Conquering the Woods
by Blake Takkunen
An interesting part of my game is that I play noticeably better on tightly wooded holes than on holes in the wide open. However, many players I meet dread tunnel shots and often spend more time in the schule than on the fairway. What I have compiled here is something of a strategy guide that may help you conquer the woods (or at least prevent a blow up). While not all of these ideas will help deuce every hole, they should help to eliminate meltdowns that can often tarnish an otherwise solid round.
Some of these tips may seem rather novice, but hopefully they will be useful to newer players or those who aren't accustomed to playing tight courses.
1. Remember to Finish Strong (or Plan on Not Finishing Strong)
A common problem on very tight holes is that players often get psyched out and throw with less power than they normally would on a similar hole in the open, either by not rotating as much with the upper body during the back-swing and/or failing to follow through strong. This will usually result in a more overstable flight than you are accustomed to and possible aim issues if your timing is affected.
The straightforward solution is to concentrate on finishing strong and with the same power as your normal throws. However, some players will still balk on the tee because they are throwing a fragile or irreplaceable disc. Other players will find they can throw harder after they are warmed up or built confidence with a few solid drives. If you know that you tend to under-throw when faced with tight shots, you may benefit from throwing a more understable disc that will fly straight at lower power in these situations. You may also want to step up to a longer disc if the hole is at the edge of your "open hole" range with your usual disc choice. For example, if you usually throw your midrange disc 310' when throwing hard, you may be better off throwing a controllable driver on a 310' tunnel shot if you know you will be taking a little bit off of your throw. Knowing your own tendencies and compensating for them accordingly is one of the keys to playing well on difficult courses.
2. Throw Lower
Most discs do not finish straight and the more air between the disc and the ground, the more potential distance that the disc can fade off line. On holes with a 10' wide fairway that is lined with schule, being 25' off the fairway can lead to disaster. A way to limit the amount your disc will fade is to throw lower. This will also yield less distance but this can be compensated for. Going back to the 310' tunnel shot I mentioned earlier, if you are fine throwing hard on tight holes and can put your midrange 310' but require 25' of height to do so, you are giving the disc a lot of time to fade a ways off line. An alternative would be to throw a driver 6' high which will reduce the distance it will carry, but also limit the fade potential of the disc and offline trajectories caused by tree kicks. Having a good skip shot in your arsenal takes this idea to the extreme.
3. Step Down a Disc
This may seem out of place after mentioning two situations where stepping up a disc may be useful. However, the woods are full of situations when placement dominates distance. If you are faced with a situation where you would be happy coming away with a par, choosing a slow, accurate disc, will often leave you at a choice landing zone with a great chance to lay up for an easy three. For most players, executing a 100' fairway upshot with nothing in the way will generally yield a better result than a 50' pin-high upshot over that bush, under that limb, to the left of the small tree trunk, cutting under the….
4. A Hyzer is the Safe Shot
I tend to throw a lot of hyzers on heavily wooded courses, especially on holes that I cannot reach. There are two main reasons for this: predictability of finish and placement for a second shot. We all hit trees sometimes. This is an undesirable yet unavoidable aspect of the game. A hyzer that hits a tree generally stays a hyzer and finishes predictably left no matter which direction you kick. A flat or anhyzer shot that hits a tree will react in a variety of ways, a large number of which will send you a great distance in an undesirable direction. The last thing you want is for a flat shot to be redirected 90 degrees to the right and anhyzer where it will continue with an s-curve flight path unless you are luck enough to hit something along the way and stop.
The other reason I throw a lot of hyzers is because in the woods, I prefer to play from the left side of the fairway on tighter holes. Landing your disc on the left side leaves the opportunity to throw… another hyzer.
5. Know Your Limits
Don't expect miracle shots… if they were routine and dependable they would no longer be a miracle shot. If you deuced that 450' tunnel shot once out of 50 attempts, it is pretty safe to say that you should be playing this hole for a par. A safe rule of thumb is if the average number of times you "stitch" the fairway following a less than perfect drive is greater than the number of times you've deuced, know your limits and lay up.
6. Know When to Dump
Dumping out sideways or backwards to the fairway and committing to a bogey is one of the biggest mental hurdles for many golfers to overcome. This is closely related to knowing your limits, but this situation varies greatly from player to player and how deep they can dig into their bag of tricks. If you have a great thumber and can see a small window you can probably get through and save for par, by all means go for it. However, if the line between you and the basket is almost completely blocked with potential trouble all around, toss it back onto the fairway and cut your losses. Taking a bogey is never pleasant, but it's much more desirable than a double bogey, triple bogey, etc.
7. Don't Putt Low
I was watching the 1993 PDGA Worlds video and saw an interview with "Crazy" John Brooks where he talked about players having a tendency to putt low on heavily wooded courses. After playing and watching many rounds in the woods I noticed something… he's right, especially on courses with low lighting or a canopy. I don't understand why, what, or how this happens. The only advice I can give is don't putt low (or for optimists, putt higher).
8. Don't Get Frustrated
The next time you lace a "that would have been a perfect drive if it was one inch to farther to the left" type throw that ricochets offline and leaves you ripping through thorns, poison ivy, stinging insects, and gets your brand new shoes dirty, don't get too upset over it. It wasn't really your fault that your legs are now gushing blood and itching, you just got unlucky. Unpleasant as it may be, leave it behind you and focus on the task at hand.
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