Escaping the Trees with a Punch Shot

Looking back at my golf career it really is amazing to think of the number of punches I’ve had to hit out of the woods. I mean let’s be honest, we all have bad shots, and sometimes these bad shots end up in bad places. Let’s assume we landed in the woods (which isn’t too much of a stretch some days) we all need a shot that we can rely on to help us escape the sticks without adding any more damage to our score. I know that with a few mechanical tips, and a little practice, that can be the punch shot.

While most of us think of a punch shot as helping us get out of a forest we might have hit a ball into, there are a lot of uses for this versatile shot. Frequently, I find myself on the edge of the woods with the branches of trees hanging out into the ideal path of the ball. A punch shot is a great way to advance the ball up the fairway without risking hitting tree branches. Another less used situation is for extremely windy days. This underused variety of the punch shot is there to keep the ball low and out of the wind (something my dad has perfected and has eventually rubbed off on me). In many cases it’s easier to go under things like trees instead of over them and when you look at the roll you get from a punch shot, often times you’ll end up closer to the hole than you would with a different shot. Needless to say, if you don’t have it already, a punch shot is something you want in your golfing repertoire.

So what is the key to a punch shot? Keeping the ball low might seem obvious but for most golfers it’s the most difficult part of the shot. Lets face it, golf clubs are designed to help get the ball off of the ground and we’re going directly against this when we hit a punch shot. There are a few different things we can do with our setup and swing however, that will help us negate some of the natural loft from our clubs.

punch shot set up

First, we want to focus on our setup. Start by lining up with the ball back in your stance (how far you play it back is up to you, I like to have it around 3-4 inches behind center). This helps lower the loft of the club and it also puts your hands ahead of the ball, which will help you fight through rough or any other undesirable things your ball might be in. Everything else should remain exactly the same as a normal setup for an iron (I don’t think I would recommend hitting a punch shot with a wood).

Looking at the swing now, you want to focus on making around 3/4 of your normal swing arc. This will increase the control you have with your swing (and possibly keep you from hitting branches with your club too). On the follow through, almost like a chip, you want to finish with the club 3/4 of the way through your follow through. Remember that however far back you bring the club, you want to finish with it that far forwards.

This is really all you need to do. A common mistake I see is that golfers will try to change too much in their swing to adjust for a punch shot, much more so that for any other. If I want to hit a draw, I adjust my feet, check my swing plane, and go. But with a punch shot, a wide range of us can be intimidated by things like the trees around us, the small gap we have to fit the ball through, things that could be blocking the path of our swing, and we try to contort our body to accommodate all of these things. Almost any other mechanical change will make us less consistent with our punch shot.

punch shot in woods

Now, mastering a punch shot is mechanical, but more so it is a mental hurdle that a golfer needs to overcome, not just a series of physical changes.

Honestly, with your punch shot, being confident in the mechanics above (or whatever mechanics you use) will take you a long way towards being successful. Before you try to use this shot in a round, maybe go to the range and hit 40-50 punch shots, or better yet, grab ten balls and go out on the course after a late round and practice for a little while. Knowing how your ball is going to fly will be paramount in deciding if a certain situation calls for a punch shot or not, and if it does, spending time on this shot will help you ignore all of the other distractions that come along with playing out of the woods. Ultimately, this will help lead you to a successful escape (or whatever you’re doing with a punch shot) and a smooth transition to the rest of the hole.

Because almost 90% of the time I use a punch shot to recover after a bad shot, I make sure I will be successful with it. The last thing you want to do after a bad drive or iron shot is to compound your mistake with a bad escape. This not only wastes strokes, but it also ruins the fun you’re supposed to be having on the golf course. Nobody likes to hit six shots in the woods, so don’t! Use the advice above and transform it into the method that works for you. You’ll be amazed how much smoother your rounds go when you stop getting bogged down in the woods. So until next time golfers, leave the chainsaw at home, and go practice your punch shot.


Twitter: @GolferAcademy

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4 thoughts on “Escaping the Trees with a Punch Shot

    1. Jim,
      I usually use a four iron also. It’s a good club when it comes to keeping the ball low. I completely agree that when it comes to getting out of the trees, the main goal is to just get out. Getting to greedy can be devastating to your round if it goes wrong!


      Liked by 1 person

  1. Sully,

    Awesome tips on this useful shot! Is there anything more satisfying than hitting a sick recovery shot? Ok, maybe striping it down the middle, but it still feels good. And like you said, it’s not just for recovering from the depths of the woods.


    Liked by 1 person

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