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Hitting Shots from Trouble

by | Sep 28, 2023 | Blog

Written by Brendon Elliott

 

Golfers need to know and work on numerous aspects of the game to be the best player they can be. There is much to learn, from full swing to the short game, from putting to course strategy.

One area that golfers do not usually work on specifically is what are known as trouble shots. These shots consist of punch outs, uphill, downhill, sidehill shots, and other unconventional shots to get you out of trouble or a difficult situation. 

Today, I wanted to share some thoughts on these sometimes awkward but critical to master shots. Not only do you need to know how to execute these shots, but you also need to know how to use the correct strategy and mindset to succeed.

 

Types Of Trouble Shots and How To Execute

Let’s look at some of the most common trouble shots you will encounter on the course. As we do, I will include a standard approach to escaping these problematic situations from a technical perspective and provide you with a strategy and mental approach for each as well.

Punch Shot Out of Trouble

Ball Sitting In Heavy Rough

Ball Sitting On a Thin or Bare Lie

Ball Below Your Feet

Ball Above Your Feet

Hitting a Ball From a Downhill Lie

Hitting a Ball From an Uphill Lie

A Practice Plan For Perfecting Trouble Shots

 

Punch Shot Out of Trouble:

Even for the best players, hitting a shot into a situation where a punch out is required is very common. The objective with this shot is to get yourself back into play.

Keys to Hitting a Punch Shot:

  • You will want to hit down into the ball and try to keep it low.
  • Your ball should be positioned back in your stance.
  • Weight forward with roughly 60% to 70% of your weight into your lead foot.
  • Keep your hands and the shaft ahead of the ball at address and focus on them leading at impact.
  • You will make an abbreviated, somewhat aggressive swing.
  • Your backswing and through swing should generally match up.
  • You will not load into the trail foot very much in your backswing nor make a big turn.
  • You must rotate your hips and torso through your downswing and on to your abbreviated finish.

 

Strategy and Thoughts For a Punch Shot:

  • Look for your safest option to get the ball back into play.
  • Do not try to hit the proverbial “hero shot” and potentially get yourself into even more trouble.
  • Make sure to look at your lie in addition to your escape route.
  • From a mental aspect, be OK with and accept the fact that you will be losing a shot. This will help you give the shot at hand your fullest attention.

 

Ball Sitting Down in Heavy Rough:

Again, like with those occasions that you need to punch out, hitting an escape shot from heavy rough is extremely common. The objective here remains the same as well, you just want to get the ball back into play and in a safe spot.

Keys to Hitting a Ball Sitting Down in Heavy Rough:

  • Depending on the depth of the rough, and how the ball is sitting, you will want to use a club with enough loft to get it up and out of the situation.
  • Play the ball near the center back portion of your stance.
  • You will want to grip the club a little tighter than normal to ensure the clubhead does not twist a lot as it makes its way through the heavy rough.
  • Weight forward with roughly 60% to 70% of your weight into your lead foot.
  • Keep your hands and the shaft ahead of the ball at address and focus on them leading at impact.
  • Like with the punch out, you will want to be a little steeper coming into the ball on the downswing. This will help limit the amount of grass that gets between the clubface and the ball.

 

Strategy and Thoughts For a Ball Sitting Down in Heavy Rough:

  • Look for your safest option to get the ball back into play.
  • Do not try to hit the proverbial “hero shot” and potentially get yourself into even more trouble.
  • From a mental aspect, be OK with and accept the fact that you will be losing a shot. This will help you give the shot at hand your fullest attention.
  • Do not try to “scoop” or “help” the ball up and out.

 

Ball Sitting On a Thin or Bare Lie:

From time to time, you will come across a situation where your ball is on a thin or bare spot on the course. In this case there will be little to no grass under your ball and in some cases, the ground will be very firm. Like with all trouble shots, the objective should remain the same, you just want to get the ball back into play and in a safe spot.

Keys to Hitting a Ball From a Thin or Bare Lie:

  • Play the ball near the center back portion of your stance.
  • Weight forward with roughly 60% to 70% of your weight into your lead foot.
  • Keep your hands and the shaft ahead of the ball at address and focus on them leading at impact.
  • Like with the punch shot, you will want to be a little steeper coming into the ball on the downswing. 
  • Most of what you need to do to adjust is in the setup, you will swing normal with the exception of having a little bit of an abbreviated finish. 

