Advice for Hitting Out of Bad Lies on the Golf Course

Sometimes in golf, things don’t work out the way you want them to. One of the most frustrating things that can happen to you, or any player, during a round is for your golf ball to end up in a bad lie. What makes golf unique is that bad lies don’t just occur in trouble spots, like bunkers, heavy rough, or trees. Many a player can attest to the frustration of a perfectly struck tee shot that splits the fairway…only to end up in a divot, either sand-filled or bare. So, to help you better your chances of getting out of a bad lie unscratched (or close to at least), we’ve written this articles of advice for hitting out of bad lies on the golf course.

No matter what kind of bad lies you encounter on the golf course, having a plan and the confidence to extricate your ball from trouble is a key component to playing your best golf. Here are some of the most common bad lies, and how you can play your way out of them.

Ball in a Divot

As mentioned above, divots can be either sand-filled or not, and if your ball ends up in one, it’s important to know how to play a shot from both. Sand-filled divots require the most precision, and how it lies plays a significant role in how well the shot can be executed.

Thin-layered Sand

For example, if the ball is lying on a thin layer of sand, at the very edge of the divot, and there is a clean path to the back of the ball, the shot isn’t very difficult. However, if the ball is nestled into the sand, or had too much sand poured into the divot, this limits the quality of contact you’ll be able to make.

Shallow Sand

For a shallow sand-filled divot or regular divot the only adjustments you’ll need to make is to choke down slightly and move the ball slightly back in your stance, which will promote a slightly steeper angle of attack. After these adjustments, you can make your normal swing with just about any club, assuming the divot wasn’t gouged out.

Nestled Ball

The same may not apply to a nestled ball. In this instance, the distance you have to carry the ball, the trouble in between your ball and the green, and how much of the ball you can contact cleanly all play a factor in how to proceed. A simple way to determine how much room for error you have is to estimate the percentage of distance you’ll lose based on these factors.

For example, a 150-yard shot from a settled-down sand divot may lose 10-20% of its carry if you don’t make perfect contact. If that’s the case, is there any trouble in front of the green that will cost you more than one shot? If you have plenty of room in front of the green, give it a try; however, a water hazard in front of the green may require a lay-up, which may seem unreasonable from a relatively short distance, but it’s important to remember that a shot saved is a shot saved.


Any hard surface on the golf course can be considered hardpan, and for most players, these shots can be difficult and intimidating. With some basic adjustments and an understanding of how the golf club reacts on hard surfaces, you should have more success from lies with firm ground.

The most important key to playing shots off of hardpan is to not let the club bounce on the turf until after impact. Your wedges will have the highest frequency to bounce, since many of them rest squarely on the ground with the leading edge elevated, but irons do possess a small amount of bounce as well. The last thing you want is an iron to hit the ground with the leading edge up, sending the leading edge into the middle of the ball and the ball flying way over the green.

Planning and Setup

The trick is to set up to the shot so that the leading edge is as flush to the ground as possible, and lean the shaft forward so you give yourself the best chance to make clean contact. From the fairway, you have a little cushion to be able to help lift the ball in the air, but from any firm or hard lies, any attempt to scoop the ball off the hardpan will ruin the shot. This is one instance where you must trust the loft on the club will send the ball airborne without any additional assistance.

The setup isn’t much different from divots: hands ahead, choke down slightly, and an emphasis on swinging steeper than normal. The ball should come out cleanly, and around the same distance you would normally hit your irons from the fairway.

Tree Roots and Pine Straw

Pine straw presents an interesting challenge: even when the ball sits cleanly, precaution must still be taken to ensure that you don’t inadvertently cause your ball to move. Treat the surrounding pine straw like you would a bunker: keep your feet quiet and don’t ground the club.

Playing a shot from the pine straw is relatively straightforward: estimate how much the pine straw sits above the ground surface, take an extra club and choke down on the grip to compensate for the elevated lie, and make sure to swing smoothly, keeping your feet more quiet than normal.

Tree root lies are not only tricky, but potentially dangerous. Whenever you find your ball on or around a tree root, you want to exercise caution and avoid any chance of injury. The tricky aspect of tree roots is that you can never know how deep or sturdy a root will be. Here are a couple of tips that can help you avoid any trouble with these types of lies:

  • ​Don’t be greedy. If you feel like the root(s) are going to cause injury if you don’t make perfect contact, your best bet is to chip out sideways back into play.
  • If you do make an attempt to play the shot, make sure you err on the side of catching it thin. You want the club coming into the ball as shallow as possible to eliminate the chance of the club snagging the root and getting stuck. Take plenty of club, keep your wrists quiet, and feel like you are picking the ball off the root.

How to Practice From Bad Lies

Being able to practice every type of shot one may encounter during a round of golf is useful, but practicing from difficult lies can be a challenge. For example, would you want to gouge balls from divots created on the driving range? You could, but it might be frowned upon by staff.

One way to practice these types of bad lies is to simply never take relief from them. Some rounds may be more friendly than others, but if you find yourself in a tournament or playing for money, it’s useful to have these shots in your repertoire. The more experience you have from these types of trouble lies, the more comfortable you will be.

The Bottom Line

Attitude plays an important role in executing shots from bad lies, especially ones in the fairway. Instead of bemoaning your luck or wishing the rules allowed relief from these lies, think of them as a fun challenge and try your hardest to pull them off. It’s an amazing feeling to have hit a perfect drive, have it end up in a divot, and still play a great shot into the green.

I hope you got some good advice for hitting out of bad lies from this article. If you follow the above steps for various bad lies, you’ll find yourself playing better golf in no time!

Ryan S
Author: Ryan S

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