How the pros change their game to play links golfMay 8, 2019 Golf Tips
There's nothing quite like links golf. With the British Masters bringing an earlier start to the seaside season, Joe Hughes headed to Hillside to find out how the European Tour stars tackle it
“I never perform well, but I really love it.” Maybe it’s the firm, fast, sloping greens. Maybe it’s the tight fairways and high winds. But even though he sometimes struggles to shoot his best scores, Pablo Larrazabal adores links golf.
Many believe it to be the purest form of the game – golf as it’s supposed to be played.
Thanks to Tommy Fleetwood, we’ve got a whole week of it ahead and in early May to boot.
Hillside is a course of contrasts – a layout that transforms on the back nine into tight fairways carved within wild dunes.
For the mere mortal, just getting around a course like this can be a daunting and hellishly challenging task.
So it’s just as well we’ve got some of the European Tour’s finest on hand to act as your guide.
Here’s the know-how, tips and tricks they employ. Here’s your guide to playing successful links golf.
Preparing for links golf step 1: Get into position off the tee
This might seem like a massive case of stating the bleeding obvious but, on a links course more than anywhere else, it’s absolutely crucial.
Hit some wayward drives at Hillside, or any of its ilk, and you are going to feel pain.
Step 1 to links golf at Hillside.
— National Club Golfer (@NCG_com) May 7, 2019
Those narrow landing strips and the trouble that lies on either side is a lethal combination. As Gavin Green stresses, your positional play from the markers has got to be spot on.
“A lot of the work this week is off the tee, you always need to be pretty straight off the tee,” he explains.
“I’ve got to focus on putting it in position. Sometimes it’ll be OK in the rough as long as it’s on the right side of the fairway.”
So if you can regularly find the short stuff, you’re on your way to a solid round on the links.
Preparing for links golf step 2: Stay away from bunkers at all costs
Bunkers. Big cavernous bunkers. Little nasty pot bunkers that seek out your ball like a Venus Fly Trap. Bunkers with those revetted faces that seem to reach up to the sky.
They defend a links course’s dignity and destroy the inaccurate golfer.
Designed to make you think – strategically placed and crafted to punish – the greenside and fairway bunkers you’ll find on a links course are hazards to be treated with care and, ideally, avoided at all costs.
Strike and sit. 💯
— Harvey Jamison (@HarvJamisonNCG) May 7, 2019
Club and shot selection is key. Don’t risk trying to squeeze an extra five yards out of your driver to scrape over the trap. Be sensible. You really, really, don’t want to find the sand.
“Stay out of the fairways bunkers,” warns Scott Jamison. “You’ll basically end up with a penalty shot more often than not.”
If the message hasn’t hit home, then heed the advice of David Law. “If you hit it in a bunker, that’s effectively a water hazard and a shot penalty.”
Preparing for links golf step 3: Be creative – there’s nothing wrong with a bump and run
It’s not always about hitting the bolt straight, high-flighted shot that’s standard issue on your average inland course.
A links course asks you questions and sets you challenges.
You’ve got to think how to get your ball in the right spot – and how you do that might not be immediately apparent.
Marcus Kinhult explains that he’s “worked on a few knock-down shots”. He added: “I did some work at home last week [in Sweden] and we had a lot of wind, so it was a good couple of days preparation for this week.
“It’s not the usual throw it up in the air and stop it,” adds Green. “You really have to think about your shots, which I think is ideal.”
Links golf 101:
— National Club Golfer (@NCG_com) May 7, 2019
Maybe it’s the undulating nature of the fairway, or how the weather is behaving – or not – on any given hole. There are just so many variables.
As Belgian ace Thomas Detry preaches, it’s not always about attacking the flag: “We’ve been playing golf courses where it is basically just target golf. You can just aim at flags and not get any roll.
“Out here it’s very different, we are going to have to be creative. I’ll be playing a lot of bump and runs and using the slopes, that’s definitely something I’ll be thinking about.”
There you have it. Three simple steps to keep in mind and, who knows, maybe the next time you’re lucky enough to be heading out on a links layout you’ll come out in one piece.