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What is a Punch Shot and How to Use it?

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On the golf course, conditions and circumstances are far from perfect. Sometimes your tee shot ends up in the trees, making it difficult to get back into play, and almost impossible to reach the green. There’s also the possibility of heavy winds, which can wreak havoc on any ball that gets caught in a stiff breeze, making the task of judging distance and direction difficult. For any of these circumstances, having a shot that will fly low to avoid both branches and the wind is a valuable asset, and this article will break down the questions of what is a punch shot and how to use it. Let’s get stuck in!

Every Shot is a Different Situation

As with most shots in golf, every punch shot isn’t the same. Depending on your lie, the height of the branches, the distance the ball has to carry, how strong the wind is, whether you’re merely pitching out sideways or trying to get the ball on or around the green, all play a factor in determining club selection and the type of swing you use. The following list will encompass the most common situations you may find yourself in, and how to approach each shot.

1. Stymied by a Tree

As frustrating as it can be, having your ball come to rest up against a tree that is directly in between you and the green is part of the game. The key to these situations is to not compound the error by leaving it in the forest. Club selection is dependent on three main factors: your lie, the height of the branches between your ball and your exit point, and the distance to the fairway.

If the ball is sitting on hard pan or pine straw, and you have less than 10 yards to the fairway, any club other than a wedge will keep the ball low enough to avoid any trees. However, once the fairway gets farther away, or your lie gets worse (i.e. larger rough), your effective window gets smaller, and creativity becomes a bigger factor.

The simplest way to extricate yourself from the tougher situations is to use a club that will allow the shortest swing with enough lift to carry onto the fairway by a few yards but also stay low enough to avoid clipping any trees. For clean lies, anything between an 8 to 5 iron will be sufficient, but make sure to choke down on the club so that you can set up to it like you would with a chip shot.

As the rough gets taller, the chances of getting the lower-lofted clubs through the grass decreases, so you want to use either a 7 or 8 iron, and set up with your hands more forward than normal. A simple pitch swing should be sufficient enough to get your ball back into play, giving you a chance to make no worse than bogey.

2. In trouble, but You Have an Opening

Sometimes the golf gods offer a glimmer of hope from the trees in the form of an opening to the green. This is an opportunity to get the ball on, or close to the green, as long as there isn’t any immediate danger between you and the green, like a water hazard.

The one thing to understand is, for most players, keeping the ball low when you have a long approach is difficult. The tendency for these types of shots is to put the ball back in the stance, keep the hands forward, and try to hold off their finish.

The problem with this approach is that it promotes a steep angle of attack, which imparts spin on the golf ball. This causes the ball to climb quicker than normal, which can cause trouble with low branches. The safer approach is to take 2-3 clubs more than you would normally use for this yardage and play a “bunt” type shot.

Say you have 150 yards to the hole, with nothing but fairway between your exit point and the green. The rough isn’t long behind your ball, and you have a 5-yard gap to work with. If you normally use a 7-iron for a 150-yard shot, move up to a 5- or 4- iron, and choke down about an inch. Instead of moving the ball back in your stance, leave it wherever you would put your 7-iron.

When you make practice swings, visualize a shot that will fly about two-thirds of the way there and bounce/roll up to the green. With a lower-lofted club, a smooth half-swing should be plenty to fly the ball 100 yards and let it scoot the rest of the way.

3. Gusting/Swirling Winds

Golf is hard enough in perfect conditions; when the wind picks up, it adds a layer of difficulty of frustration that requires more patience. If you struggle with figuring out the wind, how much it’s blowing and how much it’ll affect your golf ball, your best option is to take the wind out of the equation as much as possible, which is what the punch shot is designed for.

For keeping the ball under the wind, the same principles from a punch shot apply, with only a couple tweaks. The type of punch shots needed depend on what obstructions you have between yourself and the hole. If you have nothing but fairway and fringe up to the green, you have plenty of options: a bump-and-run similar to the escape from the woods, a shot that flies to the front of the green and rolls to the hole, and anything in between.

The key is to always take more clubs (at least 2 will ensure your ball doesn’t get gobbled up by the wind), swing smoother, and leave your ball position in its usual spot, or one ball forward. This will promote a flatter swing plane, which will help keep the spin off your shot, giving it a more piercing ball flight, which will stay under the wind and stay on its line more consistently.

If there is an obstacle (a bunker or hazard) lies on your intended line, your options are slightly limited. You’ll want to choose a club that will carry, at a minimum, five yards onto the green.

When the wind is into you, trying to get the ball close to the hole is not as important as getting it to the green. If you face a front hole location, play for a putt that will be from past the hole. This is especially true when carrying a bunker; with strong winds, if the ball balloons, there is a greater chance of the ball plugging into the sand.

The Final Word

Punch shots are important to practice on the range. The key to honing in the fundamentals is to pick a spot on the range (the top of a flagstick is a good one, if your range has them), and try to keep the apex of your shots below your target height. If you can hit three in a row, great job! The punch shot is a great addition to your golf repertoire. Give it a try and shoot lower scores!

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Ryan S

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