In the November issue of Golf Digest, just out on newsstands today (Ernie Els on the cover), Golf Digest Teaching Professional Rick Smith presents a very effective tip for that horrible predicament--the buried or fried egg lie in the bunker. Follow what Rick has to say if you have this problem this weekend, and you'll get the ball out every time. And remember to follow me on Twitter @RogerSchiffman.
To dislodge the ball from this lie, you need to make a few adjustments from your traditional greenside-bunker swing. Take your normal bunker stance, including opening the face of your most-lofted wedge, but instead of having the club enter the sand two inches behind the ball and skimming through it to a full finish, I want you to leave the clubhead in the sand.
You're going to make a steep swing that enters the sand just behind the ball with a lot of downward force and no follow-through. This type of swing will thrust the ball out with a whole lotta sand.
Keep in mind the ball will roll more than usual when it lands, so it might be tough to get it close to the hole. But you can't ask for much else than to be putting after facing this awful lie.
Have you been told to monitor your salt intake? Even if you haven't (yet), you'd probably be glad to hear that Jim McLean says the more salt, the better . . . on the clubface of your sand wedge, that is.
In the October issue of Golf Digest, McLean, explains that any golfer struggling with his bunker play could really improve his consistency around the green by pouring a clump of table salt on the grooves of his wedge. Too many people, he says, fail to maintain the open face they had at the start of the shot and rely on fortunate timing to get the ball close to the pin. The most common fault weekend golfers make is subconsciously closing the face going back, and flipping the hands over coming through.
Putting salt on the clubface allows you to track your progress and know for sure if you've come into impact with the same open face you set at address. If there's no salt left on your wedge when you're done, it means you've shut the face down at some point during the swing.
The location of the displaced salt, whether it's behind or in front of your starting position, will give you a clue as to which part of your swing spilled the grains.
It's possible to get away with a technique that spills the salt chipping out of the rough, but from greenside bunkers everything gets magnified and a closing clubface is a recipe for disaster. Take McLean's advice about having more salt, and your blood pressure might actually begin to decrease.
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 describes how PGA Champion Rory McIlroy takes dead aim on his greenside bunker shots. It's not just a matter of technique, but mental approach as well. His bunker play was stellar at Kiawah's Ocean course, which at times looked like one big sand bunker. If you're going to contend on this course, you better have your bunker game in top shape. In particular, the sand shots McIlroy made on 10 (to six inches to save par) and on 16 (from well below the green, setting up birdie), were all-world considering the pressure cooker he was playing in. Here's how you can improve your bunker play.
Here are a few thoughts on Rory's bunker game and what you can learn, plus a behind-the-scenes look at his personal backyard bunker course . . .
1. Make a 'normal' swing
Many of the students I see impart far too much slice spin onto their bunker shots, often because they have been taught to do so. They aim their bodies way to the left, set the clubface quite open, then cut across the ball to excess. This makes it difficult to get the ball started on the intended line. The ball will also spin to the right once it hits the green, again reducing the chances of the ball tracking toward the hole.
I find that all this effort does not seem to add that much loft to the shot, and it also presents a challenge in controlling distance when such a glancing blow is applied. I don't see tour players doing so except in extreme situations. The average player would do much better by setting the body and clubface only slightly open, and then making a normal-feeling swing.
2. Take dead aim
If your goal is to get the ball out of the bunker, that is likely the best you'll do. If your goal, however, is to hole every bunker shot, you'll likely do so quite rarely, but I guarantee you'll hit a lot more stiff. It's the same idea as when sport psychologist Dr. Bob Rotella asks his tour players to hole every shot within 100 yards. It doesn't happen that often, but setting high standards and narrowing your focus can significantly tighten your shot dispersion. A great short-game practice drill is to hit a routine greenside shot until you hole it, be it a chip, pitch or bunker shot. You'll be amazed how quickly it can happen. If you are a higher handicapper, make your goal to get the ball within a grip's length. Before long, you'll be holing out shots in practice and taking your increased confidence onto the golf course.
Click here to check out Rory's own backyard bunker course.
