This weekend, players might be wise to take the drivers out of their bags and replace them with machetes. "The new guys don't have much experience in this sort of rough. There is no way to prepare for it," says Hale Irwin, who beat the rough three times to win Opens. Tom Lehman adds, "The first rule of the Open is, Don't get in the rough." Violators are referred to rule 2: Don't try to be a hero. "Unless you're sure you can get the ball on the green, don't mess with the shot," Lehman says. "Play out to the fairway and try to get up and down."
Arnold Palmer beat British Open rough at Royal Birkdale in 1961. Nursing a slim lead over Dai Rees, Palmer found his ball hiding in long, wet grass. The smart play was to chip out, but Arnie decided to go for broke. "I tore into the shot as hard as I could," he recalled. He left a divot a foot long, but his ball reached the green, helping him to a one-shot victory. Five years later, however, he met his match in U.S. Open rough. Palmer took a three-iron to the Olympic Club's hellacious rye. The ball dribbled 100 yards. He bogeyed, and lost a playoff to Billy Casper the next day.
Palmer had the brute strength to keep a club moving through heavy salad, but Jack Nicklaus was the prototypical rough character. Nicklaus had muscle as well as an upright swing, which produces a high fade that lands softly.
To achieve such soft landings at your home course, watch the pros at the Open. They take extra time over the ball in the rough, making sure they have the firmest possible footing. Then, as they grip the club extra hard to keep it from twisting, they put an upright swing on the ball—a steep takeaway and a sharp, descending downswing—and swing as hard as they can without falling over.
The world's best players may spend the week driving with irons, tiptoeing past Hogan's graveyard, but Olympic's rough is bound to catch them all at least a time or two. On Sunday evening only one tired golfer will remain unbeaten, grass-stained but unbowed.
Some men display their good taste by sporting tailored suits or smoking fine cigars. In golf, connoisseurship can take the form of a forged blade. Unlike perimeter-weighted molten metal clubs, a forged iron is literally pounded into shape from a blob of soft carbon steel, then hand-ground to its classically trim final shape. Lovely to look at, delightful to hold, but if you're like 95% of the world's golfers, you probably have no business swinging one.
Few amateurs consistently hit the ball on the sweet spot. "Even 10 handicappers are all over the clubface," says LPGA tour swing coach Mike McGetrick. Cavity-backed cast irons address that problem by spreading out the weight of the clubhead, enlarging the sweet spot to make mishits turn out better. But pros seek feel, not forgiveness. "Look at a low handicapper five-iron or a Tour player's wedge," says McGetrick. "You'll see marks where the clubface is worn away on the sweet spot."
"Forged blades give me a better sense of how I'm hitting the ball, and I can maneuver it more," says Justin Leonard. Like about a third of Tour players, according to the Darrell Survey of pros at two tournaments earlier this year, Leonard relies on his soft blades for the feedback he needs to groove his swing. To him, a cavity-backed stick has the feel of a spatula.
Tiger Woods's preference for classic blades has made them fashionable. Later this summer, Titleist will introduce 500 sets of replicas of Woods's irons, perfect down to the letter T engraved on each clubhead, for the forge-crazy Japanese market. MacGregor, too, is getting into blades. "We offer the Tourney Personal Forging," says Jim Bode, the firm's R and D director. MacGregor will reportedly make 100 sets of TPFs per year and sell them for $5,000 a set. "For that price we will invite a golfer to our plant and have him work with our designers to customize the blade he wants—the same treatment Tour players get."