There’s always something to learn from watching a golf tournament – something to apply the next time we tee it up. And it usually involves the way the pros minimize their mistakes.
But the best learning experience of all is the U.S. Open. There, they can’t help but make mistakes because the course is so difficult. The fairways are about as wide as a sidewalk. The greens are surrounded by bunkers and thick rough.
Even the good players among us amateurs would be challenged to break 90 (or maybe 100) on a track that tough. There are so many different degrees of separation, but the one that jumped out at me at Torrey Pines was the way they easily recover from fairway bunkers.
The fairway bunker shot, to me, is the most difficult in our great game. It’s so hard to determine how the ball will react out of there, especially when the sand is on the softer side.
And getting some distance out of the shot? Are you kidding? I can move the ball 150 yards or so, but anything more than that – and getting enough height out of a mid-iron to clear the lip – is just about out of the question.
So you can imagine my utter shock when, time after time, the announcers would cheerfully say something like, “That shouldn’t be a problem,” as a drive skittered into the sand.
If it’s Bryson De Chambeau, maybe it’s not a problem because his monster drive has left him with a wedge to the green. But they said that even when it was one of the shorter hitters and they weren’t nearly as close.
Another reason why the fairway bunker tends to be my Waterloo: You can’t practice that shot.
I’ve never seen a driving range that had a bunker for hitting long shots. Many of them have one next to a green for explosion shots, but the only time I’ve ever hit a fairway bunker shot is when it counts.
I watch the pros intently on every shot, but I’m especially interested when they’re trying to get a less lofted iron over a lip and onto the green. It’s the one shot where I continually ask, “How do they do that?”
I know the basics. I know about making contact with the ball first. I know about limiting your leg movement. I’ve watched instructionals about the shot. But I still have trouble doing it.
There’s a fairway bunker on the course I regularly play that has turned into my prison time and again. I’ve been in it at least a dozen times, and I’ve never gotten the ball on the green – or anywhere close to the green – from there.
It’s not THAT far from the green. From the front of the bunker, it’s no more than 145 yards. From the back of the bunker, it’s a solid 170 yards. But I’d much rather be in the back because it has a big lip in front.
And that’s where I usually am … right below the lip. I’m sure a pro would easily clear it and be putting for birdie. I invariably hit the lip and watch my ball, even if it’s struck well, bounce a short distance ahead, leaving me with at least a wedge to the green.
It has given me a simple goal for that hole: Avoid that bunker at all costs. Anywhere is better than that.
And I realized something else: It’s a moot point to think about what the pros would do from there. They’d leave their drive just short of the green on the 380-yard hole.
The 350-yard drive – now that’s something most of us CAN’T learn.