That is the main thing to keep in mind when you are off in a forest, hopelessly out of position to get a birdie or even a par. You want to make the next best thing, whether it is a bogey or an 11. Golf is a matter of saving strokes, and sometimes this involves simply chipping out into a fairway, perhaps even away from the green.
You have to consider the risks. If you can safely manage a chip shot or a punch shot that will leave you about 100 yards from the green, why take a chance on doing much worse by trying a more difficult shot that will leave you, say, 50 yards from the pin? The gamble is worth it only if the more difficult shot seems within the realm of possibility and, even more important, if it will get you all the way to the green.
Say you have decided to play safe and chip the ball back to the fairway, and you are wondering what on earth kind of advice Arnold Palmer can offer about a shot as easy as that. Well, the shot has a hidden danger. You fail to concentrate, you hit it too hard and the ball goes rolling across the fairway and into the opposite rough. Sound familiar? If you are going to play safe, then play safe! Pick a spot in the fairway and build an imaginary target to shoot at. Look at the terrain, mentally noting slopes or bare spots, and see exactly where you want to be for the next shot to the green. Pretend that the point in the fairway is a green and you are chipping up to the flag. Then hit the chip. The shot may seem like a waste, but often it can be the most important one of the day.
WHEN DIG YOU MUST
One of the sadder moments in golf is when you stand helplessly by while a shot you have hit sky-high plummets down toward a soft bunker. You know it probably will bury itself so deep that you will need the Corps of Engineers to dig it out. Actually the situation is not all that bad. I have been buried every way except alive—in sand (wet and dry), in mud, marsh and muck, and in all sorts of combinations of them. There are shots that will rescue you.
For example, I have a pet shot for the ball that seems hopelessly buried in a bunker. Most pros will tell you the best way to come out of a deeply buried lie is to close the face of the sand wedge, swing down hard and follow through as well as you possibly can. That is O.K. for a lot of imbedded lies, but if I want the ball to kind of pop softly out of the sand I hit a different shot, one you might try.
Assume a rather exaggerated open stance. Using a sand wedge, take a full backswing and then slam the club head straight down into the sand, right in back of the ball. There is no follow-through—no nothing. Just stick it straight down behind the ball, with the club face way open instead of closed. In a sense, this is a big, violent slicing action, and the ball pops right up and out. It is a sure way to get out, if that is all you are interested in—and, in a lie like this, getting out can be good enough. Be sure to remember that the ball will just plop down; it will not roll much.
I apply the same mechanics to a shot imbedded in mud or marsh, the only difference being that I follow through with the swing a little more. It is easier to get the club face through muck than sand. I still open the face of the club, rather than close it, and attempt to get tremendous pressure into the downswing. When you try it, you are apt to feel like you are plowing up half the earth, but when the ball comes sailing out you will be very pleased. Besides, there is one other satisfaction. You are mad because you are in such a place, and here is one golf shot where you are able to throw a club and hit the ball at the same time.
YOUR SUNDAY PUNCH
For someone who has played in the Masters championship 11 times, I ought to be able to avoid such places, but I can recall being in Augusta's pine needles more often than a spectator looking for a shortcut to the third green. How and why I get in there does not matter. But how I get out does.