How To Survive Golf's Worst Scenarios

From putting with a fairway wood to rescuing your ball from a tree, we share our tips

Golf's worst scenarios
Paul Casey watches a dog steal his ball during the Dunhill Links in 2012
(Image credit: Getty Images)

From how to putt with a fairway wood to rescuing your ball from a tree, we share our tips to help you tackle golf's worst scenarios

From putting with a fairway wood and avoiding lightening, to scoring without a pencil and rescuing your ball from a tree, in this article we share our tips to help you tackle golf's worst scenarios.

Retrieving Your Ball From A Tree

If your ball gets stuck in a tree you may play it as it lies or declare it unplayable. But to do either you must first identify that it is definitely yours and this involves climbing the tee. The obvious first tactic is to try and identify it from the ground, so hopefully you've marked it with some obvious identification marks? No? The next step is to determine if the tree is still alive, as a dead tree could break as you climb and lead to some very nasty injuries. If it's alive you'll next want to inspect it for hazards like telephone lines, nests or animals. If all looks good you'll want to start climbing by placing your hands and feet where the branches leave the trunk, which is the strongest part of the tree. Try to climb ensuring three of your limbs remain in contact with the tree at any moment. If you manage to reach and find your ball, we recommend putting it in your pocket, as throwing it down could cause an unwanted ricochet into another part of the tee. Going down try to follow the path you took coming up.

Bonus Tip: Wear sunglasses and a cap when climbing for protection from any branches

Sergio Garcia tree

Sergio Garcia played out of a tree at Bayhill in 2011

Playing A Part-Submerged Ball

Every now and again you see a professional on tour make this look easy, like Bill Haas' incredible up-and-down en-route to winning the 2011 Tour Championship, but how do they do it? First you need to determine what is under your ball. You can hit off mud and sand but not rock. You'll also need to calculate the ball's depth. The more of it that's showing, the better your chance of hitting a miracle escape. We'd also recommend removing your shoes and socks when trying this one, while putting on your waterproofs will protect your clothes. To play the shot, you'll want to grip the club firmly to counter the resistance it'll have going through the water. You should also open the face and aim to hit a few inches behind the ball, like a bunker shot. Finally, don't forget to swing hard as it'll be the force of the water carrying the ball out and not the impact with your clubface.

Rules Tip: Remember you can't touch the water with your club before the shot

Aaron Rai playing from the water during the British Masters at Close House

Retrieving Your Club From A Tree

If your ball gets stuck up a tree it's one thing, but getting your club lodged up there is more of a concerning problem. As well as the tips we mentioned above for retrieving your ball, to rescue a club try using a flagstick as a long poker to dislodge it. Depending on the size of the tree, you can also try and shake it to see if that helps it to fall out.

Bonus Tip: Remember to get out the way when it falls out!

Avoiding Lightening

This is rather more niche than some items in this list, but it is arguably the most valuable information if the time calls for it. Firstly you should abandon your clubs as both metal and graphite will conduct electricity. Try and seek shelter, but avoid buggies, sheds, isolated trees and hilltops, which can increase your chances of being struck. Try to find a low spot away from any fences and poles, or if you in the woods take shelter under the smallest tree you can find.

Bonus Tip: You should also avoid electrical items like trolleys and mobile phones.

Bouncing Your Shot Off A Wall

Every now and again this type of shot pops up, like Miguel Angel Jimenez on the Old Course's famous 17th (pictured below) during the 2010 Open Championship. So if your ball's proximity to a wall ever makes it impossible to play a normal shot, try these tips. First use lots of loft, as the higher up the wall your ball hits, the further it should bounce back. If you're hitting against an old fashioned dry wall, aim for the smoothest spot possible to counter a very dodgy bounce. Like in snooker, your ball should come off at similar angle to the one it hit on, so you can map out your shot accordingly. Finally, try to hit a punch style shot with a stunted follow through so you don't hit the wall and injure yourself or your club.

Rules Tip: If the ball cannons off and hits you it's a two-shot penalty, so try and jump out the way.

Miguel Angel Jimenez playing a shot back off a wall during The Open

Putting With A Wood

If you've managed to lose, or much more likely break, your putter, you'll need to hole out for the remainder of your round using an alternative club. We'd recommend turning to a fairway wood or hybrid to fill the void. First you'll want to grip down, as woods are around 10" longer than putters. Next take a narrow stance and stand a little taller than you do to putt to allow for the longer shaft length. Tilting the shaft forward will also help to de-loft the wood and make it more putter-like. You should still aim to get your eyes over the ball for the best alignment, while you'll be wanting to avoid the sweetspot and strike your 'putt' low off the face of your wood for better control.

Bonus Tip: You'll have less control so focus more on a smooth tempo and the distance you need and less on a perfect line

Sergio Garcia putting with a fairway wood at the BMW Championship in 2016

Scoring Without A Pencil Or Pen

If you've managed to break or lose your pencil or pen, try these alternative writing implements. A new golf tee is one item you can use to scratch your score onto your scorecard, while sharp sticks or keys can also work in this fashion. Makeup is also a good option in this scenario, with lipstick, eyebrow pencils and mascara all good substitutes.

Bonus Tip: When scratching a score on, rubbing some dirt lightly over your card can make the numbers for legible.

An Animal Steals Your Ball

If a dog, fox, bird or any other animal wanders off with your ball, you may replace it at the original spot with no penalty under Rule 18-1. You don't have to replace it with the original ball so there's no need to wrestle an alligator or face off with a gaggle of geese.

Golf's worst scenarios

Paul Casey watches a dog steal his ball during the Dunhill Links in 2012

Playing When You've Run Out of Tees

We've all had this happen before, and usually we can scavenge our way back to the pro shop by finding broken tees or borrowing from a friendly playing parter. If those options aren't on however, don't fret. One thing you can do is revert to the old days and build your own tee using a pyramid of wet sand or dirt. While the greenkeepers won't thank you, you can also create your own tee by making a steep practice swing into the turf to create a small mound on which you can then tee your ball.

Rules Tip: You don't have to use a tee if you don't want to.

Playing From A Pile Of Poo

If you ball lands among droppings or manure, you can either play it as it lies or declare it unplayable and take a drop. If your ball lands next to or behind the poo, you can move it just like any loose impediment under Rule 23, as long as it is not embedded in he ground... good luck with that!

Bonus Tip: You might want to carry a spare glove for scenarios like this!

Jake O'Reilly specilaises in equipment coverage, and joined the Golf Monthly team in 2013. Before this he graduated from the University of Huddersfield with a Sports Journalism and Media degree, and worked at a number of British golf magazines. Follow Jake on Twitter @jake0reilly