Short Game

Why Did I Skull Into A Water Hazard?

By Jim McLean Illustrations by Francesco Bongiorni
June 01, 2014

Isn't it funny—not ha-ha funny—when there's one shot you absolutely must not hit, and it's the one you can count on hitting? Case in point: You're in a greenside bunker with water on the other side of the green. The shot that ends things in a hurry is the head-high skull into the drink. You'd be better off leaving the ball in the sand, although that gives you another chance to skull it—might not like those odds.

I learned a lot of bunker technique from Claude Harmon and Ken Venturi. They advocated taking more sand rather than less. When you know you're going to take a chunk of sand, you can give these shots the big swing they need. Try these tips:

1. Set the clubface square. There's no need to open the face because sand wedges today are built with plenty of bounce on the bottom of the clubhead. And no need to cut across the ball, either. Play it like a normal pitch from the grass.

2. Enter the sand farther behind the ball. Even tour pros take more sand than they realize on greenside bunker shots. Traditional instruction says to hit an inch behind the ball, but I like three or four.

3. Make a full turn back and be aggressive. If you get No. 2 right, you'll learn to trust you can take a swing at it. A big windup will give you room to accelerate and power through the sand, sending the ball out safely.



For any tough shot, the key is being ready to hit it. That means practice. For this shot (see illustration, above), find a bunker with trouble over the green. It could be woods, even the club patio—OK, maybe not, but you get the idea. Create a routine where you visualize the shot before you get over the ball. Then, when you step in to hit it, have the discipline to look where you want the ball to go without anything else entering your mind (like dunking it into the water).

—*Dr. Bob Rotella*


Rory McIlroy made the hacker mistake of skulling a sand shot at the 2013 WGC-Match Play. In the first round against Shane Lowry, McIlroy was 1 down when he hit into desert scrub near the 15th green. Forced to play his next shot lefty, he hit it into a bunker. McIlroy boned the sand shot 20 yards over the green, and walked right to the next tee, conceding the hole. He lost the match 1 down.

Jim McLean is a Golf Digest Teaching Professional.