A shot over water may be golf's most intimidating moment, but a shot over trees rates higher on the difficulty scale.
First, it requires hitting a high shot, often from a less-than-ideal lie. Plus, the consequences of failure are unpredictable, ranging from nothing (your shot sails through the branches unscathed) to catastrophe (the ball ricochets into oblivion).
Here's how to handle a shot over trees:
- Make sure going over is preferable to going under or around.
- Choose a club that you're certain will launch high enough to carry the treetops.
- Stand slightly closer to the ball than usual to create a more upright swing plane.
- Play the ball forward in your stance, nearly opposite the left heel (for right-handers), to utilize all the club's loft.
- Concentrate on finishing with the hands high overhead
The natural tendency is to lift the left side too early, causing a low, thin shot. Focus on hitting the back of the ball and extending the right arm well past impact into that high finish.
How to Hit a Golf Ball Over Trees
If you regularly play golf courses which are lined with trees, you already know just how difficult it can be to keep your round on track under those conditions. Even if you manage to find the fairway throughout most of the day, it only takes one or two poor drives into the trees to ruin your score. While it would be great to be able to avoid the trees all day long, that really isn't possible – all golfers hit poor shots from time to time. So, in order to keep your rounds on track, you are going to have to develop reliable methods of getting out of the trees and back onto the short grass. One of the methods that you should have at your disposal is the option of simply hitting the ball up over the trees and on toward the target.
Of course, hitting your golf ball clean over a tree is something that is easier said than done. Your ability to do so will depend on the height of the tree, how close you are to the tree, the lie of the ball, your swing speed, equipment, and much more. This is a complicated task, but it is one that can help you to get out of trouble quickly and effectively. In this article, we are going to take a closer look at all of the variables in play when you decide to go over a tree. Failing to get over a tree when attempting this kind of shot will do major damage to your score, so you want to understand this shot as thoroughly as possible before giving it a try out on the course.
Before getting too far into the topic of hitting over trees, we should briefly talk about how to keep your ball out of the trees in the first place. Yes, poor shots are inevitable in this difficult game, but you can limit the number of times you find trouble simply by making smart choices as you move around the course. This relates to both the clubs that you hit and the lines that you take. By putting your driver away on narrow holes, for instance, you should be able to keep the ball in play more often. Or, by aiming for the wide side of a fairway rather than trying to cut it close to the edge, you will give yourself more margin for error. You would always prefer to stay out of the trees rather than having to hit up and over one, so be smart with your course management and play a patient, strategic game.
All of the content included below has been written from the perspective of a right handed golfer. If you happen to play left handed, please take a moment to reverse the directions as necessary.
Looking for Opportunities
You have a lot to think about when you see your golf ball veer off into the woods. The first thing you should do when you see that your ball has headed into the trees is to take a deep breath and relax. You are almost certainly going to be frustrated over hitting a poor shot, so use the time that it takes to walk up to your ball to calm yourself down and refocus. By the time you reach your ball, you should have let go of any anger that you had over the mistake. With a clear mind, you can now evaluate your options before picking the best way to proceed.
Anytime your ball is in a difficult spot on the course – whether it is behind some trees or in another tough spot – you need to keep an open mind about your options. If you are already planning on hitting one kind of shot before you ever arrive at the ball, you are surely going to miss out on other opportunities which may be available. Keeping an open mind will enable you to see every possible path between your ball and the target.
How do you sort through the options in front of you in order to pick a winner? Go through the following steps –
- The first thing you want to look for is a shot that will take your ball all the way to the green. For instance, imagine that you have hit a poor drive on a par four, and your ball is sitting in the trees. The first path out of the trees that you should look for is one that will give you a chance to set up a birdie putt. This will frequently not be a possibility, but it should still be the first place you look.
- If there is no path to the green itself, the next best option is going to be a punch out shot that puts your ball on the short grass within close range of the green. For example, you may be able to find a shot that runs your ball up to within 40 or 50 yards of the target. This is a solid option because it will give you a good chance to get up and down for your par.
