Golf Recovery Shots: How To Escape From Trouble

At some point in your golfing life, you’re bound to hit a few less than perfect shots when you play. When this happens, you need to have some golf recovery shots up your sleeve to get your ball back in play.

We aren’t going to focus on the duck hook or banana slice that put your ball in trouble. Instead, we want to spend time on how you escape from trouble on the golf course – how to use recovery shots to minimize the damage to your scorecard.

This is a key difference between a scratch golfer and a player that struggles to break 90. All players hit bad shots, but better players know how to hit golf recovery shots.

Below we explore the trouble you may find on the golf course and how you can get your ball back in the fairway!

Let’s get started.

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Golf Recovery Shots: Play Smart From Trouble

Recovery shots are all about damage control. When you find yourself in a tricky spot, you don’t have to be a hero. The key is reducing the damage to your score.

One bogey doesn’t ruin your round, but it is hard to recover from a triple or a quadruple.

Course management is critical when you find yourself in trouble. Your decision-making is just as important as your golf swing.

It is easy to panic after hitting a bad shot. Your mind starts to race and tension builds throughout your body.

Take a deep breath and assess your situation. Consider your golf recovery shot options. Quickly perform a risk vs. reward analysis.

At times, you can hit a shot from trouble and still make par, but in other situations, you are better off chipping the ball out and playing for bogey.

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Each trouble spot you find will be slightly different. Choose a golf recovery shot that you are comfortable with and make an aggressive swing.

Each recovery golf shot is also different and requires different skills to escape. You may be great at some and struggle with others. This should all be part of your decision.

Don’t play scared! Once you make your decision, commit to it and execute.

Related Article: How Covering The Golf Ball Can Improve Your Striking

How To Play Golf Recovery Shots

We have identified 7 different types of “trouble” you may find on the golf course. Our goal is to help you escape and continue with your round.

#1: In The Trees: Identify A Gap

We won’t ask how you got there, but imagine you find your ball in the trees. Tree trunks, tree limbs, and tree roots can all spell trouble for your next shot.

The first step to escaping from the woods is to identify your gap. Your gap is the space between the trees that you want to hit your golf recovery shot.

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The bigger the gap, the easier it will be to get your ball back in play.

Choose a gap that you are fairly certain you can hit the ball through and assess.

Do you need to flight the ball down? Do you need to curve the ball in either direction?

Most of the time you want to hit the ball low (below limbs) to escape from the trees. Let the club do the work for you. Select one with the appropriate loft.

Instead of trying to hit a “low” 8-iron, simply hit a normal 5-iron. Make the golf recovery shot as easy as possible.

The #1 goal when playing from the trees – hit your gap, not a tree. You never want to have to hit two golf recovery shots in a row.

Get the ball back to the fairway and continue with your round.

#2: In A Hazard: Understand Your Options

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As a golfer, it is always good to have options. If you find your ball in a hazard (penalty area) you have several options to consider.

Golf rule #17 covers how you can proceed:

  • Play It As It Lies – you can choose to play your ball from the hazard.
  • Back On The Line Relief – you can take a drop (1-stroke penalty) back on the line that is created if you look at the flag and where your ball entered the hazard.
  • Stroke & Distance – you can replay your last shot (1-stroke penalty).
  • Lateral Relief (red hazard only) – you can drop two club-lengths, no closer to the hole, from where your ball entered the hazard.

Your best golf recovery shot from a hazard will depend on the situation. Always consider “playing it as it lies” first since there is no penalty involved for this.

Stroke & distance is the most penal, so that should be your last resort.

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#3: Out of Bounds: Sadness

Unlike a hazard, if your ball is out of bounds, you don’t have any options. Only sadness!

Out of bounds means you have hit it off the golf course. This is typically marked with white stakes or paint.

There is no golf recovery shot for out of bounds. You must take the stroke & distance penalty and replay your shot (with a 1-stroke penalty).

Our only advice is to take a deep breath, make a confident swing, and try to save your double bogey.

A double bogey is a solid score on a hole where you went out of bounds.

#4: In High Grass: Loft Is Your Friend

When we say “high grass” we aren’t talking about the fairway. We aren’t even talking about the normal rough.

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If your ball is in high grass you probably can’t see your shoes! It could be ankle or even knee-high.

This type of lie requires a unique golf recovery shot. Your club will enter the grass well before it reaches the ball. This adds complexity.

The long grass can grab the hosel and shut the face on you. This can cause you to pull the shot, hit a shank, or even miss the ball entirely.

To successfully execute this golf recovery shot you need a lofted club and you need to create speed at the bottom of your swing.

We recommend you grab one of your wedges, swing hard, and simply get the ball back in the fairway.

Never try to hit a long iron or a fairway wood from high grass.

#5: In A Fairway Bunker: More Club & Less Sand

Fairway bunkers can be intimidating but are the easiest golf recovery shots on our list.

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If you learn how to execute, you can hit the green in most situations and still have a birdie putt!

Note that the technique for this golf recovery shot is different from playing out of a greenside sand trap.

Nice and simple. Determine your distance to the flag. Hit one extra club. Pick the ball off the top of the sand.

This golf recovery shot will take some practice. Professional golfers don’t even consider fairway bunkers as “trouble”. It isn’t much harder than hitting out of the fairway.

There is one additional thing you should consider before picking your club. Make sure it has enough loft to get over the lip of the bunker.

#6: Unplayable Lie: Make The “Right” Choice

There are times you end up in an impossible spot. No golf recovery shot will work. Golf rule #19 covers your options when you have an unplayable lie.

Some examples might include your ball rolling under a giant bush or in waist-high grass.

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Your options are very similar to a red hazard. All of your choices include a penalty stroke.

You can take lateral relief, back-on-the-line relief, or stroke & distance relief. No golfer ever wants to take a penalty stroke, but there are times it is the smart decision.

For example, if you try to play out of the giant bush and it takes you three swings to escape, you have just wasted two strokes.

#7: Plugged Lie In Bunker: Swing Hard & Escape

You might enjoy them for breakfast, but no one wants a fried egg on the course. Our final golf recovery shot is a plugged lie in a greenside bunker.

A plugged lie is unlucky. You might have barely missed the green and now you are in trouble. Don’t get frustrated. Focus on escaping.

It is nearly impossible to control the ball when it comes out of a plugged lie. It will often land on the green with over spin.

You should change your goal. You aren’t trying to get up and down. Getting out of the sand trap is a success!

Use a wedge with loft. Open your stance. Swing hard and hit an inch behind the ball. You will throw a bunch of sand and hopefully the ball onto the green.

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Improve Your Course Management And Avoid The Trouble

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Ray has been playing golf for 35+ years, including being part of his High School and College golf teams. While he still enjoys playing in amateur tournaments, Ray now focuses on growing the game of golf through teaching and coaching. He has two sons that both play golf competitively and loves spending time watching them compete. Ray continues to play in local amateur golf events and currently has a +2 handicap.

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