Is there any better feeling than pulling off a recovery shot from the bunker or the water? That sensation as you contact the ball. Instantly, you know you played it exactly right, and a smile creeps across your face as the ball bounces onto the fairway.
Hitting the ball out of the water is the ultimate recovery shot. When you do it right, there’s no more satisfying shot in the golfer’s skill set. The water shot is the toughest shot in the book, and it doesn’t always work out.
When it does, the results are nothing short of showstopping. We all remember how Bill Hass faced a water shot at the Tour Championship in 2017. Bill pulled his shot to the left, landing on the water’s edge.
He pulled off an amazing recovery shot in the face of a bogey or worse. Bill shot powered through the water with precision, creating the perfect up-and-down shot onto the green to sink the putt. It truly was the Hail Mary of all clutch shots in a pressure situation.
So, if Bill can do it, you can too, but you’ll need to learn the technique and practice it whenever possible.
Hitting out of the water isn’t illegal, but it takes a certain level of skill from the golfer. Let’s unpack everything you need to know how to hit a shot out of the water.
How to Hit a Shot Out of the Water
We decided to break down the process of hitting your ball out of the water to make it easier for you. This step-by-step guide gives you the technique you need to add to your skillset to get the ball out of the water.
1. Assess the Lie
Before you strip down or throw on the rain poncho to take the shot, you need to assess it to see if it’s worthwhile. You need the right lie in the hazard, or it’s not worth the hassle. If the ball is entirely underwater, don’t even think about attempting a shot, that’s going to do nothing but add to your sore in a big way.
You need at least half the ball visible above the waterline to make a successful water shot. What does the terrain around the ball look like? Is it rocky or deep? Can you position your feet correctly to take the shot?
After determining it’s possible to position yourself around the ball for the swing, turn your attention to the green or fairway. Is there enough room for you to make the shot splash out? Or is there an elevation in front of you that causes a back roll to the water? Do you need to make a 10-yard or 30-yard shot? All these factors add up to whether or not you should take the shot or a drop.
Each shot is different, and you’ll need to assess the situation before taking the shot. The last thing you want is to blow out your scorecard. Sometimes, taking the drop is the right thing to do, even if it bruises your ego.
2. Commit to the Shot
Once you’re confident of the lie, the next step is to prepare for the shot and build your confidence in your skillset. First, no one wants to arrive at the clubhouse covered in mud after their round. Take out your rain poncho and use it for the shot.
The important part of setting up is to focus on your feet. You’ll need a stable footing. The chances are your shoes will get wet, but you’ll have to live with that because taking them off isn’t an option. Ensure you take as wide a stance as possible to give you balance for the swing.
Next, look out to the fairway or green and imagine where you want the shot to land. Pick your target and prepare to take the shot like a standard pitch.
Finally, select your sand or gap wedge for the task. The lob wedge gives you too much loft for penetrating the water properly. You’ll need to play this like an explosive bunker shot, and you need as much loft as possible.
The setup and swing for the water shot are like a greenside bunker shot if more than half the ball is above the waterline. If the ball is in deeper water, you’ll need to treat it like a fairway bunker.
3. Take a Practice Swing and Create Leverage
According to the new rules in golf, players won’t receive a penalty if they ground their club in a hazard or take a practice swing. So, take advantage of the rule change and set yourself up for success with a few practice swings.
Focus on your stance and the full swing you’ll take to get the ball out of the water. Keep the clubface open and choke up an inch or two on your grip when practicing.
If you want to analyze your swing later, have a friend film your shot – it makes for some funny viral videos later if you don’t make it.
4. Treat it like a Bunker Shot
While the pros like Bill Haas make the water shot look easy, the rest of us know better. The water shot is one of the most challenging in the game to execute well, and doing it without making a total mess of yourself is another art in itself.
However, pulling off the shot with a little finesse isn’t as hard as you think with the right technique. For the weekend golfer who struggles in the rough, you might want to consider taking the drop instead of potentially embarrassing yourself.
However, if you’re willing to risk swimming in dark waters, so to speak, then follow this technique to get the shot right. If that $2 Nassau ball is on the line, then it’s worth the challenge, and if you pull it off, you’ll be the legend of the round.
