Making The Most of Early-Season Conditions

Posted on: April 25th, 2012 by admin No Comments
Published April 15, 2010

As I explained last week, it’s likely that your favorite golf course isn’t in very good shape after a winter of unusually severe rain, wind, and snow. But if the club is open and you’re willing to put up with shaggy lies, slow greens, and soggy bunkers for a few more weeks, the ragged state of affairs actually can be good for your game.

Here’s how to make the most of the early-season mess and make yourself a better player.

This is a great time to improve your bunker play. Start by asking your superintendent what type of sand your course uses. You’re not looking for detailed information, just a sense of whether the sand is hard or soft.

Armed with that knowledge, bring your current sand wedge to the golf shop and ask the pro if the club fits the sand. If your bunkers usually contain soft sand, you want a wedge with more bounce (the amount that the sole of the wedge hangs below the leading edge); if the sand is hard, you want less bounce.

Bunker wash-out

In soft sand, a lot of bounce gets under the surface so you can splash the ball out; but use that same big-bounce wedge in hard sand and it will skim off the surface resulting in skulled shots. The opposite is true for wedges with little bounce: They’re designed for hard and wet sand, letting you clip the ball cleanly off the packed surface; but in soft sand, a bounce less wedge digs in and stops. Ask your pro what he recommends-which also might include a lesson in sand play.

While the bunkers are still inconsistent, practice from different lies and conditions-hard, soft, wet, dry, fluffy, pebbly, etc. A little work now will pay off later in the year.

Play from Forward Tees
While the course is soft and slow, play from a forward set of tees. You’ll see the course from a new perspective, be forced to hit different shots, and maybe even gain some appreciation for the seniors and women at the club. It’s also a good boost to your ego to fire a few low scores early in the season.

Putting on Slow Greens
In the mid-Atlantic and northern states, the nights are still cool so grass, especially on putting greens, isn’t growing consistently. But the greens are getting quicker by the week, so you need to adjust. There’s nothing wrong with that, as you should get in the habit of testing green speed before every round all year long. (Here’s another good habit to get into, especially on soft greens: Repair your ball mark-and two others.)
If the greens are uneven, work on your stroke rather than worrying about score. Is the ball rolling well? Can you control distance week to week? Try a heavier putter on slower greens: it might help you handle the distance while grooving a smooth stroke.
Spotty grass around the greens also allows you to add to your arsenal of shots: Try a bladed wedge, rescue club, or fairway wood from the fringe, even knifing the ball out of a nesty lie with the toe of the putter.

putting green


More Opportunities to Practice
Driving range still closed? Harvey Penick used to tell his students to practice slow swings in front of a full-length mirror, trying to match the right positions back and through.
Check that your fundamentals-posture, stance, grip, ball position-are correct. Better now than in the middle of the season.
Course architect Gil Hanse calls wind “the invisible hazard.” Have you ever practiced in the wind, making your ball ride or fight the breezes? What about low shots that stay under the wind, or launching tee shots extra high to get extra distance when it’s blowing?

Use this time to make sure your equipment fits your game. Need new grips? New shafts? Lies and loft still spot-on?

Check your wedges to be sure the grooves are still sharp and effective. (And don’t worry about the new groove Rules: Unless you’re trying to qualify for USGA or major amateur events, the Rules don’t change until 2024.) Consider buying new wedges each year rather than lose control on short shots.

There’s other new equipment in the shop this spring, including balls, gloves, even tees and sunglasses. Okay, the effects might be mostly psychological, but every little bit helps, right?

Finally, watch the pros on TV. We can’t hit their shots, but we can learn from their ability to concentrate, never-say-die attitude, and tempo. Give me a few minutes watching Fred Couples or Ernie Els once a week to remind me what good tempo looks like.

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