Well, there you are so deep in the woods that you'd like to trade your 5-iron for a power saw. How should you play it -- gamble or get safely back in the fairway?
Play It Safe
If you're in the trees, get back to the fairway. Players too often look toward the green, pick out an opening between the trunks and hope to steer a shot through and onto the putting surface. That's the ultimate low-percentage shot, more likely to ricochet even deeper into the woods.
Instead, realize that a bogey isn't a bad price to pay for an errant tee shot. Then find the safest way back to the fairway, even if it means pitching out sideways. You still can hit the green with your next shot and one-putt for par.
Playing off Pine Needles
Wherever pine trees grow, pine needles fall, presenting a challenge to the golfer who has to play off them.
For long shots off pine needles, play the ball as you would from a fairway bunker: slightly open stance; ball midway between the feet; hands well ahead. Take care not to ground the club, which might cause the ball to move, giving you a one-shot penalty. Make a low takeaway and a sweeping downswing, making sure to hit the ball first.
For shorter shots off needles, rather than trying to pick the ball clean, explode the way you would from sand. This is especially wise when the bed of needles is thick and spongy.
For the explosion, take an open stance, open the blade and hit about an inch behind the ball. Keep the wrists firm and the clubface open while concentrating on sliding it underneath the ball. Use the pitching wedge; its sharper edge will more easily cut through the needles. The shot will land with almost no spin, so allow for it to roll.
Sometimes a tree trunk or branch restricts the backswing. Oftentimes it distracts you to the point of hitting a poor shot.
Most players approach the shot by making several practice swings, getting a feel for how far back they can take the club. But when it's time to hit the ball, they tense up, make a fast backswing and bang the club into the obstruction, almost always ruining the shot.
When you have a restricted backswing, take some practice swings to get the feel for length. Make a special effort to take the club back slowly and deliberately. The function of the backswing is to set the club in position for the downswing, so a slower-than-usual action won't hurt you.
Bring the club back slowly, even allowing it to tap the trunk or branch at the top, then swing down crisply with the arms and hands, keeping your head still to ensure square contact.
Private Lessons 1999 Times Mirror Magazines, Inc., used under license by GolfServ Online, Inc. Instructional information provided by Golf Magazine.