Grounding Your Club in a Hazard
Hover in Safety
Don't Ground Your Club in a Hazard
As if golf wasn't hard enough, there are certain instances in the game where you cannot ground your club. This means that you can't rest your club on the ground, but rather must hover it in the air behind the ball. Most players naturally sole their club on the ground by letting it rest softly on the grass before beginning their take away. This action naturally gives the golfer's brain some feedback as to the condition of the ground that they are dealing with. If it is soft and mushy for instance it may grab your club more as you come through the ball. If the ground is hard, your club might bounce off of it through the strike. Since grounding your club is considered testing the surface, the USGA does not allow it during a swing from a hazard as hazards are supposed to be penalizing. You may however hit the ground during the actual stroke that is intended to strike the ball. Along with that, testing the condition with your hand or removing loose impediments is also forbidden in a hazard. An exception to this rule would be if you are trying to catch yourself from a fall or remove an obstruction. Examples of hazards include water hazards, lateral hazards and bunkers.
What's Not Allowed
The USGA states in the Rule of Golf:
"Except as provided in the Rules, before making a stroke at a ball that is in a hazard (whether a bunker or a water hazard) or that, having been lifted from a hazard, may be dropped or placed in the hazard, the player must not:
a. Test the condition of the hazard or any similar hazard;
b. Touch the ground in the hazard or water in the water hazard with his hand or a club; or
c. Touch or move a loose impediment lying in or touching the hazard."
What happens if you do ground your club by accident? If you ground your club in a hazard, unfortunately you must assess yourself a 2-stroke penalty if you are playing stroke play. If you are playing match play, the penalty is loss of hole. This rule generally affects those that are brand new to the game or those that simply don't compete much. It is definitely a penalty that can be avoided purely by educating golfers. Now that you know the rule, you are likely to never incur a penalty by grounding your club in a hazard as long as you play the game unless you really space out.
Keep Your Routine
So how do you properly prepare for the shot if you don't know what the lie holds? Well first of all, if you are a skilled layer with good technique, you will strike the ball first anyway and make clean contact so the condition of the ground is not of that much consequence. Second, make sure that you take a practice swing away from the hazard. There is no reason why you should skip or vary from your normal pre shot routine other than the stance from where you take your practice swings. In fact, when dealing with a challenging lie, it's even more important to stick with your routine and maintain as much consistency as possible.
Maria Palozola is a member of the LPGA and has participated in multiple LPGA Tour events. She has provided instruction to thousands of students in the past 20+ years and has won multiple teaching awards from the LPGA, Golf Digest, and Golf Magazine including being ranked as one of the top 50 female instructors in the world.