Jack Nick­laus

Avoid stum­bling out of the blocks

Golf Digest Middle East - - Contents -

Strat­egy for tough open­ers.

“Bet­ter to make a mis­take with your sec­ond shot than your first.”


Want to try to fit your tee shot into this nar­row area? I’ll as­sume you were ab­so­lutely strip­ing your driver on the range 10 min­utes ago. Be­cause righthanders will prob­a­bly be try­ing to hit a draw to fol­low the shape of the fair­way— and left-han­ders a fade—a lot of misses here go left (out- of-bounds on the right also plays a role). The thick grass on the left can be as bad as the bunker. Chop it out, and now you’ve got 200 yards for your third shot.


On an open­ing hole like this, a long par 4 with se­ri­ous trou­ble on both sides, it makes a lot of sense to play to the fat­test part of the fair­way. I usu­ally hit 3-wood here, which guar­an­teed my ball would stay short of the pot bunker on the in­side of the dog­leg. Be­cause the fair­way bunkers on links cour­ses in the United King­dom are such se­vere penal­ties, you ab­so­lutely have to play away from them. It’s a dif­fer­ent men­tal­ity than how we play in the States. When your de­ci­sion-mak­ing rests to­tally on where the bunkers are, this is golf in its purest form.

You won’t find many open­ing holes that are overly dif­fi­cult at the golf cour­ses I de­sign. I like to see golfers get off to a de­cent start. I sure never liked it when I ru­ined my day on the first hole. Plenty of time for that later in the round!

Of course, there are a lot of ex­cel­lent cour­ses that waste no time chal­leng­ing your game. This sum­mer, the Open Cham­pi­onship re­turns to Royal Birk­dale where the 448-yard first is one of the all-time tough open­ing holes. I’ve seen many pros make dou­ble bo­gey there, and worse.

On the first—and to some de­gree all the early holes—every­one has a slightly greater chance of mak­ing a poor swing. There are nerves, and you’re sim­ply not yet in the rhythm of the round. That’s why I al­ways be­gan con­ser­va­tively.

When you’re start­ing on a dif­fi­cult par 4—and No. 1 at Birk­dale is a clas­sic ex­am­ple—the bulk of the trou­ble is often in play on the drive. If you’re go­ing to make one swing that’s less than per­fect, it’s bet­ter to do it on the sec­ond shot. Do what­ever you can to put the tee ball in the fair­way, and then you’ll be off and run­ning. — WITH MAX ADLER ▶


If you’re conservative with the tee shot, this ap­proach is go­ing to be a lit­tle longer. The prob­a­bil­ity your sec­ond shot fin­ishes in one of these bunkers is con­sid­er­able. That’s OK. Be­ing green­side in two isn’t bad; you can still get up and down for par or make an easy bo­gey. That’s bet­ter than mak­ing your mis­take on the drive, where you could end up with a long-range third. Then it’s a real fight to avoid dou­ble.

on the road to re­cov­ery

A mem­o­rably ter­ri­ble start was at the 1970 Dow Jones In­vi­ta­tional, played at Up­per Mont­clair Coun­try Club in Clifton, N.J. I opened with three bo­geys, and on the fourth hole, I found my­self against a tree and hit­ting the shot left-handed ( above). Some­how, I blitzed the rest of the course and shot 65. It feels great to come back from early mis­takes, but I pre­fer a smart start with less stress.

Strat­egy by Jack Nick­laus

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