Flying low is secret to being an Open high-flyer
Driving past Lundin Links Golf Course yesterday when I arrived back home in Scotland, there was something that shocked and excited me at the same time. The only green grass to be seen was on the greens and, even then, there wasn't too much of it.
I don't think I remember seeing a golf course so burnt up since watching Tiger Woods and his 2-iron win The Open at Hoylake a few years ago. My initial reaction was shock, but the excitement soon followed.
This is what golf, especially links golf, is all about. Firm, fast fairways that can send your ball any direction they feel like, approach shots that have to be landed 20 yards or more short of the green, and chip shots that never really leave the ground.
This type of golf is something that you almost never see while playing in the States on the PGA Tour. You can pretty much guarantee that every week is going to be similar, with perfectly manicured fairways and greens - and thick, heavy rough all the way up to the side of the green that swallows up your ball.
To escape from some of the lies you get and have any control over your ball once it hits the green, you have to be a master of the open-faced lob wedge chop shot. It's really a little flop shot, but calling it a chop shot is a lot more fitting. This is not a shot that I feel I will need much around the Old Course in a couple of weeks, especially if it is also nicely browned.
That is one of the things I miss most about playing on the PGA Tour. Outside of The Open, there are no links courses on the schedule. The US Open at Pebble looked extremely firm, but that course is not designed to have balls bounce into greens, so it really isn't like a links course at all. You just needed to hit it high and soft, very high and soft.
A lot of people in the US think that, to be a good links player, you have to hit it a low draw to keep it out the wind, and quite often rain, that is bound to be a factor. Nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, you need to be able to hit it low on quite a few occasions, but there are also plenty of shots that you may need to hit a high fade for.
To play well around these championship courses with a major set-up, you really have to have complete control of your ball flight and be able to hit it high or low, or shape it left or right, when you want to. Otherwise, there are plenty of flags that you will not be able to have a chance at getting the ball close to. Or even fairways and greens that you won't be able to keep your ball on.
If you have any weakness in being able to control your ball in a certain way, it will just get magnified when the wind is blowing and it is firm and fast around a place like St. Andrews.
The same is to be said about the short game too. You have to be able to pull off the chip and runs from around the greens with low loft clubs as well be able to hit high shots, if required, over a bunker or rough.
Not all, but most weeks on the PGA Tour, there is one shot that is preferable - a high one! When you watch nearly all the top players in the US, they hit the ball a mile in the air and can stop their mid and long irons very quickly. The way courses are changing, with 230-yard par threes and 500-yard par fours a common occurrence now, you need to be able to hit your long irons way up in the air to have a chance at getting the ball close.
This is one of the reasons I think that my game is well suited for the US and that I like it so much over there. I probably hit it as high as nearly anyone on tour and do not mind going at flags with mid to long irons as I know that my ball is going to land pretty softly.
When I first went to the US in 2000, my game was the opposite, I hit it really low. But living in Colorado and at 5000 feet of elevation for four years while at Colorado State University, I soon learned to hit it high to take full advantage of the thin air.
This is something that has benefited me a ton over the years while playing in America and I feel can also help me these next two weeks when I playing back here in Scotland. Loch Lomond (pictured) is an American-style golf course, so you definitely can use the high ball around there to be successful.
Then it will be time for me to get to work practicing keeping the ball down for St Andrews. It is a shot I actually really enjoy hitting but just have not had enough practice at recently. Hopefully, come tournament time, I can have all the shots feeling good and can take them to the course. This two-week stretch is the highlight of my year and I can't wait to get started.