I mentioned several months ago that we’ve been experiencing a drought and tight lies have become the norm. I get a lot of search hits that suggest other people are dealing with similar problems, either because of dry conditions or the natural thinning out that occurs with winter. I’ve finally adapted my game to the conditions, and although I won’t hold myself out as an expert, this is what an average hacker did with some success. My last 5 rounds have been notable improvements (82, 82, 79, 78, 81) and my handicap is starting back down, so I have some hope for the future.
Our drought here in the Texas Hill Country has set records. The lake near my home was 53 feet below normal as of yesterday, and water restrictions have affected agriculture, lawns, and golf courses. The picture below shows what the lake looks like now. The water line is usually up where the vegetation begins, and that flat wooden thing on the slope on the left is someone’s dock. It’s usually floating in the lake.
Here’s a more panoramic picture of the lake. You can see that the low water isn’t confined to the little inlet in the first picture. All that open gray/tan area is the bottom of the lake.
They’ve done a good job keeping the grass alive at my home course, but the combination of drought and winter has created a lot of thin lies. Dormant bermuda always leads to thin lies by this time of year, but the lies last growing season were thin because of the drought so things are even thinner than average this winter. The fairways and aprons all have grass but it’s a very thin cover of dormant bermuda. There are a few courses in the area with large water resources (usually reclaimed) where they’ve overseeded and things look like the course at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, but those courses are in the minority.
Anyway, back to my game changes. First, I’ve never been one to take a large divot with my irons. This works fine with cushy fairways, but when the lies are thin a sweeping iron shot risks a clanging, thin shot. I’ve started focusing my vision intently on the leading edge of the ball, making sure that my swing bottoms out in front of the ball with a little divot. I’m hitting my irons much more solidly this way.
I’ve also been making sure I have a reasonably strong grip. I have a tendency to let the back of my left hand drift so it points up rather than toward the target at impact, and a strong grip reduces this risk. If it does drift up, the strong grip keeps the club face more or less square and I’m less likely to hit the ball thinly. As a side benefit, I’m less likely to miss right. I’m also hitting at least one more club than average (a 6 iron instead of a 7, for example), but I’m not sure if this is because of the swing change or the cooler weather. I’ll find that out when it warms up.
I’m hitting a lot more bump and run shots. It’s too easy to blade a wedge or to flinch because of fear of blading it when there’s no cushion under the ball. Shots where I would have lofted the ball deep into the green with a wedge are now more likely to be bump and runs with a mid-iron. I’ve even played runners from 50 yards out with good results when conditions were right.
Similarly, I’m putting from off the green more often. Under normal conditions I chip more than I putt. I have better distance control when I chip because I can fly the ball over the taller, thicker grass. Now there’s no taller, thicker grass and I’m too likely to blade or chunk the chip shot. Putting works better.
It’s going to be interesting to see what happens when we get normal rainfall and normal turf. I think I’ll be keeping some of these changes in my normal game.