One of the game's cliches is that the long explosion is the hardest shot in golf. It doesn't have to be so difficult, however. Golf Digest Teaching Professional Jim Flick tells me that his star junior pupil, Beau Hossler, varies the distance of his sand shots by changing the club, not the swing. In other words, Beau plays the same basic explosion shot most of the time, but when he needs a shorter shot, he uses his lob wedge, and when he needs extra distance, he uses his pitching wedge. His array of bunker shots was clearly evident last week in the U.S. Open at Olympic, where he seemed to get it up and down from the sand nearly every time--even Johnny Miller was impressed.
The great advantage of this technique is on the longer shots because you don't have to hit too close to the ball and risk skulling it over the green. (You can even hit a little more behind the ball, and it will still get out.) So no matter what the shot, Hossler tries to take the same amount of sand and make the same length and speed of swing. The lower loft of the pitching wedge sends the ball farther, and the extra loft of the lob wedge sends it shorter.
When playing the shot with the pitching wedge, you still want to open the face and position the ball as you would with your normal sand-wedge swing. Opening the face gives the pitching wedge a bit of bounce so you can swing the clubhead through the sand easily without it digging. The ball will come out a bit lower and roll a little farther, but on normal greens it will still have some check.
The next time you're in a practice bunker, experiment with these three clubs. Some players even use a 9- or 8-iron on really long explosions. You'll soon be hitting sand shots of different lengths will much less effort--or fear.
Good luck with your game this weekend.
I like its simplicity and how it feels effortless.
The key is, you can create a lot more clubhead speed through impact (where it counts) while hardly trying. The ball pops out of the sand with minimal force. These two points in Stan's words will help you this weekend:
"Here's where you make or break a bunker shot. You hit the sand in a consistent spot by maintaining the position of your head relative to the ball--directly above it. Keep 60 percent of your weight on your left side during the swing. This will help you hit an inch or two behind the ball consistently. Make a hip and shoulder turn while hinging the clubhead up quickly with your wrists (left photo). Keep your wrists and elbows soft, and you'll create effortless speed. It should feel as if you're making a slight reverse pivot and swinging back from inside a phone booth."
"Getting the clubhead moving fast and skipping through the sand in the right place is like hammering a nail--using your wrist, not your arm. Release your wrist angle early and fast, and get the shaft in an upright position quickly after impact. If you stretched a rope three feet in front of you and two feet off the ground (above photo), the clubhead should miss it as you rehinge. I call this a "narrow" swing."
With a little practice, these thoughts should help you immediately. For the complete article, check out the July issue. And remember to follow me on Twitter @RogerSchiffman.
Here's Kevin: When you think of Rory's game, most people's first image is his fearless, free-flowing swing. While as beautiful and technically sound as it is, Rory has his short game to thank this week for his win at the Honda Classic and his new No. 1 ranking. Rory's ball-striking was actually quite mortal this week, hitting only 11 of 18 greens in regulation in the final round, and nine of 14 fairways. The often-maligned ball-striking of Tiger Woods out-matched Rory for the week, as Tiger hit more fairways and greens, as well as an impressive 14 greens in the final round. Tiger even led the field in total driving, something he's done only once (the 2009 BMW) since 2000. However, as often is the case in golf, the player who masters the wedge and putter normally comes out on top. Rory led the entire field in Scrambling Percentage and was an impressive 7 for 9 in bunker saves. This week we will look at Rory's bunker basics. I have a pretty good feeling it won't be the last time this season we get to analyze an aspect of Rory's short game that was a key to victory . . . and here's a hint: Think Georgia in April!
Rory's naturally long, rhythmic backswing is one key to his excellent bunker play. This is a great thing for the amateur player to copy. While the size of your swing varies based on the distance of the shot (especially your finish), nothing good comes from a short backswing in the bunker. One absolute in golf is that small backswings produce low shots. You simple can't produce the speed required to get the ball high into the air with a short backswing. With golf courses being designed and renovated with deeper and more penal bunkering, being able to hit a lofted bunker shot is crucial. The only way to produce height in golf is speed. Short, timid backswings don't cut it in the bunker. That's lesson No. 1 we can learn from Rory, and he demonstrates it in the video at the end of this post.
