Get it out, get it on, get it close

I’ll show you my keys to fearless bunker play

What’s the biggest difference between the average golfer and the tour professional? Bunker play. Most weekend players hate hitting out of the sand. Even if they don’t exactly hate it, they don’t often get the ball close enough to the hole to make the putt.

Compare that anxious feeling to that of most tour players, who would rather play from a greenside bunker any day than from the rough. I’m confident I can get it up and down from the sand more often than not-and I expect to hole my share of bunker shots, too.

The key is to have no fear when you step into a bunker. You can’t worry about leaving your next shot in the sand or thinning it over the green. You have to trust your club, your technique and yourself. Be confident.

On the following pages I’ll give you tips on the basics to help you get safely out of the bunker in one shot every time. After that are some drills to get you onto the green with greater consistency. Then I’ll give you advice-using high- speed swing-sequence photography-on how to fine-tune your technique to get your sand shots close to the hole. And last is a bonus section on how to play from different types of bunker sand from all around the world. Fear not-you’ll soon be getting up and down from any bunker, any place and any time.

Listen for the ‘thump’ You can hear a good bunker shot. It makes a very distinct noise-a “thump.” That sound is proof you’ve used the sand wedge in the way it was designed, allowing the bottom of the clubhead to glide through the sand and under the ball. Practice hitting the sand with the bottom of the club to get the right sound. Be aggressive-you need a smoothly accelerating swing to really make the clubhead thump. You’ll also find that different kinds of bunker sand make different sounds, which will give you good feedback on how hard you need to swing to propel the ball out of the bunker on its divot of sand (below).

The sand wedge is your best ally in the bunker-if you use it correctly. Don’t take your grip and then open the clubface by turning your hands to the right.

That creates a tendency to close the clubface through impact, as the hands try to return to normal position. Do that and the club is sure to bury into the sand, leading to fat shots.

Instead:

1. Open the clubface about 30 degrees before you take your grip. That’s the angle you want the clubhead at as it enters the sand, so the sole can “bounce” under the ball.

 

2. With your arms nice and relaxed, complete your grip, making sure your left hand is turned a bit to the left. This weaker grip helps keep the clubface open through impact and allows you to take a bigger swing. Focus on the sand, not on the ball The beauty of bunker play is that you don’t have to be as precise with your contact as you do when hitting from the fairway. Prove it to yourself by dropping four or five balls in the sand. Hit each one in quick succession, focusing on a spot a couple of inches behind each ball. Just swing away, listening for the “thumps.” Now step back and examine the divot holes. You’ll see they vary.

Because of the margin for error the sand allows, as long as you accelerate the club through the sand you’ll still get good results. Make impact closer to the ball, and it will travel farther in the air but have a lot of spin. Hit a little farther behind the ball, and it won’t travel as far in the air but it will run more once it lands. Remember, this is the only shot in golf with which you don’t hit the ball directly. So focus on the sand, not the ball, and let your club do the work.

 

Keep the clubface open and traveling on a shallow path For consistent results, the clubhead must swing on a shallow path into the sand, with the clubface fairly open as it slides under the ball. The right hand is key. On the way back, feel as though you’re holding a tray (left). That keeps the clubface open. On the way down, think of lowering the tray without turning it over. That shallows the swing and prevents the clubface from closing. Use a 7-iron out of the bunker to ingrain the proper technique. To hit it well, feel as though you’re dragging the heel of the club through the sand first. Now practice that same move with your sand wedge.

Swing along your toe line Practicing greenside sand shots with a 7-iron forces you to stay behind the ball as you swing your arms and club along your toe line. Keep your legs quiet and feel as though you’re throwing the clubhead at the ball.

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