My Men’s and Women’s Clubs asked me to do a clinic for their combined groups prior to a couples event last week. They weren’t sure what they wanted the topic to be but they would let me know.
Wednesday afternoon comes and I’m on the tee with about 50 of my members - at least 90% of which I had worked with on an individual basis in the past 12 months. They still hadn’t decided on a topic so I asked where they would like to improve. There was the usual, “I want to hit the ball longer, straighter, higher, hook the ball, and on and on.” Come on guys – this stuff is easy to fix, this is normal stuff we’ve talked about many times before.
Then somebody asked, “How do I hit a ball over the lake when I have a downhill lie?” Good question. Tough shot, but not as tough as most people make it. What’s your handicap, Vern? He tells me nineteen. I’d say you should go around the lake and forget about going over it. Save the penalty stroke, save the frustration of hitting into the lake, and save the $7 you spent for that Pro V1.
Vern thought I was kidding until I asked him what percentage of the time he thought he could clear 120 yards of water off a downhill lie. He proudly said he could clear the lake 50% of the time. This brought about some laughter and heckling from his buddies, “Right, maybe 10-20% is more like it”.
You know Vern, 50% really isn’t very good odds, especially when you have a match going with each of the 11 other players you go out with. And, 20% is really lousy odds to even consider attempting a shot you’re not comfortable with.
What makes these odds even worse is what happens after you hit the ball into the water. You knew from the start this was a low percentage shot, which means you are now upset with yourself for trying it in the first place. And, you still have to conquer the hazard. Drop a ball and try harder, or more likely swing harder, and put another ball in the water. And, so it goes. You’re headed for an ugly scorecard today.
It’s not so much that Vern has a nineteen handicap – he could be a twelve, it doesn’t matter. The reason he only has a 20 - 50% chance of hitting the ball and seeing it on the other side of the lake is because he is not confident he can hit the shot in the first place.
I know it’s hard to play safe, or lay up when your buddies are going for it. I know it’s hard to hit a wedge beside the lake and then another wedge to the green for a sure bogey or double at the worst. You may have felt good yesterday when you hit it over the lake, but if you aren’t sure about the shot today…forget it, unless you just want to buy all the beer when it’s over?
Having just a little discipline when faced with a low percentage shot will pay off in many ways. If you need help improving your course management, see your PGA Professional.
Oh yes, about that shot over the lake from a downhill lie. Try to get your shoulders on the same plane, or angle, as the slope of the hill. And, understand you won’t be able to make a full swing so take an extra club. Next, make your normal practice swing paying attention to where the club hits the ground. It will be further towards the back foot (right foot for a right hander). This is where the club wants to come down and where you should play the ball. The ball flight will be low and it will roll a lot.
Now just make your normal swing - DO NOT swing at the ball because this will cause the club to hit even further behind the ball. Make your normal swing, knowing the ball is where the club is going to come down.
And if this low percentage shot isn’t successful, don’t get upset – you didn’t feel that good about it in the first place.
Kim Anders is a PGA Professional residing in Mazatlan, Sinaloa Mexico. You can reach Kim via email at email@example.com.