U.S. Open shots you can play

The dreaded long bunker shot at Bethpage

February 2009
Jim McLean

Bethpage Black, site of the U.S. Open in June, is ranked sixth on Golf Digest's list of America's 50 Toughest Golf Courses. What makes the Black such a bear? For one, its massive bunkers, some of which extend so far from the greens that players are forced to carry the ball 30 or 40 yards over sand. In this first article in our series on shots the pros will face at Bethpage, I'll demonstrate three keys for playing the long bunker shot.

But remember, it won't be only the world's best battling Bethpage: You could be chosen to play the Open course on NBC with a USGA official calling the rules. For the rest of us, the shots I'll describe in the next few issues work great on any course. You'll see what the pros will need to do in June.

Set weight 50/50

The first step is knowing how far you can hit your normal blast shot. With a full swing and my sand wedge set square, I can cover 45 yards. That's what I'm doing here. For more distance, pick the ball clean or blast with a pitching wedge or 9-iron. For the blast shot, set your weight 50/50 and play the ball slightly behind your front instep. Too much weight forward leads to a steep swing, which you don't want here. Aim an inch behind the ball.

The Black, No. 17

This aerial view of the green at the 207-yard 17th shows the variety of sand shots we'll see during this year's U.S. Open. Players could face anything from a short blast under a bunker lip to a 40-yard carry over an expanse of sand (large photo above).

Push hips forward

One more setup key -- a tip I got from my friend Ken Venturi, who won the U.S. Open in 1964. Ken told me to bump my hips forward a couple of inches at address. The weight is still 50/50, but this move puts your lower body into an impact position, which helps you control where the club enters the sand. If your hips shift back on bunker shots, you'll tend to hit too far behind the ball -- and dump it short. So push those hips forward and keep them there.

Turn and turn

This shot requires a total commitment to making a full swing. The shoulders are a major power source, so make sure you complete your shoulder turn on the backswing. As I'm showing here, one checkpoint is that the right shoulder has moved behind the right ear at the top. Coming down, turn your upper body toward the target (top photo). Swing down and through the sand, accelerating the club to a full finish.

Ranked No. 4 on Golf Digest's list of America's 50 Greatest Teachers, McLean is based at Doral Golf Resort & Spa in Miami. Click here for more tips from McLean.

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