Three Golf Tricks Shots to Escape Trouble

Some golfers make escaping trouble look like child's play. Seve Ballesteros, the late, great Spaniard, seemed to delight in pulling off the miraculous recovery.

While most of us would prefer to keep it in the boring old fairway, we're bound to hit the occasional ball into trees, desert, underbrush and other nasty territory. Sometimes, the only play is sideways to safety. But if you've got a decent repertoire of specialty shots, other avenues become available.

Here are three shots that will come in handy in a tight spot:

Up and over: You've got a tree in your direct line, but it's just a short iron to reach the green and your lie is decent. Proceed as follows:

  • If you're between clubs (pitching wedge and 9-iron), go with the shorter club. Swinging harder will get the ball higher, faster.
  • Play the ball just forward of the center of your stance, your weight spread evenly across both feet, the feet slightly open to the target line.
  • Stand slightly closer to the ball than normal to create a steeper swing plane.
  • Make a full swing, holding your hands high overhead at the finish.

Low and under: Here you're left with no choice but to go beneath the branches. If the ball is sitting down in the rough, this shot isn't your best option. Make sure you've got a clean lie, then:

  • Choose a mid-iron or hybrid to keep the ball low.
  • Grip down an inch or two on the handle.
  • Play the ball slightly back of center in your stance, with the clubface square to the target and weight favoring your left (lead) foot.
  • Make an abbreviated backswing and apply about 80% effort. Swinging too hard will cause the ball to shoot up.

The hybrid “putt”: Sometimes, there's no getting to the green. In fact, there are times when you're happy just to escape the woods. If your ball is lying cleanly with no room to go up, but there's smooth ground (i.e. no big roots, humps or clumps of grass) between you and safety, just take a low-lofted hybrid, grip down and play a runner through the trees.

Three Golf Trick Shots to Escape Trouble

Three Golf Trick Shots to Escape Trouble

Trouble is sure to find you on the golf course from time to time. Getting into tough spots is just part of the game – golf wouldn't be very interesting if you always had a good lie and a clear path to the hole. Of course, in order to get out of these sticky situations with your score intact, you are going to need to be creative. And, it will help to have a few tricks up your sleeve. In this article, we are going to identify three 'trick shots' which can help you get out of trouble and back in position as quickly as possible.

As you should already know, it is not good enough just to have a few stock shots you can turn to as you make your way around the course. Sure, those standard shots are going to get the job done in most situations, but they will not always be the appropriate choice for the task at hand. Sometimes you are going to need to get creative, and those times are going to be better handled if you know how to hit some specialty shots. These shots are going to ask you to step outside of your comfort zone in order to move the ball in a specific direction, and at a certain height. Even if such shots only come up once every few rounds, you will love having the ability to save a stroke or two when the moment is right.

One of the keys to having success with the trick shots we are going to explain in this article is a willingness to work through some early struggles. It is going to be difficult to learn these new shots, and there are sure to be growing pains along the way. If you just give up because you hit a few poor shots at the start of the process, you will never have a chance to reach the light at the end of the tunnel. Improvement in golf requires a significant amount of patience and dedication – nothing comes easy in this game. Commit yourself to sticking with the process and you will come out on the other side with three new shots you can use to deal with a variety of trouble spots on the course.

Even though you always have a good lie with nothing in your way while hitting balls on the practice range, that is still the best place to start when it comes to working on your trick shots. On the range, you can hit a high volume of shots without having to worry about the results. Hit a poor shot? Who cares – line up another ball and try again. Not only will time spent on the range working on trick shots help you learn these skills, but you will also have plenty of fun in the process. It is enjoyable to break out of the typical routine in order to find new ways to take the ball toward the target. Once you get into this process, you will likely find yourself including at least a few trick shots in every practice session.

All of the instruction below is based on a right-handed golfer. If you happen to play left-handed, please take a moment to reverse the directions as necessary.

The Low Hook

The Low Hook

One of the first shots you should work on learning in order to expand the variety in your game is the low hook. Having the ability to hit a low hook is important because this can be a go-to shot when you find your ball deep in the trees. If you play any golf at all on tree-lined courses, you know just how important it is to be able to get out while still advancing your ball down the fairway. Sure, you could just pitch the ball back to the fairway, but that wouldn't do you any good in terms of getting closer to the green and hopefully saving a par. By having a low hook in your arsenal, you can move the ball toward the target while getting back in the fairway at the same time.

