Strategy Session: Into the Woods and Successfully Out

Bold escapes from the trees are possible, but you have to know when to try them. And know the proper technique, too.

They’ve got no shortage of trees in Portland, Oregon, which makes Ryan Davis of Portland’s Columbia Edgewater C.C. a good source for tips on how to escape from them. For starters, consider taking an unplayable lie if you’re deep into the treeline and liable to ricochet your next shot unpredictably. If you’re only a few yards deep and various escape routes present themselves, Davis advises high-percentage routes over high-risk ones.

“Eight times out of 10 you can only play back to the fairway, not play for the green,” says Davis. Once you’ve accepted that, check out the yardage remaining. If a totally risk-free chip is going to leave you 200 yards out, and a route that is just a little bit chancy can get you comfortably to 160, that slight risk may be worth taking. The lie will help tell you whether a fairly ambitious shot can be played. Too much brush, leaves or straw in the way and your plans to really advance the ball should be shelved.

The standard advancement shot from in the trees will need to come out low. Here’s how Davis sets up and plays this recovery. “Take a 3-iron or 4-iron and choke down an inch or two,” he advises. “If you have to hook the ball, set the club behind the ball with the clubface pointing directly at your initial target line, then stand at address with your shoulders, hips and feet pointed considerably right of that line. Take the club back about half the normal amount and swing in control, without decelerating–don’t get quick, even though it’s a partial swing. You should feel a nice punch at impact.”

Most importantly, you should swing along the line established by your feet at address. You’ll be creating a hooking sidespin, without any manipulation of your hands to try and “help the hook.” The variance between your clubface angle and the line of your feet, hips and shoulders will, Davis promises, put the desired hook spin on the ball and get it to “turn the corner” toward the green.

For a similar shot from the opposite treeline–which would require a slicing sidespin–use the same technique only align your body to the left of the initial line of flight you want the ball to travel on. “Remember, it’s a smooth, partial swing that creates a punch feeling at impact,” summarizes Davis. “That comes from shortening up the backswing and follow-through–let it happen on its own.”

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