Phil has great sand technique because his full swing is long and smooth.
If you look at great bunker players—and Phil Mickelson (above) is one of the all-time best—you'll see they make a long, smooth motion with lots of zip at the bottom. Phil's regular swing is long and flowing, so he's a natural in the sand. But there's no reason you shouldn't hit great bunker shots, too. Just make your normal full swing and hit the sand instead of the ball.
Play the ball just forward of center in your stance, and favor your front foot. Hover the clubhead about three inches behind the ball—where you want to enter the sand. Open the clubface slightly to take advantage of the bounce feature on the bottom of your sand wedge. Then visualize that you're splashing the sand and the ball onto the green. Don't let any bad thoughts creep in. Make a full swing, thump the sand, and pose your finish.
Most golfers would do well to have one reliable shot from the sand. But if you're a better player, you want to develop a short bunker shot for when the hole is close. First, play the ball farther forward in your stance and tilt the shaft away from the target—that will set up a higher, softer shot. Control the distance by making a shorter follow-through. You still need plenty of speed to plow through the sand, so don't quit on it before impact. But a cut-off finish will limit how far the ball goes.
Butch Harmon is based at Rio Secco Golf Club outside Las Vegas.