water hazard stance

Every now and then, you'll see a tour pro pull off his shoes and socks, roll up his pants and wade into a water hazard, then splash his ball out in a shower of mud. Bill Haas' incredible, par-saving shot at the 2011 Tour Championship is a noteworthy example.

Certain conditions must be met before considering a water shot. Next time your ball finds the edge of a hazard, analyze the situation before deciding to take a penalty drop. (Besides the following factors, you may want to consider the risk of getting wet and muddy, slipping, injuring your feet, or slowing up the group behind you.)

  • The top of the ball should be above the water. Preferably, at least half the ball should be showing.
  • If you were to drop, where is the nearest point of relief? (Remember, you're adding a penalty stroke by dropping.) If a drop will put you in a tougher position than a water shot that merely gets your ball out of the hazard and onto dry land, the splash-out is worth trying.

If you've got a green-light situation, here's how to play it:

  • Make sure you've got a stable stance.
  • Don't touch the surface of the water or the ground inside the hazard (marked by yellow or red stakes or lines) with your club as you'll incur a two-stroke penalty under Rule 13-4.
  • Use a similar technique to a standard bunker shot – open stance, square clubface, focus on a spot an inch or two behind the ball and swing hard.

Remember, your main goal is to advance the ball to a spot that's at least as good as where you could drop. That's a stroke saved… though it could cost you a nice shirt.

When and How to Play from a Water Hazard

When and How to Play from a Water Hazard

It's never a good thing to hit your ball into a water hazard. These hazards are placed in strategic spots around the course to add to the challenge and interest of the game. If you fail to make your way around or over a water hazard, you are usually going to incur a penalty stroke. After taking your penalty, you will have to drop your ball in a designated spot before continuing play. Most of the time, this kind of mistake is going to result in at least a bogey – and it is common to wind up with a double- or triple-bogey before all is said and done.

But what if you didn't have to take a penalty at all? Whether you know it or not, it is actually allowable under the rules of golf to simply play the ball out of the hazard. You won't have to take a penalty stroke when you take this option, meaning you could potentially save your par even after making a mistake. Who knows, you could even walk away with a birdie!

Of course, this option is not going to be available to you in most cases. If you hit your ball into the middle of a lake, you can't exactly play the ball as it lies. Once the ball is resting below the level of the water – even if the water is very shallow – you can forget about playing it out. In those cases, you'll have to take your penalty and move on. However, not all areas marked as water hazards are filled with water, meaning you may have some options when you have a little bit of luck on your side.

Should your ball happen to come to rest inside the hazard but in a spot where you may have a shot, you should consider playing the ball as it lies. This shot is unlikely to be an easy one – you are still in a hazard, after all – but it may be the better choice than taking a penalty. If you can advance the ball from the hazard, you will save both the penalty stroke and the distance you would have lost by taking a drop. It is easy to see why this is an attractive option, even if it is only available once in a while.

In this article, we are going to offer up some advice on when and how you can play from a water hazard. Going in, you should know that you are unlikely to use this tip more than once or twice in an entire golf season. But, if one of those occasions happens to occur when you have a great round going – or when you are in the middle of a competition – it will all be worth it. Saving strokes is the name of the game on the links, and the knowledge offered below may be able to help you do just that.

All of the content 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.

Some Ground Rules

Some Ground Rules

If you are an experienced player, this section might be a little bit of review. If you are a relatively new golfer, on the other hand, you may not have yet learned what we are about to explain. Either way, it will be to your benefit as a golfer to read through this section before moving on with the article. The rules of golf can be a little confusing from time to time, but they are generally pretty easy to understand if you just take a minute to digest them properly.

First, there are a couple different kinds of hazards you are likely to encounter on the golf course, and golfers will generally lump them together as 'water hazards'. Technically speaking, a hazard marked with red stakes/lines are water hazards, while those marked with red stakes/lines are considered lateral water hazards. The differences between those two from a rules perspective is important, but not really relevant to this article. If you would like clarity on this topic, consult your rule book for a complete explanation.

What is important to know in terms of this article is that you can play your ball from either one of these hazards. The rules allow a player to enter a water hazard or lateral water hazard to play the ball out, assuming it is possible to do so. Note: there may be a 'local rule' in place at the course you are playing which prevents players from going into hazards in order to play a shot. Often, this is done to protect the environment. If there are sensitive plants or animals which may be disturbed by players walking into the hazards, those areas may be ruled off-limits. Check the scorecard for information before you make your way in.

