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Swing: You're in Trouble—Here's How to Get Out

The Divide-by-Two Rule applies to more than just shots over water in major championships. And it isn't limited to par fours or even simply to approach shots. It can come into play whenever you face a risky shot of considerable length. For example, most amateurs facing a 240-yard fairway shot know they'll never get home with a three-wood. Yet they flail away anyway and often wind up short of the green, in a bunker or in thick rough—if they don't simply flub the shot and leave themselves another long-range approach. Solution: Divide by two. Hit a pair of easy 120-yard shots, then go to battle with the flat stick. "People torture themselves by playing the low-percentage shot, then beat themselves up for not pulling it off," McLean says. "That's not a physical error, it's a mental one."

McLean reminds golfers that Divide by Two is more a concept than a rule. Good players often try to set up a particular approach. Some feel most at ease from 130 yards out, while others may prefer a 110-yard pitching wedge. By all means, says McLean, shoot for your comfort zone. Just be sure to think before you grip and rip.

The McLean Technique
Jim McLean offers three criteria to help you decide when to divide by two:

Evaluate the lie. If your ball is sitting down in the rough, you'll have trouble making clean contact. You could try a midiron, but that risks dire hosel-grabbing. So reach for a short iron. If it's going to take you two to get home anyway, why not go the easy way?

Determine the distance. From farther than 200 yards out, most amateurs hit the ball too low (and lack the pro-level spin) to stop the ball on the green even if they reach it. Divide by two and you can hit a high approach with bite on it.

Gauge the risk. What if you go for the green and fail?If there's water or a minefield of greenside bunkers between you and the flag, divide by two. As tempting as it might be to try a spectacular shot, if you go for the green from 240 yards out, you'll likely come up short. Ask yourself, "Aren't I more comfortable with a full wedge than a testy forty-yard pitch shot?"

How to Play It
TPC of Scottsdale, Stadium course fifteenth hole, 501 yards, par five
Every January, Scottsdale plays host to the rowdiest tournament on the PGA Tour: the Phoenix Open. The exciting fifteenth hole is one reason why. It's effectively a long par four for the pros, with all but the shortest hitters going for the island green in two, opening up a real shot at eagle. On tournament Saturday and Sunday, a host corporation—Buick since 1999—awards $15,000 to the pro whose second shot stops closest to the pin. (Last year's winner was Charles Howell III, who left himself a forty-six-inch eagle putt on Sunday.) But for amateurs, the hole is an invitation to disaster, even from the 468-yard blue tees. With a good drive of about 250 yards, players are left with 220 to the flag. Hit a three-wood over the water?Sheer folly! Nine times out of ten you'll only drown your hopes in the lake. Instead, divide by two and ease a couple of wedges to birdie range.

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