Here are the other keys to being a good bunker player:
1. Ball Position: Somewhere in front of middle is the basic rule. The higher you want to hit it, the farther forward you should play the ball
2. Stance Width: Here is another solid statement: Narrow stances produce low shots. At address, place your feet at least at shoulder width. If you really need to hit it high, stand farther from the ball, get even wider and lower yourself. Tom Gillis took this exact stance from the greenside bunker on No. 12 Sunday. He hit a beautiful high-spinning shot to tap-in distance that helped secure a tie-for-second finish. I hope you saw it!
3. Set the clubface open at address. The degree to which you do this should vary on the length of the shot and the sand conditions. Open the face on shorter shots when height is essential. Keep it more square on longer shots. Open the face in softer sand conditions to use more of the bounce of the club. Keep the face fairly square in firmer sand conditions, or when there isn't much sand in the bunker. Remember, opening the face adds bounce, turning the club into more of a skimmer and less of a digger.
4. A normal swing is preferred. If you're enrolled in Bunkers 101, simply make your normal swing, aim two to four inches behind the ball and be sure to get the
Kevin Hinton: Mark Wilson's holed bunker shot on the 12th hole of Sunday's final round was the catalyst to his fifth PGA Tour victory. With the birdie, Wilson regained a one-shot lead and never looked back. He noted after the round that the sand seemed firmer in that 12th-hole bunker, so he adjusted accordingly and the ball rolled into the cup like a putt. His follow-through was a little tighter and he landed the ball shorter, allowing for more roll. Here are the keys to proficient greenside bunker play, including from firmer sand. Practice them, and you'll start getting your bunker shots closer, and you might even hole one occasionally, like Wilson did.
Remember . . . the technique of a standard bunker shot is unique in golf. If executed properly, it is the only shot in which the club never contacts the ball--at least intentionally. Your goal is to hit the sand, not the ball, thereby forming a cushion of sand between the ball and the clubface, which will propel the ball onto the green. Here's how it's done:
-- Weight 60 percent on front foot
-- Play the ball forward
-- Slightly open clubface (pointing to the right)
-- Slightly open stance (aiming to the left)
-- Dig your feet in
-- Don't grip down (unless the shot is extremely short)
-- Aim two to four inches behind the ball (in firm sand, err on the closer side in firm sand and keep your swing tighter)
-- Make a normal, three-quarter backswing (in advanced bunker play, it's OK to apply a cut swing--outside in--when extreme height is needed. Otherwise, make your "stock" backswing)
-- Get to your finish (on all shots, you must rotate your body, but limit how far the club swings through on shorter shots)
-- If the sand doesn't leave the bunker, the ball will not likely leave the bunker (the skull is the exception)
In hard sand/bad lies, you must make the club more of a "digger"...by nature, a lob wedge has less bounce than a sand wedge, so it digs more. A sand wedge is more of a "skimmer." Favor it in fluffy sand conditions. Finally, opening the clubface adds bounce, squaring the face and leaning the shaft forward reduces bounce... adjust accordingly.
Discuss this tip, and other pieces of instruction, on our partner site, GolfWRX.com.
In the November 2011 issue of Golf Digest (Bubba Watson on the cover), which is hitting subscribers' mailboxes today and will be on newsstands soon, Golf Digest Teaching Professional David Leadbetter discusses the best way to hit fairway bunker shots. I found this tip really interesting because it is based on the same principle that Golf Digest Teaching Professional Jim Flick discussed in a tip I did with him for the November 2005 issue and again in December 2009 (Sweep the Ball from Fairway Sand). Jim said he learned the technique from Jack Nicklaus. Both teachers advocate feeling as if you are hitting level to slightly up on the ball through impact.
First, let's hear from Leadbetter:
"Many amateurs struggle from fairway sand because they swing too hard and release the club too early on the downswing. This causes them to hit the sand first, costing them distance. Here's how to stop hitting fat.
