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Friday, March 7, 2014

Playing to Hard Greens

While watching the WGC-Cadillac Thursday it became glaringly obvious that even the pros have trouble playing to hard greens. In some ways it was reassuring to see them getting upset over good shots that didn't end up good -- after all, we've all been there.

Still, it got me thinking about the best way to play hard greens. We'll start at the green and work our way back.

Obviously the putter is your best friend when you're on a hard green or just off the edge. Since it's hard to get any spin on the ball when you hit it, it makes putting a safer bet than chipping.

Moving back from the green a bit... I found a new tip from Butch Harmon on the Golf Digest site about how to hit high pitches that land softly. Essentially it's about using your lead hand to control the club face -- turning your knuckles up at impact to keep the face open and hit it high, turning them down toward the ground for a running shot.

Even if you don't manipulate the club like Butch suggests, focusing on lead hand control makes sense. That's the hand that's farthest away from the club head, so it allows the head to swing most freely. The club behaves most like a pendulum that way; once you get the feel of the swing's rhythm, it's easier to hit any high shot accurately. (And remember that all high shots, whether flops or full approach shots, are a bit easier if you have a little grass under the ball.) But you'll have to practice if you want to hit a decent flop shot -- there's no quick fix.

Butch Harmon

When you have to hit an approach from the fairway -- especially if there's a bunker or pond in the way -- you have to make some choices. Again, as the pros at Doral proved, even the best players have trouble with hard greens when you've got to carry a hazard. We mere mortals need a few tricks.

You may have seen Victor Dubuisson roll the ball around a front bunker early in the round, which the announcers called a links shot. Victor demonstrated three ideas you can use:
  1. the bump-and-run shot, popular on links courses but you'll need a reasonably firm fairway to make it work
  2. choosing your approach angle -- if you can go around trouble, you have more options
  3. using the terrain to your advantage -- Victor didn't fire straight at the green, he aimed for a slope at the side
If you simply have to go over a hazard, you might consider laying up short so you can use a wedge to attack the green. More loft equals a higher shot, making it a bit easier to stop the ball. Also, because the shot is shorter, you don't need as much club head speed so the ball won't run so far after it lands.

One other possibility besides landing the ball short of the green and bouncing it on -- a dicey situation if the green is hard but the fairway is soft -- is to hit a higher shot. You set up with the ball more forward in your stance -- an inch ahead of your normal position is probably enough -- open the club face and try to hit a high cut. You want to try and catch the ball right at the bottom of your swing arc. Again, you'll need a bit of cushion under the ball to pull that one off.

Of course, sometimes getting a good result on hard greens is just a matter of luck, no matter what you do. But at least you can console yourself with the knowledge that the pros have the same problem -- they just get paid for having it. ;-)

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