The Art of the “Message Shot”
Anyone who has ever played golf on a crowded course has thought about (if not experimented with) the “message shot.” Golf is a game rife with techniques to develop, yet even given all of golf’s nomenclature, jargon, and set of skill shots–the flop, the fade, the draw, the bump and run, etc.–the message shot doesn’t get enough coverage in mainstream venues, like Golf Digest, as something that all serious golfers should perfect.
What is the message shot? Imagine that you’re in the middle of the front 9, your game has a nice rhythm, and then you realize that there’s a group ahead of you that is terrible. Worse yet, the group is committing any number of infractions that tend to slow play: drinking beer on the fairway, hitting multiple balls, looking too long for lost balls, chatting on the green, fraternizing, pissing in the woods, or outright sucking it up. Even worse yet, these people seem to be oblivious to common sense golf ettiquette, and they won’t let you play through.
When faced with such a situation, a golfer has several options, and only a few of them are effective or desirable. He (or she) could wait and let frustration build as the irresponsible foursome on the green ahead screws around. He (or she) could drive up and try to reason with the group and request to play through. Or, he (or she) could send a message with a golf ball.
Yes, the shot I’m suggesting has been referred to as “hitting into the group ahead,” but I argue that, if properly developed, the message shot can be an invaluable member of a golfer’s arsenal. Sometimes the message shot communicates to the group ahead that you’d like to play through. In other cases, it could get you kicked off of the golf course, although this has never happened to me.
A true story. I was playing 18 holes with a friend a month ago, and around hole 5 we landed behind a fivesome (no golf course allows more than four people to play in the same group). We first saw this group when one of its members hit an errant tee shot that ricocheted off of our golf cart on the adjacent fairway. They played so slowly and so poorly that we waited behind them on every shot for the next four holes. When we made the turn, my friend went into the clubhouse and told the marshall that there was a fivesome playing (actually, by this point the fivesome had become a sixsome because one the the guy’s young sons had joined and started hitting balls alongside them).
The marshall went ahead of us and made them divide into groups of three. Fine. So far so good, until about hole 13 when we caught up to them again. By this time, the men were so drunk they didn’t seem to be aware of what was going on (and I think this includes the 12-year old boy as well). I reached the boiling point on the 18th, a long par 5. After a mediocre drive and a flubbed second shot, I stood in the fairway, about 185 yards from the hole. I decided to go with the message shot, a fairway wood aimed directly toward the green, where the men were putting, drinking, and settling cash wagers from the round.
The ball I hit rocketed toward the green, and it landed almost to the back of the green. I could hear the thump of the ball hitting the green from where I stood, and I am sure that those on the green heard the shot wizzing by through the air. Yet, amazingly, none of the men even looked back at me. Were they intimidated by my golfing prowess? Or were they just too inebriated to even notice a ball heading their way? My encounter with them in the parking lot after we finished proved the latter to be true. Still, under intense emotional duress, I believe I had hit the quintessential message shot.
So, to recapitulate, here are five pointers to hitting effective message shots.
1) Estimate the distance you are from the group ahead and select a club that’s certain to put your ball past them. When in doubt go with a club that will give you a lot of power (e.g. a fairway wood over a low iron or a hybrid club)
2) You don’t actually want to hit someone with a golf ball (more than likely). If your message is to be effective, the shot has to either whiz by or thump no more than 20 feet away from the negligent group. Not much room for error.
3) Hitting onto a green is a great way to send a message, because more than likely, you’ll be in good shouting distance to supplement your shot with a few choice words.
4) The stakes raise tenfold if you pull out a message shot on the 9th or 18th greens, which are both usually in plain view of the clubhouse.
5) Practice your message shot on a driving range. For an added challenge, try hitting the ball collector, a moving target.
Yes, folks, savor this advice, because you won’t be seeing it in Golf Digest.