You can find a lot of good in bad lies.
No, I’m not condoning fibbing about your score. I’m advocating for learning how to play our great game the right way – which makes your score a whole lot more believable.
And that means playing your ball as it lies. Period. Every time.
It also means learning how to hit quality shots out of lies that, to be kind, stink.
I was reminded of this the other day when my ball kept ending up in awful spots, even in the middle of the fairway.
My home course is in nice shape. The greens are beautiful. Most of the fairways are fine, too.
But there’s no getting around it: Sometimes your ball is going to be in thin grass or damp dirt or wood chips or something just plain gnarly, and you have a choice.
You can suck it up and become a better player because you understand the mechanics of hitting that shot.
Or you can go to “everything has to be my way” school and move your ball into a more favorable lie, muttering, “Well, it’s not the U.S. Open.”
And it’s not. But if you want to play in a tournament (and I urge you to have that experience if you haven’t already), you have to learn to play the game by the book – the rule book. And the rule book says to play as it lies unless it is unplayable or ground under repair or in some other circumstance that warrants a free drop.
The only exception I can see in a friendly game is to take it off rocks. I’m not interested in putting dents in my clubs. But that doesn’t mean finding a lush patch of grass. It means two club lengths, no closer to the hole, in terrain that is similar but not fit for a quarry. It still means a bad lie and a tough shot.
It would be foolish, of course, to expect to execute a shot of that difficulty without ever having tried it. That’s where the driving range comes in.
This is the No. 1 reason why I always seek a grass range rather than artificial turf. You don’t learn anything hitting off turf. You just sweep through the ball with no difficulty, never having to adjust your swing. God forbid the day ever comes when we have to carry a piece of artificial turf around with us and hit every shot off it.
When you find a range with real live grass, don’t just hit ball after ball off the green stuff. Put it in the dirt. Put it in a divot. Put it in places you wouldn’t wish on a dishonest opponent. Step on it if you have to – just make it a really bad lie.
And then practice. Practice hitting the bottom of the ball first and then powering through the dirt. Do that every time you go to the range – you DO go to the range, don’t you? – until it feels like second nature.
Do the same thing when you practice bunker shots. Hit out of footprints. Hit out of thin sand. Hit out of fluffy sand. Keep adjusting because, as Jack Nicklaus said many years ago, golf is a game of constant compensation.
What you’re trying to do is learn how to make the ball spin out of the bad stuff. It’s a more upright swing, and you’ve got to take extra care to hit down and through the ball to get it airborne with a measure of control.
Don’t forget chipping. Personally, I don’t like chipping off closely trimmed grass. It just bugs me. I putt it whenever I can. So I went to my local course, which has that clipped grass in the practice area, and practiced chipping off it until it felt more comfortable. Now I feel as if I’m at least passable in that situation.
Learning how to hit these shots might take changing your stance a little. It probably will require a change in the ball position in relation to your feet – I find that it helps to play the ball back in my stance when I’m hitting out of a bad lie because I want to ensure I get the ball first.
I almost always take one more club and try not to overswing. I’m not interested in how far I can hit the ball when it’s sitting down in the dirt, but I am interested in hitting it straight. I also figure that it almost certainly won’t go as high as normal.
If you learn how to play out of bad lies, your playing partners won’t think it’s an equally bad lie when you say you shot a good score. They’ll see that you’ve become a better player – and a more honest player.