Editor's Note: Every Monday Kevin Hinton, Director of Instruction at
Piping Rock Club in Locust Valley, N.Y. and one of Golf Digest's Best
Young Teachers, tells you how a tour player hits a key shot. This week,
Kevin examines Matt Kuchar's fairway-bunker 5-iron over a tree onto the green on the 14th hole at the Players Championship on Sunday. Of course, Kuchar went on to win by two strokes for the most significant victory in his career. For Kevin's analysis of Kuchar's full swing, click here, then read below to see what you can learn from Kuchar and Hinton on fairway bunker play . . .
Kuchar's extremely flat swing is custom-made for hitting fairway bunker shots. Matt's 5-iron on the 14th hole during the final round may have been the most clutch of his career. Although greenside bunker shots benefit from elevating the club quickly in the backswing, allowing for a steeper angle of attack into the sand, fairway bunker shots require the opposite. These shots call for taking much less sand, and it is essential that any sand taken comes after the club first contacts the ball. You will not see tour players making excessively upright backswings that lead to deep, gouging cuts of sand. Matt's swing will produce a shallow approach in the impact area, nearly picking the ball clean. His "rounded" backswing is a great image for any player who gets too much sand and often comes up well short of the green. Here are a few more ideas that can help your fairway bunker play . . .
1. Take more club
It is always a good idea to take one extra club from a fairway bunker. This will encourage a more controlled swing and also compensate for the distance loss that comes from gripping down slightly on the club. This will also help to get your ball closer to pin high if your contact is less than perfect.
2. Keep legs stable
Excessive leg action, especially in the backswing, makes pure contact very difficult. I encourage my students to set a little extra weight on the front leg at address, and try to keep it there during the backswing. The more players move the lower half and transfer weight into the back leg, the more they tend to struggle with contact. Try to feel an extremely braced lower body in the backswing, and avoid any feel of aggressive leg action in the downswing. While it is important to get your weight off of your back foot in the downswing, shoot for a very smooth transition. This will also encourage a more controlled swing.
3. Know when to take your medicine
Course management is a big part of golf, and many errors often come from fairway bunkers. If you find yourself about to hit a shot, you must be 100 percent certain that a well-executed shot will come out at a trajectory that clears the lip of the bunker. If you have any doubt, you just can't use that club. At this point, you must swallow your pride and select a club that easily gets you out of the bunker. Don't be a hero . . . get the ball out and rely on your short game. Avoiding big numbers is the most important key to shooting low scores.