along with some grass. But when you decide to do that, you have to commit to swinging hard enough. If you decelerate, the club can get caught up and you will stub it short. That can leave you with just as hard of a shot the next time.”

If the ball is sitting in a bad lie but is also on the ground—not hovering in a nest of grass—you can take some risk out of the shot by swinging harder and hitting farther behind it. “More speed makes the ball go higher and just a bit farther, so you have some forgiveness there,” Min Woo says. “But the first job on these shots is not to hit it close to the hole. It’s to get it out of the trouble and somewhere on the green. If you can come out of it with a two-putt and a bogey, you’ve limited the damage.”

Tight lie pitch: Don’t get frozen

A 50-yarder from firm turf is often enough to terrify a weekend player into considering a super-long putt. But it doesn’t have to be so scary. “The problems come when you stop turning on the way through,” says Min Woo. “When your chest stops, you lose control of where the club bottoms out. That’s when you start digging the leading edge or hitting it thin.”

Once you have the technique down, you can use the different wedges in your bag as precision tools to fit the shot you see. “The answer isn’t always to fly the ball close to the target,” says Minjee. “On a flat green with the flag near the back, you can use a gap wedge to bounce the ball in the front third of the green and let it roll back. You can make a smaller, lower-risk swing with that club and even a mistake will probably leave you in the middle of the green.”