Hitting a Golf Ball in Water

Recovery Wizard: How to Hit a Golf Shot Out of Water

There’s nothing better than hitting a hero recovery shot to get back into the hole. Maybe you snapped hooked a drive into the trees and need a punch shot. Or found your ball plugged in the lip of a bunker and somehow got it out and made the par save.

But quite possibly the most memorable recovery shot is hitting out of the water. It doesn’t often happen but when it does, it’s always memorable (for better or worse).

Perhaps the greatest one out of water on the PGA Tour was Bill Haas in the Tour Championship in 2017. Desperately needing a par, he pulled his approach shot left of the green into the hazard.

The average viewer is thinking, this guy is making bogey or worse. But Bill executed the shot perfectly, splashing it out and making the putt. One of the best up and downs of all time and went on to win the Tour Championship. 

Talk about a clutch golf shot on such a huge stage! 

So can you hit a golf ball out of a water hazard?

The short answer is yes, you 100% are allowed to hit a golf ball out of “the drink.” The question is, should you hit it?

In this post, we’ll break down how to hit a shot out of a lake on the golf course and decide if it’s the right play for you. 

How to Hit Out of Water – Step-by-Step Instructions 

If your ball finds a pond or lake, it doesn’t mean you have to automatically take a penalty. If you can find the golf ball, you might have a chance to hit it. Here’s how… 

Step 1: Assess the Situation

Before taking off your gear and going in for a swim, first make sure it’s the right lie in the hazard to attempt it. This is the most important part of the process for any golfer!

If the golf ball is fully submerged, don’t even think about it or you could make a big score. You need at least half of the golf ball sitting above the water to give it a realistic chance.

If the ball isn’t fully submerged, the next thing you want to evaluate is the ground around the golf ball. Is it deep? Rocky? Can you get a full stance on it? Can you make a full swing? 

If you determine that you can take a stance and don’t have any other obstacles (like a large rock), then look at the green and surrounding area. Do you have room to splash it out and on the green? Or, do you have a huge hill in front of you that if you hit it short, will rock back down to your feet? Is it a 5-yard or a 25-yard shot? 

As you can tell a variety of factors play a huge role in determining if you can and should try it. Ideally, you want:

  • Golf ball sitting up (50% or more of the surface above).
  • A flat or uphill lie that allows you to take a full swing and proper stance.
  • A short distance. Since the water will kill your clubhead speed it won’t travel very far, even with a full swing. So you want to make sure it’s roughly 5-15 yard from the edge of the green.
  • Terrain between you and the hole doesn’t have any extra challenges. You want to make sure you don’t have another obstacle like rocks, a deep bunker, or nasty rough in front of you. A common miss for this shot is short, so make sure it’s worth the risk.

I know it sounds like a lot but it’s worth going through this checklist. This isn’t easy so make sure it’s 100% worth it and don’t end up with a big number on the scorecard. 

How to Hit a Golf Shot out of Water

Step 2: Get Prepared Like Guys on the PGA Tour

Step two is preparation for every player. I once read that Tiger would send his caddie into the area before going in to make sure there weren’t any animals present. But normal players don’t have that luxury so here’s what to do.

Once you’re committed, you want to do a few last minute things. First, identify where you want the ball to land, just like you would with a normal golf shot. Pick your target and imagine it rolling out just like a standard pitch

Second, if you have rain gear in your bag, I suggest putting it on to save your shirt from mud, water, and other debris. Or, take off your shirt entirely. Then, take off your socks and shoes so you don’t play with wet feet for the rest of the round.  

Finally, grab your sand or lob wedge. You will want to play this like a bunker explosion shot and you need all the loft you can get. Do not try and use any other stick in the bag as it will make a hard one nearly impossible to pull off. 

Step 3: Take Practice Swings (No Penalty Stroke)

Once you’ve determined your play, get into your stance and see how it feels with a few practice swings. Make sure you have a good stance, take a few practice swings, and imagine the full swing you’ll need to take.  Remember, thanks to the new rules, it’s no longer a penalty to take a swing or ground your club in a hazard.

Since you’ll play this like you would in a bunker, make sure to:

  • Open the clubface.
  • Choke up on the grip 1-2 inches.
  • Take a wide stance to build a solid base in the water hazard.

Optional step: Have another player in your group film it for some hilarious content that could make viral news.

Step 4: Play It Like a Bunker 

Now, it’s time to go time. At this point, you’re prepared and ready to execute. 

You want to play the ball front to front center of your stance and on a spot directly behind the ball. This is where you want the club to enter the lake so you hit it, then the ball (just like you sand, then the golf ball).

You want to cock your wrists quickly so you get steep and swing hard. Remember, your club is moving through water which is heavier than sand. You’ll need plenty of speed to get it out of the water hazard and on to the green.

Finally, make sure you accelerate through impact. Don’t stop at the ball and “stab” it like you would with a buried lie in the sand. You want to swing through the shot and finish high like a lob shot. Do not quit on it! 

Step 5: Keep Moving

Sometimes you never know what’s in the water so I suggest getting out quickly and on with your round. Put your gear back on, enjoy a good laugh with your friends, and hopefully, make the putt to save par! Plus, it’ll make sure you don’t get out of position with the rest of the field.

How to Hit a Full Shot Out of Water

The above tips are for greenside shots when your ball ends up in the water. But you can also hit a longer range from water as well. Keep steps 1-3 but on step four, you want to play it like a fairway bunker, not a standard greenside bunker.

The biggest difference between hitting from the drink vs. a fairway bunker is that it won’t travel as far. Since your ball is likely submerged in a bit of mud, you’ll lose distance compared to hitting from firm sand.

Make sure to club up, stay committed to it and get it back in play. 


Do you have other questions relating to hitting shots in and out of the hazard? If so, we got answers.

How many strokes do you lose when you hit the ball in the water? 

Hitting in the pond and taking a drop results in a one stroke penalty. Where you drop the ball depends on the type of hazard. 

  • If it’s a red stake hazard, you need to take relief at the line it entered the hazard but no closer to the hole. Put a tee in the ground, drop within two clubs, and take your stroke.
  • Yellow stakes represent water hazards and you have two options; drop as close as possible to the last spot you hit from or go as far back from where the ball crossed.

Additionally, some golf courses might have a marked drop zone circle instead. 

What happens if the ball stays in the water hazard?

If the miraculous recovery doesn’t work out and your ball is still in the hazard, you have a few options. The first option is to play it again but make sure the lie calls for it. The second option is to take a drop depending on the hazard and one stroke penalty at the point it entered. 

Final Thoughts 

There you have it, the steps needed for any golfer to pull off the miracle shot and hit out of the hazard. Is it easy? No, not by any means but better than being out of bounds and hitting it again.

But yes, it can be done and should consider this option if you have the right lie and enough room to work with. Don’t even consider it though if your ball is fully submerged or you have some other obstacle in your way (even if you’re a great player).

Sometimes you need to take your medicine, accept the penalty shot, and try to get up and down for bogey. If you do however get the right lie and opportunity, make sure to give it a try. 

Obviously, this isn’t the type that you can practice, so stick with our tips above. Do your best to think of it like a bunker and make sure you have plenty of speed. 

While sand is heavy, water is even heavier! Without enough speed, you’ll likely leave it in the water and have a similar attempt coming up.

If you do pull it off, let’s hope you make the putt like the guys on the PGA Tour. I’m sure it’ll be an awesome memory that you and your golfing partners will cherish for a lifetime. It’s worth the sacrifice to your golf pants and shirt!

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