Playing on a course after a big soaker presents all kinds of challenges—thick rough, mud balls, slower greens, etc.—and one that bothers many is a bunker with firm, packed sand. Too often, golfers mistakenly use their standard greenside technique, only to watch the ball rocket over the green or plug into the lip. If the surface is more like cement than sugar, make these adjustments.
When you address the ball with your sand wedge or lob wedge, do not open the face. The club will interact with the sand somewhat like hitting off a cartpath. It's going to bounce off the surface, not dig, so keeping the face square helps avoid skulling the ball three fairways over. Your downswing needs to be steeper for the same reason, so adjust your stance until almost all your weight is on your front foot. You want to feel like you're leaning toward the target. When you swing, take the club back steeply while keeping your weight on your front foot. Then swing down so the club enters the sand no more than an inch behind the ball. Because of the thickness of the sand, your follow-through will be short, with the shaft leaning toward the target—no scooping! My final piece of advice is to swing easy. The ball is going to come out faster than a normal bunker shot.
Think, Steeper, shorter and easy.
HOW DO I FOCUS BETTER WHILE PUTTING?
This imagery might get lost on younger golfers, but a great way to improve focus when you putt is to put yourself somewhere else. What I've found that works is to imagine you're in a phone booth. In other words, completely isolated, not aware of anything but you and the ball. Don't remember phone booths? Just picture yourself in a small, dark closet where it's just you and your thoughts. I got this idea from my high school basketball days. I won a state free-throw shooting contest after studying pre-shot routines in the NBA. One technique that worked for the pros was to take yourself out of the arena and transport mentally back to the gym where you practice. It's quiet there. No fans yelling; no players jostling. Before shooting, you look down at the floor, still imagining the home court. Then you look up at the rim for a split second before shooting. It worked great. So if you're struggling on the greens, try isolating yourself mentally before you putt.
Jim McLean, a Golf Digest Teaching Professional, is based at The Biltmore in Coral Gables, Fla. His favorite charities are the Everglades Foundation and the American Lung Association.