Bad lies are one thing, but there's nothing worse than a situation where your backswing is completely restricted. The feeling of helplessness can be pretty disheartening. For most golfers, the only play is to chip back into the fairway–a momentum-breaker that's not going to help you if your goal is to shoot low numbers. But take a closer look–you may be able to knock it near or even on the green if you know this savvy technique.
The plan is to radically close your stance, creating a swing path that's so far to the inside that you miss the tree, but hit the ball. Of course, it doesn't have to be a tree–it could be a bush, OB fence or a big root you're worried about snagging your clubhead on. Regardless, here's what to do when you have an obstruction directly in your backswing path and chipping back into play isn't an option.
First, take your normal stance and sole your club, with the clubface pointing in the direction you want the ball to start–just as you would if your backswing wasn't obstructed. Now, without moving your clubhead, rotate your body clockwise until your toe line becomes perpendicular to the target line and your chest faces the obstruction. Basically, you want to create the ultimate closed stance, with your back facing the target at address. To facilitate solid contact, play the ball just to the left of your front foot (on your toe line).
Obviously, the shot calls for a big-time, right-to-left curve–a hook for the ages. Since you need to hit a big bender, gear back on your grip pressure. This will activate your wrists and give them the freedom to work the clubface into position through the hitting zone. If you grip the club too tightly, you'll keep the clubface from properly closing through impact.
The key to this play is to swing the clubhead back and forth along your toe line, a path that's well inside the target line. Feel as if you're going to put your hands into your right pocket on the backswing. On the downswing, it should feel as though your hands are going to hit your right hip as it rotates back toward the ball. Take special care to keep your head from following your hands–you want your head to remain rock-steady. This will prevent you from sliding ahead of the ball on the downswing, a mistake that's easy to make with such an odd swing path. Lastly, use a three-quarter-swing for control. The ensuing hook spin will carry the ball farther than normal, so you don't need your standard-issue swing.
The toughest element of this shot is to resist the urge to swing to the target. If you do, you'll hit the obstruction. Simply focus on swinging the clubhead down your toe line and let that baby hook.
Before you take your stance, make sure you see the shot shape in your mind's eye. And take enough practice swings so you get the feel of the unusual swing you're about to make. Use your practice swing to program in the curve of your shot by holding your finish for an extra count, with the handle of your club tilted toward the target line.
A final word of caution: Don't try to hook the ball with your hands or any part of your body. Work the ball with your setup and your mind–anything else leads to over-manipulation and less-than-decent results.
Hopefully, you won't have many opportunities to use this trouble shot. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't practice it once in a while on the driving range. Use your golf bag to simulate the obstacle. When you get the hang of the technique, put the ball on the ground and move the bag closer by a foot.
PGA pro Dr. T.J. Tomasi is the director of instruction at Lyman Orchards GC in Middlefield, Conn.