Avoid stumbling out of the blocks
Strategy for tough openers.
“Better to make a mistake with your second shot than your first.”
TOO TIGHT A SQUEEZE
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.
TAKE THE STRESS OUT OF IT
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 ▶
A LESS COSTLY MISTAKE
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.