When it's in the hazard tantalisingly close to the edge, some will just take a drop, while others will be sorely tempted! When to play from the water...

Your ball’s in the water – and we don’t mean a water hazard that’s dry. Automatic penalty drop, right?

Well, almost… for although it is almost always exceedingly prudent to take your medicine to avoid potentially compounding the problem, occasionally there will be times when it’s worth even reasonably competent golfers taking a punt to try to save themselves a shot.

This one didn't work out so well for Payne Stewart in the 1989 Ryder Cup

This one didn’t work out so well for Payne Stewart in the 1989 Ryder Cup

Even then, sometimes it will work out, and sometimes it won’t. The late Payne Stewart had two or three unsuccessful goes at it from the lake on the 18th at The Belfry in the 1989 Ryder Cup; Bill Haas played one of the shots of the year from the water on the penultimate hole of the 2011 Tour Championship, getting up and down to save par, and even imparting some impressive spin on the ball.

Okay, one was a greenside shot, and one from a water hazard flanking the fairway, but the difference between the two highlights one of the key deciding factors even for the world’s best – how much of the ball is submerged. In Stewart’s case, all of it; in Haas’ case, only part of it.

Bill Haas had such fond memories of his 2011 water shot, he tried it again in the 2015 Presidents Cup

Bill Haas had such fond memories of his 2011 water shot, he tried it again in the 2015 Presidents Cup

The problem is that when a hard metal object impacts water at considerable speed there is more resistance than most imagine, and it’s hard to get the club to do what you want it to do – i.e. cut through the water and allow you to make good enough contact to send the ball up and clear.

To get an idea of how much resistance, think of your last attempt to walk fast in a swimming pool – it’s like trekking through treacle!

If the ball is only partially submerged, there is less resistance as less of the clubhead impacts the water giving you more chance of retaining the clubhead speed needed to splash the ball out safely.

The degree to which the ball is submerged may be the critical factor, but there are a few more questions to ask yourself before taking the plunge:-

Will you really gain anything?

If it’s greenside and there’s scope to get it on the green or fringe then there would be some merit. If it’s further back up the hole and you could only realistically progress it a few yards, it will probably make no difference to your chances of getting home with the subsequent shot, and the potential downside will outweigh the upside.

What is sitting beneath your ball in the water?

If it’s grass and mud, then all that can really go wrong is that you leave it in there and perhaps redecorate your lovely white trousers. If it’s rocks and stones, then you run the risk of not only damaging your club, but also yourself.

What’s the state of play in the game?

If you have a good score going and are playing well, why risk wrecking your card? Take your medicine in the belief that you’re playing well enough to recoup the dropped shot.

Have you ever practised it?

Probably not, which begs the question, what makes you think you can suddenly pull off a shot you’ve never even tried before when it really counts?

In summary, the shot from the water is probably only worth contemplating when the ball is not fully submerged, the area around it is free from rocks and stones, and there is a genuine potential upside.

And remember, if you do play it and then brush the water with your club on the backswing, you will be penalised two strokes or loss of hole under Rule 13-4.

So tread very carefully!