Landed Your Golf Ball In Water? How To Play A Shot Out Of Water

Don’t worry; you’re not the only one who occasionally lands their golf ball in water. We’ve all been there.

However, landing your golf ball in water the water isn’t an automatic penalty stroke.

The rules of golf allow you to hit out of water hazards (now called penalty areas), and they are more lenient now than ever.

Don’t get me wrong; this is still a very difficult shot.

The internet is front-loaded with more bad water shots than good.

Attempting this shot means you’ll increase your odds of going viral and having to face a few harsh critics back at the 19th hole.

But with proper technique, a sound game plan, and a dose of humility. You can escape the water to save your score and your dignity.

golf ball in water

Conditions For Playing A Shot Out Of The Water

  • To play a shot out of the water, the most important aspect to assess first is the lie. The only requirement here is that some of the ball must be above the water line. You cannot attempt this otherwise.
  • Always ensure you can get good footing. If you can’t assume some variation of your regular golf stance, you will do more harm than good. Evaluate where you’ll stand very carefully. 
  • Be sure to have an exit plan. If your only bail-out area is into more trouble, it may be advantageous to take your drop and move on.  

Proper Technique and Setup

If conditions permit, you need to adjust your setup because this is far from an average shot, and there are few opportunities to practice. Make these changes to increase your odds of success. 


Getting solid footing is everything. 

But you must adjust what you consider “solid footing.”

A proper water shot will force you to have at least one foot in the water, maybe both. 

Hitting a golf ball without your shoes on is awkward enough on level ground, let alone with sand or mud squishing between your toes. 

Accept this as the cost of doing business and dig into the ground like you would a bunker. If you can, widen your stance as well to limit lower body movement.

You must build a solid foundation with your lower body so your upper body can rotate confidently unless you want your buddies to record you falling into the pond.

Ball Position

Your precise ball position will depend on the type of lie you have.

Uphill—Slightly forward of your regular chipping position

Downhill—Slightly back of your chipping position

Ball Above Feet—Slightly back

Ball Below Feet—Slightly back again to create a steeper swing

Ball Almost Completely Submerged—Well back in your stance

Ball Sitting In Very Little Water—Slightly forward to create a higher launch angle

Club Selection

This has less to do with your distance to the green and more to do with your nearest exit point.

  • If you’re sitting on the water’s edge with less than 50% of the ball submerged, then your options are vast.
  • If your ball is more than 50% submerged, then choosing your highest loft with the least amount of bounce will be your best option.

The added loft and sharp leading edge will help the club maintain speed as it enters the water. More importantly, it will be less resistant to twisting, so you can advance the ball forward and not sideways.

golf ball in water

The Swing

No matter how far you need to hit your shot, your swing will be limited. You will not be able to swing at 100%; the maximum you can expect is 50%.

This is due to your wide stance, which should remain stationary to keep you upright.

Your backswing should be restricted to minimal shoulder turn. Just enough to get your leading arm parallel to the ground.

That’s all you get to ensure a safe and accurate swing. Sure, you can go further, but it’s not worth the risk.

Your downswing should constantly be accelerating. To achieve this, ensure your backswing is slow and controlled. Focus on hitting through the ball and getting to a comfortable follow-through position.

Positive Swing Thoughts

If you’ve correctly and diplomatically assessed the situation and determined this shot is doable, then believe in yourself.

There’s no point in pulling the trigger on any golf shot without 100% confidence (no matter how misplaced it may be). But you’ll really shoot yourself in the foot if you make a timid swing on a shot with a golf ball in water.

Use your lower body to anchor your swing. Rotate your shoulders while keeping your weight centered. Choose a viable exit point and landing area. Accelerate through the ball. That’s it!

golf ball in water

Be Realistic—Choosing Your shot

If you’ve played golf for any length of time, you’ve hopefully come to realize that having a sound game plan and mental toughness is required to excel in this game.

That will go a long way to reducing big scores and keep you on track to improve year after year.

Use those skills while assessing your shot out of the water.

Find the path of least resistance and get your ball back in play. Don’t try to be a hero or create a highlight reel shot; the odds are against you.

In most cases, you’ll simply be chipping the ball ahead to give yourself a good shot at the green.