- Finally, if the first two options are ruled out, you will simply need to find a way to get the ball back in play – even if that means playing out sideways, or backwards. You don't want to wind up with a big number on the hole as a result of being too aggressive, so getting back in play should be the top priority when no better options are available.
While it is common for amateur golfers to be too aggressive from the trees, it is also common for other players to look for a punch out before really considering all of their options. This is why it is so important to be open minded. You don't want to have any preconceived notions as to the shot you are going to play from the woods – instead, check out all available paths and choose the one that gives you the greatest chance of success.
Deciding to Go Up
Before you can make the decision to hit a hight shot over a tree and toward the target, you are going to have to make sure a few different elements are in place. If you are missing any of the key elements listed below, it is unlikely that you will be able to hit a successful shot over a tree.
- Reasonable tree height. This, of course, is the first variable in play for the shot. If the tree in front of you is simply too tall, you aren't going to be able to go up and over. If you are playing golf in an area with large, evergreen fir trees, for example, it is very unlikely that you will be able to go over. On the other hand, locations with smaller deciduous trees may provide you will plenty of opportunities to take this kind of approach.
- Enough distance between your ball and the tree. Many golfers overlook this point, but it is just as important as the height of the tree itself. Your golf ball needs time to get up into the air before it is going to reach its maximum height, so you will need to be a fair distance back from the tree before trying this kind of shot. Even if the tree in front of you is of modest height, you still will have trouble going over if there is not enough distance between the tree and your ball. To get around this problem, you can try to get the ball up into the air quicker by opening up the face of your club. However, that method will take distance off of the shot, so you might be defeating the purpose of going over the tree in the first place.
- Space to make a swing. If you are deep in the trees, you will also need to be concerned about the room you have to actually swing the club. Hitting the ball over a tree usually requires a big swing, so you will need plenty of airspace around your ball to make that happen. If there are branches from other trees which are impeding the path of your swing, you may have to opt for a punch out shot using a smaller motion.
- A good lie. This is one of the biggest keys to having success on this type of shot. You need a clean lie because you need the ball to have plenty of backspin when it leaves the club face. Backspin is what makes the ball climb into the air, so a shot with a low spin rate will never get high enough to clear a significant tree. You don't have to have a fairway lie to hit the ball high, but you do need to have a clean lie with no grass (or anything else) sitting directly behind the ball. When the ball is sitting down in the rough, for instance, you can pretty much forget about trying to hit your shot over a tree.
- A good landing spot. Even if you can get your ball over the tree in question, you don't have to automatically go for the shot. Specifically, you need to make sure that you can reach a good landing spot after the ball successfully clears the tree. It wouldn't make any sense at all to take on the task of hitting your ball over a tree if you are still going to be in trouble for your next shot. If there is no good landing area for your over-the-tree shot, look for other options and play it safe.
- Wind. In addition to everything else, you also need to keep the wind in mind when you are weighing your options from the trees. Believe it or not, playing into the wind will actually make it easier to get your ball over a tree, although that condition will cause you to lose distance on the shot as a whole. Playing into the wind will allow the spin on your shots to have even greater effect, so you should see the ball climb high into the sky quite quickly. On the other hand, you might feel good about your prospects of reaching the target when playing downwind, but remember that wind is going to knock your ball down and cause it to fly lower overall.
While you don't want to hold up the groups behind you while trying to make a decision, you also don't want to rush through this choice when it comes up. Take a moment to think carefully about the points above before deciding that you can clear a tree on your way to the target. Getting this decision wrong is likely to cost you at least one or two shots on the scorecard – and possibly more – so don't pull the trigger unless you are confident in a positive outcome.
Making the Swing
Assuming you have made the decision to go ahead and attempt your over-the-tree shot, you will need to know exactly how to swing the club in order to give yourself the best chance at success. You aren't going to alter your swing mechanics dramatically for this kind of shot, however, you will need to make a few subtle changes. Once these changes are made, you can swing with confidence knowing the ball should leave the face of the club on a high trajectory.