You may be wondering – why hit a low hook and not a low fade? Simple – it is extremely difficult to hit the ball low while curving it from left to right. If you try to hit a fade, the ball will have more backspin than with a draw, and it will climb into the air as a result. That is not good news when you need to keep the shot down under the trees. For now, work on hitting a low draw and be happy when you can add this shot to your arsenal. You can work on ways to curve the ball from left to right later, but that should be considered an advanced skill.

To successfully play a low hook, try following the steps below.

  • To start, you are going to select a low-lofted club from your bag. The exact club you will use depends on how low you need to keep the ball, but you will want to start by trying something like a four or five iron. As you gain experience with this shot, you will get a better idea of how the ball is going to come out, and which clubs will produce which trajectories. If you are trying this shot on the range for the first time, go with a five iron and develop your technique from there.
  • There are going to be a series of adjustments required to your standard swing technique if you are going to be able to produce a low draw. The first change is that you need to choke down on the grip of the club by an inch or two. Also, you are going to move the ball back in your stance. These two go hand in hand – you need to move the ball back because you choked down on the grip, and vice versa. Ideally, you should be playing the ball from a position which is about two or three inches behind the midpoint of your stance.
  • In addition to the changes highlighted in step two, you also need to turn down the face of the club slightly at address. By turning the face, you are going to make it more likely that the shot will come out with the desired draw spin. This type of setup is probably going to look a little awkward at first, but give it a chance as you hit a few practice shots. Once you see how the ball can come out low and fast using a closed face, you probably will get more comfortable with the look of your address position.
  • Now that you are all set to go, it is time to make the swing. To do so, keep your weight solidly balanced in the middle of your stance while you swing the club back and through. You are going to be hitting down on the ball in order to achieve a low flight, and you need to cut off the swing to an abbreviated finish. The most important part of this kind of swing is limiting hand action. If your hands are highly active during the swing, you will add loft to the club at impact and the ball will climb higher in the air than you would have liked.
  • As a final note, it is extremely important that you keep your head down on this shot all the way through impact. Of course, you already know that you are supposed to keep your head down in golf, but this point is even more crucial when talking about a low hook out of the trees. You are going to be tempted to look up early because you will be a little anxious and nervous about the results of the shot. Do your best to put those nerves aside and focus instead on the strike of the ball. By making the best contact possible at impact, you will be giving your shot a great chance at success.

Once you learn how to hit a low hook, you will be amazed at just how many opportunities you have to use it effectively on the course. Yes, it can be used when you hit your ball in trouble, but it can also be used simply to get around the corner on a dogleg left hole. Or, you may wish to use it when playing a shot into the wind, as the low flight will prevent the wind from doing too much damage to your distance. No matter when you decide to put this shot into action, you can count on it being a valuable member of your arsenal.

The High Wedge

The High Wedge

Usually, escaping trouble on the golf course is going to mean one of two things – hitting the ball low, or hitting it high. Since we covered a low shot in the previous section, it only makes sense that we would move on to a high shot here. In this case, we are going to talk about the high wedge shot. You might not think of this as being a 'trick shot', but it can be put into this category simply because of the many things this play can do for your game.

If you hit the ball into the trees off the tee, you might not have the option of playing low to get out of trouble. Perhaps the trees in question have low branches, or maybe there is deep rough under the trees which is preventing you from playing a punch shot. Either way, you might need to look up into the sky for a better option. Of course, getting the ball up into the air and over the trees is no easy feat, which is why you need to specifically practice this shot before you try it on the course.

The first step to hitting a high wedge shot is moving the ball forward in your stance. Usually, you would play a wedge shot from roughly the middle of your stance, but you want to add loft to the club in this case. By moving the ball up, you will add to the effective loft of the wedge, as it is going to be leaning back away from the target by the time you reach impact. As for the specific wedge you should use, that will depend on the shot at hand. If you need to hit the ball as absolutely high as possible, a lob wedge will be the right pick. Or, if you just need moderate height along with some distance, opting for the pitching wedge would be a logical choice.

Once you have the ball set forward in your stance, the next step is to add some additional flex to your knees. You will want to have more flex in your lower body for this shot than a typical wedge shot, as you need to stay down long enough to reach the ball all the way up at the front of your stance. Should you opt to stick with your typical stance from the waist down, you will likely make the mistake of hitting this shot thin.

