*Editor's Note: Every Monday Kevin Hinton, Director of Instruction at Piping Rock Club in Locust Valley, N.Y. and one of Golf Digest's Best Young Teachers, tells you how a tour player hits a key shot. This week, Kevin describes how PGA Champion Rory McIlroy takes dead aim on his greenside bunker shots. It's not just a matter of technique, but mental approach as well. His bunker play was stellar at Kiawah's Ocean course, which at times looked like one big sand bunker. If you're going to contend on this course, you better have your bunker game in top shape. In particular, the sand shots McIlroy made on 10 (to six inches to save par) and on 16 (from well below the green, setting up birdie), were all-world considering the pressure cooker he was playing in. Here's how you can improve your bunker play.
By Kevin Hinton
*Here are a few thoughts on Rory's bunker game and what you can learn, plus a behind-the-scenes look at his personal backyard bunker course . . .
1. Make a 'normal' swing
Many of the students I see impart far too much slice spin onto their bunker shots, often because they have been taught to do so. They aim their bodies way to the left, set the clubface quite open, then cut across the ball to excess. This makes it difficult to get the ball started on the intended line. The ball will also spin to the right once it hits the green, again reducing the chances of the ball tracking toward the hole.
I find that all this effort does not seem to add that much loft to the shot, and it also presents a challenge in controlling distance when such a glancing blow is applied. I don't see tour players doing so except in extreme situations. The average player would do much better by setting the body and clubface only slightly open, and then making a normal-feeling swing.
2. Take dead aim
If your goal is to get the ball out of the bunker, that is likely the best you'll do. If your goal, however, is to hole every bunker shot, you'll likely do so quite rarely, but I guarantee you'll hit a lot more stiff. It's the same idea as when sport psychologist Dr. Bob Rotella asks his tour players to hole every shot within 100 yards. It doesn't happen that often, but setting high standards and narrowing your focus can significantly tighten your shot dispersion. A great short-game practice drill is to hit a routine greenside shot until you hole it, be it a chip, pitch or bunker shot. You'll be amazed how quickly it can happen. If you are a higher handicapper, make your goal to get the ball within a grip's length. Before long, you'll be holing out shots in practice and taking your increased confidence onto the golf course.