Big Play: Luke Donald's approach shot from thick rough on first playoff hole at Transitions

Big Play: Luke Donald’s approach shot from thick rough on first playoff hole at Transitions

Luke Donald stuffed this approach shot from the rough to set up his winning birdie in sudden death.

WHO: Luke Donald
WHAT: A 159-yard 7-iron from thick rough to six feet for the winning birdie
WHERE: 445-yard par-4 18th hole at Innisbrook's Copperhead Course
WHEN: Playoff at the Transitions Championship

Donald made it look easy, the way he nonchalantly flushed his ball out of the rough in the playoff, but it was a very hard shot. The rough was thick, and you never know how a ball in that position will come out. Donald's ball flew at the flagstick, landed softly over a greenside bunker and rolled toward the hole.

A lot of good ballstrikers aren't as reliable out of the rough because they hit down so much, causing flyer shots. Their balls either fly farther than they expect, or the ball rolls too far after landing. These downward-striking swingers also sometimes get what I call "nothing shots." Their hands get so far forward at impact that they contact the ball high on the clubface, causing the ball to pop up and finish well short of the intended target.

Donald, though, is not a handle-dragger. He has a little toss at impact. He releases the club enough so he can hit down while avoiding the flyer or "nothing" ball. Instead, he can control his distances and stick shots close to where they land.

THE DRILL: To practice hitting irons from the rough, take swings with no ball. The goal is to take the green off the grass, or give the grass a very close shave, without taking a divot or touching the dirt. In the best shots from rough, the clubhead gouges out a lot of grass but not turf. Use this drill when playing. Stand well away from the ball, and take a practice swing, making sure to give the grass a good buzz-cut without touching the dirt.
One more thing: Thick grass slows down the clubhead through impact, so you need to take more club. Donald hit a seven iron from 157 yards out. Normally, his seven iron goes 170 yards. So you'll need one or two extra clubs for the rough shots.

Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher Brian Manzella runs his own teaching academy at English Turn Golf and Country Club in New Orleans.