How He Hit That: The fairway bunker shot that Rocked Tiger
*Editor's Note: Regular readers of the Instruction Blog have come to appreciate the weekly analysis provided by Kevin Hinton, the Director of Instruction at Piping Rock Club in Locust Valley, N.Y. and one of Golf Digest's Best Young Teachers. This week, Hinton examines the crucial fairway bunker shot Robert Rock knocked to within eight feet for a birdie 3 on the 14th hole. The shot, while playing head to head with Tiger Woods, propelled Rock to a dramatic one-stroke victory over Rory McIlroy in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship in the United Emirates.
*__Here's Kevin:__Robert Rock's fairway bunker shot on the 14th hole of the final round was a key to his win. Rock hit a pure 6-iron from 190 yards to eight feet, then rolled in his birdie putt and cruised to victory despite a shaky bogey on the final hole. Rock went on to birdie the 16th as well with another great iron shot. Let's take a closer look at Rock's stellar fairway bunker shot, which can be seen in the video here.
*Photo by Getty Images
The first thing to remember in playing a fairway bunker shot is that it is not at all similar to how a greenside bunker shot is played. In a greenside bunker, your goal is to hit the sand, not the ball, and have the sand propel the ball onto the green (see Mark Wilson's holed bunker shot from last week's "How he hit that"). In a fairway bunker it is essential to contact the ball first, then the sand. If there is any sand between the ball and the clubface at impact you'll lose considerable distance. Rock's contact had to be perfect to hit a 6-iron 190 yards from a bunker. Here are the keys to good fairway bunker play...
At address, dig your feet into the sand enough to solidify your base. Because you've effectively lowered yourself, be sure to grip down a bit on the club. Play the ball in the middle of your stance, with the shaft and weight leaning slightly toward the target. Be careful not to overdo this. Otherwise you'll create too steep an angle of attack into the sand. In general, your setup should feel quite "normal."
For the average player, it's a good idea to take one extra club. This will allow for a slight mis-hit, as well as encouraging a more controlled swing. Rock hitting 6-iron from 190 obviously was a full swing. One thing that Rock does well is keep his body very stable in his backswing.
This is a great thing to copy, and it is especially helpful in fairway bunkers. Do your best to keep your left foot on the ground, and maintain the spacing between your knees. I've heard players say they imagine they are standing on ice and don't want to slip...I really like this image to promote a stable lower body in the backswing.
I feel the most important aspect to the downswing is to create a "shallow" angle of attack into the ball. Your margin for error is dramatically reduced if you hit down too sharply into the sand. It is much better to err on the side of picking the ball out of the bunker. A slightly thin shot will work fine unless you have a steep lip to hit over. If you imagine the letters "V" and "U," try to make the bottom of your swing look more like a "U." That will encourage a shallow approach into the ball. Notice how Rock barely took any sand.
__ Finish __
Make certain to get to a full finish, just like you would on a normal shot off of turf. I often see people staying completely flat-footed throughout the swing, never getting off the back foot. This will lead to fat shots.
Finally, while Tiger was the spectator today of Rock's bunker shot, he knows something about how to hit a world-class fairway bunker shots himself. Tiger's shot at the Canadian Open in 2000 is one of the memorable fairway bunker shots included in the compilation below. Many people rank it as one of the best shots of his career.