But sometimes, you might be greenside where playing it out of the hazard and directly onto the green is your best option, as opposed to taking a drop. In this case, it may be best to aim away from the pin and just give yourself a putt.

The point here is to take your medicine and save your hole. The chances of you becoming a blooper are much greater than you becoming a hero in this instance.

The Official Ruling On Shots Out Of The Water

Although were are playing this like a chip or bunker shot, we mustn’t forget that we are operating out of a hazard. Whether it be red or yellow stakes, the rules on hitting from them are the same.

Here are the updated rules as of 2019 according to the USGA rules of golf regarding hazards.

  • You are allowed to touch the ground and water at address and during practice swings
  • You are allowed to move any loose impediments within the hazard line

These are huge changes for anyone who has been playing golf for a long time. The changes were implemented to help speed up play and limit controversy when attempting to police the rules.

Another change made was to drop the term ‘hazard’ and replace it with ‘penalty area.’ I’m a bit old-school, so you’ll notice that I still used the word ‘hazard’ all throughout this article.

golf ball in water

Best and worst shots out of water on tour

There are many to choose from, but you’ll notice the list of bad water shots is longer than the list of good. That means even the world’s best haven’t mastered this shot yet.

The Bad

Woody Austin—This famous shot earned him the nickname ‘Aquaman’ because not only did he not advance the ball out of the water, he fell in and got completely soaked.

In front of huge crowds at the 2007 President’s Cup, Austin found himself on the edge of a water hazard and on the brink of losing the hole.

His hail mary effort came up short, but to his credit, he birdied three of the last four holes in soaking wet clothes to halve the match.

The Good

Bill Haas—You’ve probably seen the highlight a million times by now. Admittedly, this lie is much easier than what Austin had to deal with but still highly unpredictable, especially under the circumstances.

Haas was on the second playoff hole at the 2011 Tour Championship. This event decides the winner of the season-long FedEx Cup, which comes with a winner’s check of $10 million, so the pressure was on.

However, Haas made it look easy and went on to win. Take note of how hard he swings for such a short pitch. That was to ensure his club gets through the water and all the way to the ball to propel it up and on the green.

The Ugly—Recently, Momoko Ueda on the LPGA Tour showed us what is most likely to happen when we attempt to hit shots out of the water.

The lie is ugly, with the ball well above her feet. She also chose what seemed like an aggressive line, but her options were limited due to the lie. Chipping out sideways was the only alternative and, in hindsight, seems like the right choice.

golf balls


Are you allowed to hit out of the water?

Yes, you are allowed to hit out of the water. However, this isn’t easy and should be carefully evaluated before pulling the trigger. Only under certain lie conditions can you even attempt this shot, so it pays to do a little research before you start taking your socks and shoes off.

Are you allowed to hit form out of bounds?

No, you are not allowed to hit from out of bounds under any circumstances. Any area of the course marked with white stakes denotes it as out of bounds, and you must replay your shot from its point of origin. Even if your ball is visible and playable, you are never allowed to play from areas marked out of bounds by white stakes.

Is hitting out of the water like hitting out of the sand?

Yes, it is similar, but not as predictable. You must carefully evaluate each lie you face out of the water. Judging this prudently will be the most important step of the process. Ensure your lie allows you direct access to the back and bottom of your ball. If nothing else, you need to be able to hit it as crisp as possible; otherwise, taking a drop is your best course of action.

When You’re Out Of The Water, You’ll Need These Tips Too

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After graduating from the Professional Golf Management program in Palm Springs, CA, I moved back to Toronto, Canada, turned pro and became a Class 'A' member of the PGA of Canada. I then began working at some of the city's most prominent country clubs. While this was exciting, it wasn't as fulfilling as teaching, and I made the change from a pro shop professional to a teaching professional. Within two years, I was the Lead Teaching Professional at one of Toronto's busiest golf instruction facilities. Since then, I've stepped back from the stress of running a successful golf academy to focus on helping golfers in a different way. Knowledge is key so improving a players golf IQ is crucial when choosing things like the right equipment or how to cure a slice. As a writer I can help a wide range of people while still having a little time to golf myself!

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