How do you play a mud ball? There’s no great answer, say Tour pros

Justin Thomas's tee shot on No. 3 during the third round of the Hero World Challenge was covered in mud.

Getty Images

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Golf is a hard enough game with a perfect lie in the middle of the fairway. Add some mud on the side of the ball and now you really never know where the ball is headed.

We look up to pros because of the insane level of precision they play this infuriating game with, but on Saturday at the Hero World Challenge, even World No. 2 Scottie Scheffler had no idea where the ball was going at times because of mud balls.

Asked if the reality check made golf a little more exciting for him, Scheffler didn’t mince words.

“Exciting’s definitely not the right word for it,” Scheffler joked.

JooHyung 'Tom' Kim of South Korea identifies his ball which was covered in mud for his second shot on the par five third hole during the third round of the 2022 Hero World Challenge at Albany Golf Course on December 03, 2022 in Nassau, Bahamas.
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The Masters winner explained how he practices just about every type of shot in preparation for tournaments from punches to different lies around the greens. But there’s no way to practice mud balls, he said.

“You can’t practice it on the course,” Scheffler said. “Sometimes the mud flies off, sometimes it sticks, sometimes it’s heavy, sometimes it’s not. Something you can’t really figure out.”

So how does Scheffler get the ball around on a day like Saturday, when the PGA Tour played the ball down for the first time all week at the Hero? He keeps the ball out of the air.

Scheffler said “in theory” the more time a mud ball spends in the air, the higher chance it has of going somewhere he doesn’t want.

“On No. 3, I hit the ball about eight feet off the ground and it ended up 50 to 60 yards right of where I was trying to hit the ball,” he said. “So I did it again on No. 6 with a 3-wood with mud on my ball and I hit it so low it, actually hit the grass in front of my ball and then just scooted out there and somehow got out about 200 yards.”

The layup on No. 3 ended up in one of the waste bunkers along the fairway at Albany, but on 6 Scheffler’s ball stayed in the short stuff. He birdied the next hole and ended up with a 66, despite the conditions, to sit in second alone heading into the final round.

Cam Young caught a rough mud ball on the 11th hole Saturday at the Hero World Challenge.
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Justin Thomas — and many other golfers based on Getty Images photographer David Cannon’s photos — found large chunks of mud on his ball on No. 3, too. He also tried to hit it low with fairway wood to minimize the risk.

“I had a lot of mud on the front of the ball but it wasn’t really in enough of one side to have any idea where it was going to go, to be honest,” he said.

It didn’t work out for Thomas on 3, he ended up scrambling for a par, but Collin Morikawa also didn’t know what mud on the front of the ball did to the flight. But he did explain how you can guess where it might go based on the position of the mud.

“It’s pretty simple,” Morikawa said. “If the mud’s on the right, the ball’s going to go left, if the mud’s on the left, the ball will go right. But from there it’s just like guesswork on where you’re going to aim it because sometimes it moves a lot, sometimes it doesn’t move depending if you’re going with it or going against it. There’s a lot of factors.”

He drew a mud ball on 4 and even though there was mud on the right of the ball, which would make it go left, said he aimed to the left because of a left-to-right wind.

“Thankfully it kind of went with the wind at the end. Not a good feeling,” Morikawa said. “It’s a guess, it’s an absolute guess and it sucks.”

The next time you’re unsure where your ball will fly because of mud, take solace in knowing the best in the world don’t know for sure either. But take their tips to make the best guess.

Jack Hirsh

Golf.com Editor

Jack Hirsh is an assistant editor at GOLF. A Pennsylvania native, Jack is 2020 graduate of Penn State University, earning degrees in broadcast journalism and political science. He was captain of his high school golf team and still *tries* to remain competitive in local amateurs. Before joining GOLF, Jack spent two years working at a TV station in Bend, Oregon, primarily as Multimedia Journalist/reporter, but also producing, anchoring and even presenting the weather. He can be reached at jack.hirsh@golf.com.