Hit a Rainbow over That One Pesky Tree

Play a hole like this one enough times, and eventually you'll be stuck behind its lone tree. Here's how to take the high road and escape trouble.

When a skier has occasion to curse the placement of a certain tree, it’s likely he has a splint or a cast in his future. When a golfer has one single tree bedeviling him, the only professional help needed is from someone like Brian Bryson, who teaches at Hartefeld National in Avondale, Pa. In Bryson’s arsenal of escape shots, the big rainbow shot over a mature tree is listed as a true hero shot that is rewarding to pull off and often fun just to try.

That said, he begins his mini-lesson on this shot by requiring students to evaluate whether discretion isn’t more called for–in the form of a sideways wedge to some unobstructed area of the fairway. In making that decision, look at the shot you wish to play from the side. Assuming you can lift your ball about 10-20 percent higher than normal via certain stance and swing adjustments, will it get high enough soon enough to clear the top branches? Secondarily, will the trajectory that gets it over the tree give the ball a chance to land on the green? “Having it land a little short isn’t so bad,” says Bryson, “but if you’re likely to end up with a 50-yard pitch shot even if you clear the tree, it isn’t worth the risk.”

How to play the shot: “Start by opening your stance a few inches and opening the clubface slightly,” says Bryson. “Play the ball slightly forward in your stance.” (Note: An uphill lie will certainly help you succeed with this shot, but if you’ve got a downhill lie or a decidedly sidehill lie, Bryson suggests you don’t even attempt it.) Your swing should be extra-vertical, with a slightly shortened backswing.

“Concentrate on hitting down on the ball with an aggressive swing in which ‘all the hinges’ (shoulders, wrists, clubshaft) are used to the fullest,” advises Bryson. “Allow the loft of the club to do the work.” Although you are making a big swing, he points out, you may not finish with your weight fully shifted or your shoulders turned so that the club is wrapped behind you, due to the vertical-ness of the club path. This is a shot where visualization is particularly important, according to Bryson. “Picture your ball rising up and clearing the tree,” he says. “It’s a fun shot, so let it fly and don’t hold back.”

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