Golf is tricky enough: Tiny par 3s and monstrous par5s, uneven terrain, slick greens and water can punish everyone. All players need an assortment of trick shots to escape disaster.
Harry Bittner, the general manager and director of golf at Shore Gate Golf Club in Ocean View, opens his bag to offer tips to assist players in a variety of situations.
The flop shot
Phil Mickelson made the flop shot popular on the pro tour. From about 20 yards away, he takes a hard swing and "flops" his ball over sand or water and onto the green. This shot is best played with a high-lofted pitching wedge in the 60-degree range. The club is well worth its purchase price of about $50 in some area shops because it brings some magic to the player around the green.
"The flop shot can be easy if you open the face and try to aim left of your target because the ball will naturally head right," Bittner says. "You want the ball back in your stance and you actually slice the ball on purpose. You want to swing pretty hard, and this allows the ball to pop straight up."
A ball popped straight up will land and, hopefully, stop, allowing players to stay on the green. These shots have become significant in upscale courses such as Shore Gate, which have steep bunkers and greens with the pins tucked just over sand traps. There are times when players can't simply punch or roll the ball onto the green. The flop shot has become an important shot in the bag.
A tip: This shot often does not work from further than from 20 yards away, because the club is pitched to provide height, not distance.
Recovering from a shot that reached the fairway bunker a couple hundred yards from the green requires a small swallowing of pride. Just hit an iron out of the trap and accept a small penalty rather than gamble on a fairway wood that might compound the problem via a flubbed shot
"Many people try to hit a career shot out of the bunker," Bittner says. "They struggle with that long fairway bunker shot, thinking they can get the ball out of the bunker and onto the green. The real goal, many times, is to simply go down the fairway as far as possible.
"What you want to do in that situation is avoid the long irons. You want a mid- or high-iron to get out of the trap first. You want to put the ball back in your stance and aim a little to the left because the ball will fly right. Ideally, you want to catch the ball first, not take sand behind the ball as you would in a sand trap near the green."
So, rather than flub a bunker shot and add a couple shots to the hole, take some medicine with a conservative shot out of the trouble. Who knows? You might save the hole with a great putt anyway.
Water - a mind game
Average players often get psyched out by water, especially when it sits up against the green and eliminates any margin for error. The anxiety of hitting the water often becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
"The biggest thing is to visualize the ball going on the green first," Bittner says. "You want to make sure to take a full turn on a practice swing and then a full turn on the actual swing. What most people do is fail to make a full shoulder turn. People end up shortening their swing, speeding it up, and they don't get the same contact as if they took a nice, long, slow swing."