Many course designers and superintendents will punish players with deep grass around the green. But some of the best courses in the world—like St. Andrews, Pinehurst No. 2 and Augusta National—offer more subtle challenges in the form of tightly mowed collection areas around their putting surfaces.
You have a few options for how to play from these tight lies below the hole, but you better make the right choice, because picking the wrong shot from here is just as big of a mistake as making a bad swing. You might even have the same lie again! If you find yourself standing over the ball with some doubts about what to do, let me help. Fundamentally, there are three ways to play your next shot: (1) You can hit a long putt. (2) You can use a hybrid or longer iron as a kind of supercharged chipping club to bounce the ball into the slope short of the green and let it run out. (3) You can use a lob wedge to nip the ball from the tight grass and fly it on the green with some spin that will stop it quickly. Here’s how to know which one to pick, and how to play that shot.
If the collection area is only a foot or two lower than the green, and you have plenty of room between your ball and the hole, the choice should be to putt. From off the green, even a bad putt will almost always give you a chance at saving par, and you don’t have to make any adjustments from your standard stroke. The key is to account for the slope and fringe grass being slower than the green. The tendency is to hit the putt too gently. You’ve got to make a confident, aggressive stroke. And base your read on the last third of the putt, what the ball will do as it slows down. Don’t just hit it at the hole.
2. Hybrid / Long Iron
A hybrid or long iron comes in handy for two scenarios: (1) Longer shots with a lot of green to cover. (2) Short-sided shots where there’s not much green between the fringe and the hole, and you want to hit the ball into the face of the slope and let it trickle onto the green. In either case, the ball will come off the face fairly hot. Use your putting grip and choke down on the handle until you’re in the same posture as you would be for a putt (but with the ball slightly closer to you). Then make a swing—meaning the same length and speed—as if you were hitting a putt from that distance.
Lofting the ball onto the green with a lob wedge is the best option when you’re way below the green, and there’s decent room between you and the hole. Set up in a closed stance, dropping your trail foot away from the target line. This will shallow your approach into the ball, which is key to getting it up and not dumping the shot. You want to the club to skid along the turf, not gouge it. Also open the clubface, which promotes this skidding action and helps create more spin. Finally, set your shoulders open (above) to the target and swing along that out-to-in path. You’ve got to commit and finish the swing!