Blitz The Bunkers!
THE ARMS GO LEFT
First, this is Therese Koelbaek. She's a student of mine who plays the Symetra Tour. Let's look at a few things you can learn from her in the sand. Notice her right arm is across her chest here. That proves she's swinging to the left. If you swing toward the target instead, you'll tend to hit too far behind the ball. By swinging left, you keep the swing's low point more forward and can better control where you strike the sand. A good baseline is, play the ball just inside your front heel and hit a couple inches behind it.
STAY WITH THE SHOT
Therese does a great job of keeping her posture on bunker shots. You can see her upper body maintains a slight side bend as she swings through. Notice how her shoulders and eyes are still angled toward the ground. She's really staying with this shot, which allows the club to consistently smack the right amount of sand. A lot of amateurs fear the sand, so they pop up to see where the ball is going and lose this forward tilt.
EASY ON THE HIPS
Everyone's taught to finish the swing—keep turning and stand tall. Good players never do that in bunkers. To create a nice, shallow cut through the sand, your lower body should turn but not with a full unwind like you might imagine. Keeping the front knee flexed allows for just the right amount of rotation and also keeps you grounded, which is critical in the sand. If your keywords are stable and low through the ball, you'll hit a ton of good bunker shots.
You need to shift your weight forward so the club doesn't hit too far behind the ball.
CUP THE LEFT WRIST
Here Therese is making her move into the ball, after a backswing where, I promise you, she kept her arms in close to her body and her weight left. Check out the bend or cupped position in her left wrist. That keeps the clubface open, which is the key to skimming the clubhead through the sand and preventing a deep dig. If you imagine there's a mirror on the clubface, you want to make sure you can see yourself in that mirror on the backswing and as you start down. That means the face is open.
FRONT SHOULDER LOW
A lot of golfers are pulling up with the left shoulder at this point, which yanks the handle forward and dumps the clubhead into the sand too far back. Therese is keeping her left shoulder down so she can feel like she's throwing the clubhead under the ball. That throw at the bottom of the swing allows you to skid the club through the sand instead of stabbing it with the leading edge of the clubface.
DRIVE THE KNEE
Notice her left knee is flexing in the direction of her left foot, which is flared out. This ensures that her weight is moving forward, and that helps the swing bottom out in the right spot. If your weight stays back, the club enters the sand too far behind the ball. And if you don't turn out your front foot at address, it's tough to shift forward and control the club's entry point. So flare that foot, and your knee will flex in the same direction. You'll make a perfect cut in the sand and knock the ball on the green.
Jeff Ritter operates his Make the Turn performance programs at Poppy Hills Golf Course in Pebble Beach. He also hosts a weekly challenge series on GolfDigest.com that covers full-swing and short-game instruction as well as fitness, nutrition and the mental game.