- You’ll need to play it like you would a power bunker shot for the best chance at recovery. Remember, as long as half the ball is above the surface, it’s playable and worth trying.
- However, if less than half of the ball is above the surface, you can give it a try, but you’ll need to complete the shot with a closed clubface.
- It’s important to keep the clubface closed because the clubhead needs to pierce the water, displacing the water to get the power and lift required to drive the ball out and onto the fairway or green. If more than half of the ball is visible, you can play it like a normal bunker shot with the clubface slightly open.
- Keep the clubface square with your target when taking the swing. It’s best to take as steep an angle of attack as possible and a shorter follow-through. Instead of the ball exploding out of the sand, you are just splashing out of the water.
- When setting up for the shot, cock your wrists to get a steep angle of attack and swing hard, with as much club speed as you can muster. Accelerate through the contact and swing through to finish like a lob shot.
- The more the ball is submerged, the more power you need with your swing. In most cases, the ball exists the water with little to no spin, and it rolls if you land on the green.
We would say practice makes perfect with the water shot. The only issue is that you need to get soaking wet if you want a good practice session. Most golfers don’t have the patience or lack of self-respect to stand around splashing in the water for half an hour.
So, you can practice a bit by burying the ball a little in a bunker and practice driving more force through your swing to dislodge it. It’s not quite the same, but it’s the closest dry practice you’ll get.
5. Get In-and-Out
Don’t stand around and boast about it if you pull off the miracle recovery shot from the water. Sure, there’s nothing wrong with the quick victory grin, but get in and out as soon as possible.
The last thing you need is to pull off the shot of a lifetime and lose your balance while celebrating. That’s going to make for a great viral video at your expense. Along with the hazard of falling or slipping, there’s the consideration of what’s living in the water hazard.
If you’re playing a course around Florida, make sure you have someone with eyes on the water. You never know what’s creeping up behind you while you’re trying to focus on the shot. Don’t end up as gator bait.
Is there a Penalty for taking a Water Shot?
If you hit the water and there’s no chance of recovery, you’ll have to take a drop. You get a one-stroke penalty and where you take the drop depends on the color-coding of the hazard.
If you see a red stake around the hazard, you need to take the drop at the line where the ball entered the hazard.
However, you’ll have to take it from the side of the hazard close to the tee or where you took the shot from the fairway. When taking the drop, place the ball within two club-lengths from the edge and take your shot.
If you see a yellow stake around the hazard, you’ll need to drop as close to the last location you hit as possible. Or go back to where the ball crossed the hazard.
What Happens If My Ball Doesn’t Make it Out of the Water?
If you don’t make it out of the water on the first try, you can try again. But what makes you so sure you’re going to do any better with a second attempt?
Sometimes it’s better to take the L and consider a drop rather than persisting with the madness that will only frustrate you.
The drop might cost you a penalty stroke. It’s worth it when you think about the potential of soaking yourself in the water hazard and the embarrassment of videos of the incident circulating on social media.
Wrapping Up – Unusual Legal Actions and Rules Around Water Hazards
There are several rules surrounding playing around the water hazards. According to Rule 13-4, players can’t test conditions in the water hazard or any similar hazard close by.
- Before taking the shot, the player can’t touch the water or the ground within the hazard with their hand or club.
- The player is not permitted to move or touch loose impediments or sediment in the water hazard.
- The player can touch the water when addressing the ball. However, they can’t ground their club during the shot.
- The penalty for violating these rules is a two-stroke penalty in stroke play or a loss of the hole in match play.
According to USGA rules, the boundaries of the water hazard extend vertically from its margins, according to decisions 26/1 and 26/1.5.
So, if any part of the ball is hanging over the water hazard, the rules consider the ball as in the hazard. Therefore, the rules apply to the shot.
However, if half of the ball is in the hazard and half is in the rough, the player may ground their club, according to decision 13-4/29.
Rule 12-1c allows players to plunge their club into the water to search for the ball. There’s no penalty for accidentally hitting your ball when searching.
However, you’ll have to place the ball in its original position. Or, according to rule 26, the player may lift the ball to take a drop.
Ball in Motion
It might surprise you to learn that a water hazard is the one time in golf where it’s legal to hit a moving ball.
Rule 14-6 states players hit a moving ball in a water hazard, provided they don’t delay to allow better positioning of the ball in the water.