 

Strategy and Thoughts For Hitting a Ball From a Thin or Bare Lie:

  • Like with all trouble shots, your safest option to get the ball back into play is always the best. However, in this case, you may still be able to advance the ball closer to what you would play a normal shot…just be smart about your decision.
  • Once a decision is made, give the shot at hand your fullest attention.
  • From a mental aspect, be OK with and accept the fact that you may be losing a shot. 

 

 

Ball Below Your Feet:

Golf courses are very rarely flat throughout. You are bound to have several situations spring up during a round where you will have a sloping lie with the ball below or above your feet, or on an uphill or downhill lie. Regardless of the situation, as is the case with all trouble shots, your objective will always be to play the smartest shot possible.

Keys to Hitting a Shot With the Ball Below Your Feet:

  • With the ball below your feet, it will be further away from your body. To help combat this, you will need to sit a little lower in your set up.
  • Use your entire club by gripping at the very top of your grip.
  • Position the ball a little bit ahead of center.
  • Balance is critical with this shot so make sure you feel comfortable in your set up and as stable as possible.

 

Strategy and Thoughts For Hitting a Shot With the Ball Below Your Feet:

  • This lie will see the ball want to work from left to right (for righties), so plan accordingly.
  • Use one more club than you normally would for this shot.
  • Be smart with your planning and do not try to hit the proverbial “hero shot” and potentially get yourself into even more trouble.
  • From a mental aspect, be confident in your ability to hit the shot. Once you set up correctly, make a swing that is confident.

 

 

Ball Above Your Feet:

We have already established the fact that in golf you will rarely get a flat lie. Sloping lies are everywhere on the course, and you will very often find yourself with the ball above your feet. Let’s dive into this common situation and make sure you know how to attack it.

Keys to Hitting a Shot With the Ball Above Your Feet:

  • With the ball above your feet, it will be closer to your body. To help combat this, you will need to get more vertical in your set up.
  • With the ball being closer to your body you will want to choke down on the club.
  • Position the ball a little bit back of center.
  • Balance is critical with this shot so make sure you feel comfortable in your set up and as stable as possible.

 

Strategy and Thoughts For Hitting a Shot With the Ball Above Your Feet:

  • This lie will see the ball want to work from right to left (for righties), so plan accordingly.
  • Use one less club than you normally would for this shot.
  • Be smart with your planning and do not try to hit the proverbial “hero shot” and potentially get yourself into even more trouble.
  • From a mental aspect, be confident in your ability to hit the shot. Once you set up correctly, make a swing that is confident.

 

 

Hitting a Ball From a Downhill Lie:

Downhill lies, like all other sloping lies, make hitting clean shots difficult. The good thing is most of the adjustments you need to make are in set up. 

Keys to Hitting a Shot From a Downhill Lie:

  • First and foremost, you will want to get your shoulders level with the slope.
  • By getting your shoulders level to the slope you will need to set your weight on your lead foot.
  • You will leave your weight on your lead foot as you swing, to make that easier to do think of swinging around your lead leg. 
  • Balance is critical with this shot so make sure you feel comfortable in your set up and as stable as possible.

 

Strategy and Thoughts For Hitting a Shot From a Downhill Lie:

  • The ball will come off low and running from this situation so plan accordingly. 
  • Consider using one less club than you normally would for this shot.
  • Be smart with your planning and do not try to hit the proverbial “hero shot” and potentially get yourself into even more trouble.
  • From a mental aspect, be confident in your ability to hit the shot. Once you set up correctly, make a swing that is confident.

 

 

Hitting a Ball From an Uphill Lie:

Uphill lies bring a little bit different of a challenge. Like with the downhill and sidehill lies, the good thing is most of the adjustments you need to make are in set up. 

Keys to Hitting a Shot From an Uphill Lie:

  • Like with a downhill lie, you will want to get your shoulders level with the slope.
  • By getting your shoulders level to the slope in this situation you will need to set your weight on your trail foot.
  • You will leave your weight on your trail foot as you swing, to make that easier to do think of swinging around your trail leg. 
  • Flare your lead foot out a bit, this will help you turn through the shot a little easier.
  • Balance is critical with this shot so make sure you feel comfortable in your set up and as stable as possible.

