24 Jun 2004
You can learn several lessons from last week's U.S. Open championship. Among them are having a game plan, how to deal with thick rough and adapting to changing course conditions.
When the golfers were playing practice rounds at Shinnecock Hills to prepare for the tournament, they were developing a game plan.
They analyze which club to use off of each tee to give themselves the best opportunity to stay in the fairway, as there is a heavy penalty for having to play from the rough.
They check for all likely pin positions, and they check each hole for the best possible angle to approach those positions with their shot to the green. A near-disaster happened to eventual winner Retief Goosen on the 15th hole Sunday, when the rough caused his clubface to shut violently at impact and send the ball sailing way off-line and into the gallery.
Attempting to hit a club that does not have a lot of loft out of heavy rough will cause this to happen. You must get the ball up into the air quickly to avoid this. Loft is your friend in this situation.
Only a near-miraculous shot enabled Goosen to get up-and-down and save par.
Goosen learned his lesson. On the next hole, the par-5 16th, he elected to pitch safely out of the rough and position his ball for the best possible approach angle to the green. You could hear Goosen and his caddie discussing where they wanted to be on their next shot. He went on to birdie the hole.
The shot you can attempt out of the rough really depends on the lie you get. If it is really thick, you might just have to take your medicine, forget going for the green and pitch it back to the fairway with a short, lofted club.
Phil Mickelson abandoned his long irons and used a 5-wood, added to his bag for this event, to get the ball up quickly out of the rough. This gave him a chance from 200 yards that a long iron would not have.
Mickelson and his caddie also discussed where to leave the ball in the event the shot did not go exactly where desired.
Even though they had a game plan, the course had changed radically from the first two rounds, so the players had to change and adapt as well. It was clearly difficult to get a short pitch to stay on the green, because of the slopes and the increasing dry, hard greens.
The tight lies surrounding the greens also tested nerves, as there was no room for error. We saw players putting from off the green to try and avoid hitting the ball too hard. They were also playing a lot of bump-and-run shots, trying to hit into banks, get a hard first hop, and hope the ball would slow down before it reached the green.
Mickelson can spin and flop his short shots, but he did not do much of that, as it would have been impossible to stop the ball on the green.
Learn from these two great players. Develop a game plan before you tee off, but be ready to adapt to changing course conditions (every course changes during a round of golf), and learn to read your lies in the rough to know what shot to attempt.