Using a wedge to avoid a risk

April 16, 1962

It is a sad fact that many good rounds are ruined by the failure of a risky shot. When faced with a situation where boldness might save a stroke, it makes sense to weigh the risk carefully against the possible gain before rushing headlong into the shot. In the U.S. Open at Oakland Hills last year I was four over par after 17 holes, and on 18 I had missed the green with my approach, the ball kicking down into the rough at the left. To get the ball close to the pin, which was placed in the front right-hand corner of the green, I had an extremely delicate pitch over a deep, wide trap and a mound (dotted line above). The temptation to take the gamble and recoup some of the strokes I had lost earlier was extremely great. But so was my chance of dumping the pitch into the trap (alternate dotted line) and taking six or seven on the hole. I finally decided to play for a sure five and pitched the ball safely away from the trap (solid line). I play these short wedge shots with an open blade and take a slow, easy swing, keeping my left hand firmly on the club, and making the hit with my right hand. The idea is to get the ball up in the air quickly and have it land softly. This left me with a 15-foot putt which, as a matter of fact, I almost sank. I finished the tournament in a tie for fourth. The lesson to be learned from this is valuable, I think. In stroke play, when winning does not depend upon a particular shot, play safely away from danger and hope that a good putt will do the work for you. Sometimes you can save yourself two or three strokes this way.

ILLUSTRATIONFRANCIS GOLDEN ILLUSTRATIONFRANCIS GOLDENTo play short wedge shot, Nicklaus keeps left hand firmly on club, directs hit with right hand. Using a slow, easy swing, he strokes hall with open blade.

Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)