Most PGA Tour bunkers are safe places for the professionals to go. They can hit high, spinning shots out of the sand and stop the ball near the pin.
It didn't work that way for Steve Wheatcroft.
Needing a birdie on the par-5 18th to get into a playoff with Jhonhattan Vegas, Wheatcroft hit his second shot into the greenside bunker. From a flat lie in the sand, Wheatcroft bladed his bunker shot over the green and into the hazard, and ended up making a bogey. It bumped him down to 10th place -- an expensive mistake.
Afterward, Wheatcroft said the bunker didn't have much sand in it, which could cause the sand wedge to bounce off the hard surface and hit the ball thin.
Golf Digest 50 Best Teacher and Tour short game teacher Kevin Weeks says there are two factors any player has to handle in that situation -- whether the bunker shot is to win a Tour event or to close out a $10 match at your regular course. "You're going to have to deal with the pressure of the situation, and you have to hit the shot the conditions dictate," says Weeks, who is based at Cog Hill Golf & Country Club in Lemont, IL. "Under pressure, your heart is going to be pumping and your hands will be shaking. That's just reality. You need to picture in your mind two or three of the same kind of shots you hit great in the past, and then go through your regular routine. Don't make the moment bigger than it is."
Mechanically, a bunker shot from a firm, less sandy lie is different than a "standard" sand shot, Weeks says. "The bounce on your sand wedge is designed to keep the club from digging. If you make a regular swing in that kind of sand, it really won't dig, and will bounce up into the ball," says Weeks. "On a firmer lie, you need to move the ball back in your stance and close the face a little to actually get the leading edge to dig more. Make a smaller swing, and plan for a shot that is going to come out lower and spin less."