At this point, we know that both yellow and red hazards allow you to play the ball when possible. We also know that you should make sure the course allows players to enter those hazards before you go in to hit a shot. Next, we need to talk about the rules that govern your actions when you are inside of a hazard. Check out the quick list of important points below –

  • You can't ground your club. This is probably the most important thing to know about playing from a hazard. In order to comply with the rules of golf, you have to avoid touching the ground in the hazard with your club until you actually make a swing. This means you can't set the club head on the ground behind the ball prior to starting your swing, even if that is what you normally do out in the fairway. Also, you can't casually set your club on the ground while thinking about how you are going to hit the shot. Keep your club well up away from the ground to avoid adding a penalty to your score.
  • You can't clear a path. Some golfers – those who don't understand the rules – will get into a hazard and start clearing away brush and other debris from behind the ball. That is not allowed. What might be considered a loose impediment on other parts of the course does not fall into that category when you are in a marked hazard. You truly have to play the ball as it lies, or not play it at all. If you don't think you can hit a shot successfully given the conditions under and around the ball, the best option may be to take a drop and the penalty stroke that goes along with it.
  • Watch your step. This isn't so much a rule as it is a word of advice. The area within a hazard is probably not cared for like the rest of the course, so be careful when walking in to find your ball. There may be uneven areas of ground, large rocks, roots, or just about anything else waiting to trip you up. Additionally, if there is grass inside the hazard, it probably is not maintained on a regular basis. Take your time as you head in, and never risk personal injury just to track down your ball and save a stroke. It's only golf, after all.

It is always a good idea to understand the rules of golf, whether you are dealing with a hazard or any other situation around the course. Countless players waste strokes unnecessarily just because they don't understand how the rules work. Pick up a copy of the rule book, if you don't have one already, and brush up on the topics that are still a bit fuzzy. Not only can this knowledge help you save some strokes, you can also be the expert in your group whenever a question comes up.

Picking Your Spots

Picking Your Spots

Deciding to play from a water hazard could be a major turning point in your round. If it works, you could potentially save multiple strokes on that single hole. If it goes wrong, however, you could waste multiple strokes and your round might be thrown off track for the rest of the day. Just as you have to do for every shot you hit, it is important to take all factors into consideration when trying to decide whether or not to play the ball out of a hazard.

Below, we have outlined a checklist with a few of the key points you need to keep in mind when making this choice. As long as you go through these points before deciding how to proceed, you should make the right call more often than not.

  • Can you strike the ball cleanly? This is the first, and most important, point to check on when thinking about playing from a hazard. If you can't get a decent strike on the back of the ball, there won't be much point in attempting the shot. So, for example, if the ball is sitting down in a depression, you may not be able to put the sweet spot of the club on the ball successfully. That means the shot won't come out like you expect, and it may not leave the hazard at all. In this type of situation, you should always be leaning in the direction of playing it safe and taking the penalty. You don't want to turn this hole into a mess by making a bad choice in the hazard. Look closely at the lie of the ball – and the path that the club would need to take into the ball – to make sure you have a realistic play.
  • Do you have a place to stand? It is common for the golfer to have to deal with an awkward stance when playing out of a hazard. That is not a deal-breaker, of course, but you do need to make sure you at least have a reasonable place to stand while making a swing. Without the ability to remain somewhat balanced during the swing, hitting a solid shot will be nearly impossible. The best lie in the world isn't going to do you a bit of good if you can't stand next to the ball to actually hit the shot.
  • Is there an appropriate target available? Often, when playing out of a hazard, you are not actually able to aim at the green. Instead, you may have to aim off to one side or the other just to get the ball back in play. That's fine, but make sure you have a suitable target – and compare that target to the one you could use if you were simply to take a drop and accept the penalty. For instance, if you take your drop, you can probably get a good lie and take a shot at the green. Playing out of the hazard, on the other hand, might demand that you play a shot sideways or even backward. In that case, taking the drop may be the more efficient way to go. You will add a stroke to your score, but you were going to do that anyway by pitching out of the hazard. At least with the drop, you will have the ball in your hand and you'll be able to find the best possible lie while dropping in an area allowed under the rules.