 

Strategy and Thoughts For Hitting a Shot From an Uphill Lie:

  • The ball will come off high from this situation so plan accordingly. 
  • Consider using one more club than you normally would for this shot.
  • Be smart with your planning and do not try to hit the proverbial “hero shot” and potentially get yourself into even more trouble.
  • From a mental aspect, be confident in your ability to hit the shot. Once you set up correctly, make a swing that is confident.

A Practice Plan For Perfecting Trouble Shots

Just like with all of golf’s more standard shots you need to practice your technique for the trouble shots. Many amateur golfers have limited time to work on their games as other things such as work, and family take their right place as priorities.

As you might assume, practicing these types of shots would usually call for you to be in these situations. That is often not something you can do on the range in most cases. 

The following are my suggestions for a practice plan to help you work on your trouble shots. With most having limited time, the basis of this plan is to make it part of regular but shorter practice sessions.

Once a Week On The Range

During a range session hit the following:

  • 5 punch shots to a target flag in which you attempt to flight the ball on the lower end of the flag.
  • 5 punch shots to a target flag in which you attempt to flight the ball to the middle of the flag.
  • 5 punch shots to a target flag in which you attempt to flight the ball to the top of the flag.

 

If your range has an opportunity to hit from the rough and off of sloped lies hit the following:

  • 5 shots to a target flag from a downhill lie.
  • 5 shots to a target flag from an uphill lie.
  • 5 shots to a target flag from a lie above your feet.
  • 5 shots to a target flag from a lie below your feet.
  • 5 shots to a target flag 100 yards out from a lie in the rough.
  • 5 shots to a target flag 150 yards out from a lie in the rough.
  • 5 shots to a target flag 200 yards out from a lie in the rough.

 

*Make sure you go through your normal pre-shot routine on each shot. If you do not have a pre-shot routine, develop one that you can use going forward.

 

Once a Week On The Course

Play a 9-hole practice round. As you play, use the following checklist of practice shots to hit as you play:

  • Hit 6 punch shots from different locations throughout your round.
  • Hit 6 uphill shots from different locations throughout your round.
  • Hit 6 downhill shots from different locations throughout your round.
  • Hit 6 shots from different locations with the ball above your feet throughout your round.
  • Hit 6 shots from different locations with the ball below your feet throughout your round.
  • Hit 3 shots from different locations around the course from heavy rough from inside 100 yards.
  • Hit 3 shots from different locations around the course from heavy rough from 150 yards.
  • Hit 3 shots from different locations around the course from heavy rough from 200 yards.

Summing It Up

To help develop your golf skills, it is essential to understand how to hit all the shots required and practice them when you can. Another important part of the equation in improving your game is having realistic expectations.

Many amateur golfers feel as though they need to perform at unrealistic levels. They see the professionals on TV making incredible shots from improbable locations and think it is either not that hard to pull off these shots or that they could hit it as well as they did. In reality, most of the shots you see on TV are from the best players in the world when they are at their best and in contention. What you don’t see is the norm for most, including all the bad shots. And they do indeed hit bad shots.

A great example of what the reality is from tough lies in golf is the following stats from Decade Golf’s Scott Fawcett: 

 

Tour Players Average 3.02 shots from 100 yards from the rough.

They are more likely to make a bogey from this position.

 

Tiger Woods is the only player in PGA Tour history to average under par cumulatively from the rough.

 

The bottom line is this: golf is hard, especially from the difficult lies. With realistic expectations, an understanding of proper technique, and practice, you can make those hard shots just a little bit easier.



PGA Professional Brendon Elliott is a multiple award-winning Golf Professional based in Central Florida. He is the 2017 PGA of America’s National Youth Player Development Award Winner and is the recipient of more than 25 other industry awards with a Brendon Elliot Headshot focus on Coaching & Education. He is considered by his peers as an industry expert on topics ranging from Jr. Golf Development to Operations to Industry Sustainability. He is the founder of the Little Linksters Golf Academies and the Little Linksters Association for Junior Golf Development, a 501c3 nonprofit also based out of Central Florida. Brendon is also a freelance golf writer for PGA.com, Golf Range Magazine and several other golf websites and blogs. He is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America. You can learn more about Brendon at BrendonElliott.com and Little Linksters at littlelinksters.com.

 

 

 

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