As a last bit of advice before the club goes in motion, it is important to note that you need to swing hard on this shot. It is going to take a lot of speed to send the ball high up into the sky, so don't hold anything back on this shot. You are going to be expending most of the energy of the shot in a vertical direction, as the ball will climb up the face and launch into the air at a very steep angle (ideally). Turn the club loose through the hitting area and trust that it will shoot up into the air as soon as it leaves the club.

This shot might be a bit easier for most golfers to learn than the low hook, but it still needs to be practiced nonetheless. Take some time during your next range session to hit some high wedges and you will start to get a feel for this unique shot. Knowing that you can send the ball high into the air on command, you will have one more option at your disposal should you wind up in a tough spot somewhere around the course.

The Lefty

The Lefty

As a right-handed golfer, you certainly head to the first tee each round with the expectation of hitting all of your shots right-handed. However, unexpected things happen in golf, and it may come to be that you need to play a shot from the other side at some point – in other words, you might have to hit a shot left-handed. This is never going to be considered an ideal outcome, but it is one which you should prepare for by spending a bit of time learning how to handle such a challenge.

The biggest issue with this kind of shot is not the fact that you are a right-handed golfer trying to play left-handed. No, the bigger issue is the fact that you don't have any left-handed clubs in your bag. With only right-handed sticks at your disposal, playing a left-handed shot is not going to be easy. It can be done, however, as long as you have a plan. Before you attempt this play for yourself, be sure to consult the tips below.

  • Turn the club over. You should be using an iron for this shot, and you will want to turn the club over so that the toe of the club head is on the ground at address. This will allow you to point the club face in the right direction, and your right-handed club can actually serve as a left-handed model for this improvised shot. Obviously, you shouldn't be planning on doing anything more than knocking the ball back out toward the fairway, as you aren't going to be able to get any significant distance or height on this kind of shot.
  • Set your hands in front of the ball. As you take your left-handed grip, be sure to set your hands on the target side of the ball at address. You want to hit down on this shot in order to punch it out of trouble, so setting your hands in front at address is a smart move. Your right wrist should be mostly flat at address, and your hands should be relaxed on the grip of the club. You are going to feel uncomfortable in your stance, of course, but do your best to have confidence as you make the swing.
  • Keep your eyes on the ball. It is always important to keep your eyes on the ball as you swing – but it is even more important when playing from the opposite side of your usual swing. You are going to be anxious about the result of this shot, so you may want to look up early in order to see where the ball is going to go. It is imperative that you avoid the temptation to take that early peek. Doing so is going to cause your whole body to lift up, and you might miss the ball as a result.

The best way to play this shot is to avoid having to play it at all. There is nothing good to be said about having to hit a shot from the wrong side of the ball, but you have to do what you have to do in order to get through each round. As long as you know how to perform this move when necessary, you can get yourself out of trouble and back onto the correct side of your ball.

A Few Final Thoughts

A Few Final Thoughts

Once you have these new shots in your bag, it is going to be tempting to break them out at every opportunity. However, you would be wise to think of these types of shots more as a last resort than anything else. You really don't want to have to hit a low hook, a high wedge, or a left-handed shot – you should only do so when nothing else will work.

Basically, the closer you can stay to your standard ball flight, the better off you will be. Pick shots which are going to keep you near your comfort zone for the best possible results. You are going to have to leave that box from time to time, but only do so when the course doesn't give you any other option. If you are willingly hitting difficult shots that are not in your 'wheelhouse', you will be adding strokes to your score for no reason at all.

When you do have to resort to some form of trick shot in order to get your ball out of trouble, be sure to give yourself as much margin for error as you can. Rather than trying to pull off the miracle shot which lands right next to the pin, give yourself some margin and play to the safest spot you can. This might not be the most exciting way to play golf, but it is going to help you get off of the current hole in the fewest possible strokes. Going for broke rarely pays off in golf, as this is a game which rewards patience and strategy above all else.

Trick shots are fun on the range, but they are a little less exciting when you have to break them out on the course. Work on learning a few shots – such as the three described in this article – so you have somewhere to turn when you wind up in a bad spot. You will always prefer to play a stock shot from the middle of the fairway, but having these other choices in your back pocket is a nice insurance policy, as you never know what will come up next in this game. Good luck!