There are two undisputed truths in this great game:
1) No one hits the ball perfectly every time.
2) Every golfer hits shots into trouble.
This applies to weekend golfers and PGA and LPGA Tour professionals alike. So regardless of skill level, the goal of every golfer should be to build an escape strategy that not only gets you out of trouble, but gets you into a better position than you would have been in had your last swing not been a bad one. This keeps the damage caused be a poor swing to less than a stroke.
The two keys to achieving this goal are to a) make sure your clubhead makes clean contact with the ball, and b) select a safe escape route to your target that's ahead of where you would have been with a better swing.
My advice? Develop a reliable punch shot. This requires you to play the ball two inches back of center in your stance and make a half- or three-quarter swing. The overall feeling should be "together and compact," with solid lower-body control. Because the punch swing is compact, the odds of producing clean contact go through the roof, and that's the first—and toughest—half of the battle!
The other half is finding a route to safety that maximizes the reliability of the punch. Assess your surroundings. To make sure you clear any low-hanging tree limbs, choose the club with the greatest loft that will still safely launch your shot below the trouble and reach the target. You've got a built-in safety net already, because playing the ball slightly back delofts the club, as does abbreviating your backswing and follow-through. Check the photo below for what the punch looks like. You can clearly see my backswing, impact and follow-through positions. (The ball in front of my clubhead illustrates my normal ball position, while the ball behind the club is the ball position for my escape punch shot.)
A Plan for Punch Practice
If you execute about a dozen of these escape swings on the range every time you practice, you'll quickly learn how punch shots typically react after impact. It's critical to know—and be able to control—how far these shots fly and roll out. There's nothing worse than hitting an escape shot "perfectly" only to see it carry too far or roll into even greater trouble.
The beauty of the punch shot is that you can pull it off with any iron in your bag, from 3-iron to pitching wedge, which gives you a wide variety of distance options. Remember, trouble is out there, and you will find it. But now you have more than a puncher's chance of keeping the damage to a minimum.