Most golf courses contain obstacles, that little bit of info should come as no surprise to anyone. While they are frustrating if you get stuck behind one during your round, they also serve to make the game more interesting—a course that is laid out over flat, open ground with absolutely nothing between you and the hole would get rather boring. So, before getting to frustrated with that tree limb that’s blocking your clear shot at the green it’s important to remember that the obstacles that dot your favorite course are what make it enjoyable, and they are a big part of the challenge that so many golfers love.
An obstacle can be something obvious—such as a tree or a water hazard—or it can be something a more subtle, such as a patch of long grass that guards the entrance to the green. No matter what kind of obstacle you happen to be dealing with, you need to have a clear plan of attack in order to safely navigate your way to the green.
Safety First and Foremost
We have all seen a professional golfer pull off an incredible shot late on Sunday afternoon in order to secure a victory in a big tournament. Remember Bubba Watson hitting an incredible hook out of the woods to the right of the 10th fairway at Augusta National? That was a nearly impossible shot, but he pulled it off and won The Masters as a result.
Of course, you aren’t playing in a major championship when you go out with your friends on the weekend, and you probably don’t possess the skills of a Bubba Watson. When you find your ball behind some form of obstacle, your first goal should be getting back in play as quickly as possible. Could you possibly throw your approach shot up over the tree in front of you to get the ball on the green? Maybe. But you could also hit the ball into the tree and make a double bogey or worse. Instead, consider pitching out to the fairway where you can play an easy wedge and try to save par with a good putt.
Playing safe isn’t always fun, and it definitely isn’t exciting, but it’s smart. If your goal is to have the lowest possible score at the end of the day, you will take the safe option more times than not. Your friends might not ‘ooh and ah’ at the pitch out shots that you are playing, but they will certainly be impressed by your score.
Remember…this shot works once in about every 10,000 tries. The rest of the time you end up with a golf ball to the shin:
Playing Low or High
In order to get out of trouble quickly and safely, you want to have two specific shot types at your disposal, those being a high shot, and a low shot. The high shot is obviously used to get over a tree that is in your way, while the low shot can be used to go under trees or other obstacles blocking your path.
The decision to go either low or high will have to be made on a case-by-case basis, so you should have enough confidence to use either option depending on what you are facing.
Playing the Ball High
There are a couple of adjustments that you should make to your swing in order to hit the ball high enough to get up and over an obstacle. Of course, you want to start by selecting as much loft as possible for the shot. Once you have your club picked, move the ball up slightly in your stance and set your hands behind the position of the ball at address. When making the swing, keep your weight back and your eyes focused on the back of the ball. Keep in mind that it is very easy to hit the ball thin when attempting this technique, so be sure to stay down all the way through impact to launch the ball high into the sky.
Playing the Ball Low
Of course, the opposite technique is going to be required in order to hit the ball low. You will want to move the ball slightly back in your stance, choke down on the grip of the club, and make a short, abbreviated swing. Use a low-lofted club and don’t try to swing very hard through impact—the more speed you have through the ball, the higher the ball will fly.
Just like anything else in golf, it takes practice to master the low and high shots that you may wish to hit. Work on controlling your trajectories on the driving range and only break these shots out on the course when you are confident that you can pull them off.
Weigh Risk vs. Reward
When deciding what shot to hit in order to navigate a given obstacle, you should consider the risk/reward equation for the situation that you are facing. Is the risk of going for a great shot worth the potential reward? Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t.
For example, if you would have to put your ball dangerously near the out of bounds markers to go for the green, you should forget about that option and just pitch out. Hitting a shot out of bounds does serious damage to your scorecard, so those white stakes need to be treated with respect.
One occasion when you might consider being aggressive, however, is when you are trying to work around an obstacle to reach a par five in two which is protected by a pond. Hitting the ball into the greenside pond is just a penalty of one shot, and you will still have an opportunity to get up and down for your par. In that case, the possible reward of a birdie or eagle could be worth running the risk of putting the ball in the pond.
One other example might be when your ball is resting along the tree line and you have the option of either trying to craftily weave your shot through the trees to move the ball closer to the green or simply punch back out to the fairway to give your next shot a clean look. In this case, the punching the ball back into the fairways is almost always the right play. Sure, threading the needle through the trees may look cool but there is a great chance your ball will get snagged and you’ll just end up having to punch back out on the following shot. Again, the idea is to consider the percentage chance you’ll actually make the shot and weigh that against how much of a reward you’ll get if you actually pull the shot off.
Often, it is the golfer who plays the boring round of golf that is the one who ends up on top at the end of the day. You don’t really want your rounds to be exciting because you’re constantly escaping danger. What you really want is to be hitting fairways, and greens and making plenty of good putts. However, when you do find yourself in trouble, do your best to pick a safe route back into the middle of the fairway.
By playing it safe and keeping your ball as far away from the course’s obstacles as possible, you will position yourself for consistently impressive scores.
Cover Photo via Flickr