"First, choose a club that will allow you to comfortably clear the lip of the bunker. If the lip is not an issue, then take an extra club to remove any temptation to overswing. Once you have the right club, set up with the ball forward of center in your stance, dig your feet into the sand to create a stable base, and then grip down on the club to compensate for your feet now being lower than the ball.
"When you swing, try to pick the ball off the sand cleanly while staying in balance, as if you're catching the ball on the upswing. In essence, this type of swing will accommodate your early wrist release and allow you to avoid hitting the sand before the ball."
Now let's see what Flick had to say:
"I was walking with Jack Nicklaus during a practice round at the 1996 U.S. Open at Oakland Hills, and on one hole he drove into a fairway bunker some 170 yards from the green. There was a fairly steep lip, so I figured Jack might have to play short of the putting surface. But he took a 6-iron, kept his weight back, made perfectly clean contact, and put the ball on the green.
Left: Jim Flick says to think of sweeping the ball out of fairway bunkers. The image of a broom is a good one if you're a visual learner.
(Photo by J.D. Cuban/Jim Luft)
Try it. You might be afraid of topping the shot, but I've yet to see any student top it with this technique."
OK, the message is pretty clear to me. In fairway sand, you do not want to hit down on the ball. Rather, try to sweep it or pick it off the sand, feeling as if you're swinging the club on a level or slightly upward approach.
Here are some thoughts from Runyan about how to handle different lies in the sand:
The deeper the ball sits in the sand, the deeper the penetration must be to move the clubhead under the ball. If you see that the lie is good, with the ball setting atop or just slightly down in the sand, you would tentatively plan to play a shot with minimal clubhead penetration. In that case, you would set the clubface slightly open at address and apply [your] normal V-shaped swing.
If the ball is half buried, you need a deeper penetration. Thus you plan to address the shot with your sand wedge square or somewhat closed to the left and/or plan on a more upright backswing and more descending downswing. Again, lean more to the left, possibly playing the ball farther back in your stance as well to increase the angle of the descent further.
If the ball is almost fully buried, I suggest you play the shot with a pitching wedge or a 9-iron. These clubs, lacking any inversion, will give you even deeper penetration. The clubhead can clear the underside of the buried ball.
I hope these thoughts from Paul Runyan help you this weekend. If you have confidence in your sand game, you can fire at more flags, knowing you have a good chance of getting the ball up and down if you end up in a bunker. Also, you can go for par 5 greens in two with the knowledge that hitting into a greenside bunker is not a bad place to be. That's the way the pros think. They often would rather be in a bunker near the green than have to pitch from the rough. Good luck with your game this weekend.
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Kevin Hinton: Much has already been written about Bill Haas' incredible splash shot from the water on the second playoff hole Sunday to stay alive against Hunter Mahan, and how he went on to win the Tour Championship.
It may not seem like a shot you would need, but there are other shots you will encounter (from land) to which you can apply the principles of Haas' water explosion shot. Haas essentially played it like a bunker shot, combined with a lot more guesswork and some good fortune. He pulled it off beautifully. Here are three greenside situations where I'd recommend taking a similar approach.
1. Pine Straw
You've hit an errant approach and your ball comes to rest on pine straw. To make matters worse, you need to hit a lofted shot because of the large bunker between you and the green. Definitely not a good situation. Low is not an option, just like it wasn't for Haas. If it were, I'd recommend you play it as a bump-and-run of sorts and take your medicine. The ball likely won't end up on the green, but the mistake will be far less penalizing. However, here you need loft. Try to do just as Haas did and play it like a long explosion shot from a bunker. You're going to get some pine straw between the ball and the clubface, so be certain to make a committed swing with some speed. Your mistake needs to be hitting down too much and coming up short. Be sure that you don't miss the pine straw and make ball-first contact. Home-runs are only good in baseball!
2. Deep Rough
A similar situation--you've missed the green and are in another unfortunate lie (think U.S Open). It's not that the shot needs to be hit with a lot of loft, but the chances of making ball-first contact are slim at best. No chance of taking a standard chipping approach. The club will get