The three questions on this checklist will quickly bring a dose of reality to the situation when you find your ball in a hazard. Should you happen to answer 'no' to any of the questions above, you should just accept your penalty and move on with the round. It might be fun to try a miracle shot out of a hazard, but those attempts end in failure more often than not.

Hitting the Shot

Hitting the Shot

For the purposes of this section, we are going to assume that you have decided to go ahead with your shot from the hazard. It is important to be committed at this point, as there is no room for doubt in your mind while making a swing. If you are going to give this a try, commit yourself to the shot fully and believe that you are doing the right thing. When those doubts won't leave your mind while you are preparing to swing, it might be best to reconsider and think about taking the safe option (a drop).

Once you are committed to the shot and you believe you can pull it off, the next thing you need to do is plan out the details. Which club are you going to use? Do you need to shape the ball to reach the target, or is a mostly straight shot going to do the job? Are there any obstacles that need to be avoided? Plan out this shot with the same level of detail that you would use when hitting any other shot during the round.

Something to keep in mind as you make your plan is that you don't really want to be swinging with maximum effort when playing out of a hazard. You probably don't have a perfect stance, and you almost certainly don't have a perfect lie. If you choose a club that is going to require you to make a big, powerful swing, it may be tough to achieve a clean strike. Think about hitting a shot which only requires about 75% of your maximum effort. This approach will make it easier to hit a solid shot, taking away some of the risk that comes along with this situation.

Before making your swing, take a moment to stand behind the ball and take a deep breath. You might do this anyway as part of your usual pre-shot routine, but taking a moment for this kind of relaxation is important when hitting such a tricky shot. You'll likely be a little more nervous than usual when playing out of a hazard, so a deep breath can go a long way toward helping you relax. You will always play your best golf when you are able to settle yourself down before swinging.

As a final tip, we are going to turn to an age-old classic in the game of golf – keep your head down. Yes, this tip has been given a million times before, but that it only because it is so important to your success. That is especially true here, where you are likely to look up quickly in order to see how you've done. Don't get anxious and ruin your chances at a solid shot at the final instant. Keep your head down all the way through impact and only look up after the club has moved through the ball and into the finish.

Staying Out of the Hazards

Staying Out of the Hazards

You know what is better than hitting a great shot out of a water hazard? Avoiding that hazard in the first place. Even if you do pull off a successful shot from the hazard, you would have been better off avoiding all of that stress and drama by just hitting a better shot with your previous swing. Keeping your ball on the short grass as often as possible should always be one of your main goals as you play this game.

So how can you go about keeping your ball away from hazards? Consider the following tips.

  • Don't push the distance. If you aren't sure that you can cover the necessary distance to get over a hazard, don't even give it a try. Pick a different path to the target, either by playing up the safe side or just laying up entirely. By trying to force yourself to cover a distance that is beyond your comfort zone, you are likely to make a poor swing – and the ball will usually end up in the hazard. Be realistic with your decisions making when you are faced with the challenge of trying to carry a hazard at a significant distance. Caution and patience are almost always rewarded in this game. When there is any doubt, just lay it up and stay away from trouble.
  • Wise approach shots. For most golfers, hitting an approach shot means aiming right at the flag and swinging away. That might be the best way to make a birdie, but it is also the best way to make a bogey (or worse). Instead of firing at every flag, you should be taking a more patience and strategic approach to your game. Go ahead and fire at the flag when there is no trouble in sight, but play it safer when there is a water hazard around the green. Aiming to the 'dry' side of the green will make it less likely that your ball winds up in the drink. This might lower your chances of making a birdie, but you will have a better opportunity to make your par and move on.
  • Put away your driver. It is amazing to watch amateur golfers just automatically pull their drivers from the bag even when there are hazards in play. Despite what many players seem to think, you don't actually have to use your driver on every single tee shot. Consider clubbing down to a three wood or hybrid club when facing a dangerous tee shot to improve your odds of finding the fairway. Hitting a driver might be worth the risk when there are no hazards in play, but opting for the conservative plan is the right way to go when penalty shots are lurking.

Most of the time, you aren't going to be able to play your ball out of a water hazard. Usually, making the mistake of hitting your ball in a hazard will mean a stroke added to your score, and a ball lost from your collection. You will get lucky from time to time, however, so you should be prepared to take advantage of your lucky break by hitting a quality shot from the hazard. Good luck!