- Move the ball forward in your stance. This is the obvious point on this list, and you probably already know that you should be making this adjustment. By moving the ball just a bit up in your stance – only an inch or two – you can ensure that the face has maximum loft at the moment of impact. It is easy to hit the ball fat when you make this change, however, so focus on maintaining your balance throughout the swing and keep your head down on the ball.
- Choke down slightly on the grip. You absolutely have to make clean contact if you are going to get the ball high up into the air, so choke down on the club slightly to increase your odds of hitting the sweet spot. Although this adjustment can cost you a few yards of total distance, that is a trade you should be willing to make. As long as you find the sweet spot at impact, you can still get good distance from your shots even if you are choked down slightly on the grip.
- Relax. There is a good chance that you will be feeling a bit nervous when you stand over the ball to hit this shot. You are going to know that you have to execute perfectly to have success, and that kind of thinking has a way of causing trouble within the swing. Despite the fact that there is a tree in between you and the target, it is essential that you find a way to calm down and execute your technique properly. Take a couple of extra practice swings to work out any nervousness in your body, and focus on using a slow and steady takeaway to start the swing.
- Don't swing too hard. One big temptation with this kind of shot is to swing harder than normal in order to send the ball way up into the sky. You will probably need to make an aggressive swing to have success, but don't go too far in that direction. If you swing significantly harder than normal, you are going to lose your balance and you will likely fail to make good contact. Stay within yourself, swing in a balanced and aggressive fashion, and expect to see the ball sail cleanly over the tree.
You obviously don't want to use this kind of shot very often in your game. If you are regularly having to produce a swing that can get the ball up over a tree, there is an issue with the rest of your swings that needs to be addressed. However, this shot is going to come up from time to time, so knowing how to handle it will help you shave strokes from your score.
A Few Other Tips
Playing the ball out of the trees and back to the short grass is never an easy task. Sometimes, as has been highlighted in the content above, you will be able to go over the trees in order to get your ball back in play. That isn't always going to be an option, however, so you need to have other plans in mind for when the high route is unavailable. Knowing how to pitch or punch your ball back to the fairway is a skill that every golfer should have in the bag.
When you are getting ready to play a low shot back to the fairway, keep the following tips in mind –
- Watch for roots. If the trees you are playing under have large root systems, be careful to avoid any large roots both with your club and with the ball. If there is a big root stretching out across your intended target line, a low shot might not be the best option – the ball could strike the root and shoot directly up into the air. Likewise, playing an aggressive punch shot when there is a root near your ball could be dangerous as the club could strike the root and you could wind up injured in some way. Take a close look at the terrain and error on the side of caution when it comes to roots.
- Make a soft swing. It is backspin that is going to be your enemy when trying to play a low shot out of the trees, so swing softly in order to avoid generating too much backspin. By using a four or five iron with a soft swing, you should be able to hit a nice little punch shot that flies low to the ground before bouncing and rolling out (hopefully in the fairway).
- Use a curve. While it is tough for most amateur golfers to curve the ball intentionally when making a full swing, that task is quite a bit easier when you are hitting a punch shot. Open your stance to promote a fade, or close your stance to promote a draw, and swing along the line of your feet. With a little practice, you should have no trouble curving the ball from right to left or from left to right with ease. These kinds of curves are going to make it easier for you to punch out effectively from a wider range of situations.
- Commit to the punch out. You don't want to be 'caught in-between' when it comes to punching out or going for the green. If you do decide to play out to the fairway, forget all about the green and just play the punch out to the best of your ability. If you are still thinking about running the ball up near the green while also punching out, there is a good chance that you shot will fail. It is always important in golf to have clear intentions prior to making a swing, and this is a great example of that point. Decide specifically what kind of shot you wish to hit, and then set about the task of executing perfectly.
You probably won't have the chance to hit your golf ball over a tree very often, but you do want to be comfortable with that type of shot when the situation presents itself. As long as you have a clear understanding of the thought process that goes into the shot, and as long as you know how to adjust your swing properly, you should be able to succeed more often than not. Do your best to keep the ball in the fairway as often as possible in order to avoid trees altogether, but practice this kind of hight shot from time to time so that it is always an option. Good luck and play well!