I had seen this shot before.
My ball was in the trees, about 110 yards from the green. One problem: The huge bunker on the left side of the green was right in my way, and there was virtually no green to work with beyond it.
One good thing: The lip of the bunker wasn’t too severe. It would serve as a nice little ramp, like what you see in a Skee-Ball machine, and didn’t have an overhang that would carom the ball back into the sand.
There was only one option: Try to hit the ball low and hard through the bunker, have it go up the chute and then (I hoped) have enough juice taken out of it that it would stop on the green.
That’s exactly what happened. I have become extremely comfortable with that shot over the years, partly because I have had to make it so often and partly because I consistently work on it at the driving range.
I didn’t sink the downhill putt for birdie, but it went from a potentially bad hole to a routine par – all because of one well-struck trouble shot.
A few weeks later, I hit my drive to almost the exact same spot. (What does that say about my wayward driver?) The pin was in the same place, on the front of the green, and the route through the bunker would have to be navigated in the exact same fashion.
This time, I didn’t strike it as crisply and it squirted to the right, ending up in the bunker on the right side of the green. Mistake No. 1.
The sand was a little damp, and I wasn’t sure how the ball would react. It would be easy to skull it over the green, turning the hole into a game of ping pong. So I tried to finesse it and, sure enough, left it in the sand. Mistake No. 2.
My second attempt from the bunker wasn’t much better but trickled onto the green, and I failed to sink the putt for bogey. The first of two double bogeys in three holes turned a potentially great round into a decent-but-should’ve-been-better 79.
Those two experiences, on the same hole, show how important it is to be able to hit shots under and around trees. It is not a shot to fear. If you’ve practiced it enough, it’s really not that difficult. There are some simple things to remember:
- Find a club that feels most comfortable for that shot – probably a 3-iron or 4-iron.
- Play the ball back in your stance to keep it low.
- Don’t try to overpower it. Just take a short backswing, like a chip shot, and concentrate on a short, decisive follow-through.
- Remind yourself that leaving it anywhere near the green is a good shot. On the green is a bonus.
I usually have to execute that shot once or twice a round. I wish I was straighter off the tee, but one of the reasons I don’t worry about hitting driver on a hole with a lot of trees is that I have the low punch shot in my bag.
When I asked what I love most about our great game, my response generally involves being out in nature, the banter with your friends and the honesty we expect of each other. But I also should mention one other endearing aspect: Golf requires a lot of creativity.
You can’t get creative, however, if you don’t feel comfortable with all the options. And the option of a low punch isn’t going to be comfortable if you haven’t hit the shot enough times, both on the range and for real. Practice low hooks and cuts as well – that tree might be right in front of you.
You WILL see this shot, so work on it. Perfect it. Convince yourself that you can do it. It can save your round and, as a bonus, make you feel good as your playing partners yell, “Great shot!”
Oh, and other thing.
It’s kinda fun. And who doesn’t want to have fun out there?