How to Hit a Golf Ball Out of the Rough, Downhill Bunker, Trees, or Water at Hudson National Golf Club in Croton-on-Hudson
Fairways and greens are a nice strategy, but most of us play from more troublesome lies. Here’s how to save your round when you’re not in the short grass
Golf is a game of trouble, and few courses have more of it than Hudson National Golf Club in Croton-on-Hudson. That’s why, with a course rating of 74.8 and slope of 145, it’s one of the hardest tracks in Westchester. But Director of Golf Theron Harvey can help. He took us to four of the places you don’t want your ball to go on that course (or any other), and showed us how to get out of trouble.
Thick, gnarly rough
If you miss the fairway and land in the first cut of rough, you might — might — be able to reach the green in regulation. Go a little further astray, though, and you’ll be in some of the ugliest, gnarliest, club-grabbingest stuff on the planet.
The first thing to remember about getting out, Harvey says, is that your goal is just that — getting out of the rough without making matters worse. Take your medicine and concentrate on putting the ball where you have a chance to save the hole with your next shot.
Take a wedge or something similar, grip down on your club for greater control, move the ball back a bit in your stance, and swing steeply, making a big “L” with your wrists. Above all, keep your hands forward in your swing; if you flip your wrists, you’ll lose all the power in your swing and leave the ball in the tall cabbage.
One other hint: Don’t ground your club in the tall grass if there’s the slightest chance — and there always is — that your ball will move. You don’t need any penalty strokes on top of everything else!
Whatever you do, don’t try any hero stuff if your ball is on the wrong side of one of the more than 80 well-placed bunkers at Hudson National. Harvey says remember to organize your goals — get out of trouble first, put the ball in the hole second.
That said, grip down on your highest-lofted wedge and step into your stance with the ball centered between your feet. With a downhill lie in the sand, the key is setting up your body lines parallel with the slope. Your feet, hips, and shoulders should all align with the tilt of the ground and you need to swing down the slope, too. If you set your body level or try to “lift” the ball out of the sand, Harvey says, you’ll skull the ball.
If you’re in a fairway bunker, odds are you’ll have enough trouble just clearing the high lip between you and the green, so think about going sideways back into the fairway instead.
As Joyce Kilmer said, “Only God can make a tree.” It’s a shame he had to put so many of them between my golf ball and the green. Harvey is reassuring, though. He says this is one time you actually have a chance to get up and down out of the trouble for par — assuming you have a path to the green under that pesky limb.
Before you get all excited and start swinging, though, plan the ball’s flight carefully. It’s going to come out hot and low, so you’ll need to pick a target that will allow it to run — where you want it to go — after it hits the ground.
Now, using a low-lofted iron like a five or six, address the ball in the middle of your stance. A lot of players think they need to play the ball back, but that just puts spin on it, which will cause it to balloon into the very tree you’re trying to avoid. Take a short back swing and then rotate your body so the club head goes through the ball to a short follow-through. Try not to swing with your hands and arms — you’ll lose control.
The most memorable shot on tour last year was Bill Haas’s spectacular 20-yard pitch out of the water to three feet from the hole to win the FedEx Cup. You may not often — or ever — have to hit that shot for $11 million, but Harvey says you can if you try.
Before you shed your shoes and socks, though, make sure at least part of the ball is visible above the surface of the water. If it’s totally submerged, the odds of getting out aren’t good. Be careful not to disturb the ball — or touch the water with your club — or you’ll get a penalty stroke.
Now, play the shot basically like a bunker shot. Open your highest-lofted wedge so the grooves point to your left foot. Make an “L” with your backswing and come in to the ball steeply, hitting behind it just like you would in the sand and making sure to accelerate through. The water will push the ball out high and it will land soft. Who knows, maybe even next to the hole!