Michael Thompson hit one of golf’s hardest shots perfectly when he needed to most
Michael Thompson clips his bunker shot perfectly on the 16th hole of the final round of the 2020 3M Open to set up a crucial birdie.
(Photo by Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
They say that tournament golf at the highest level reveals a player's weaknesses. And few shots test even the world's top players like the long greenside bunker shot Michael Thompson faced on Sunday at the 16th hole of the 3M Open, with water beyond the green and the tournament on the line.
Playing something from the sand 40 yards from the target is tricky because it's in the "dead zone." First off, it's hard to commit to a technique. Do you blast it out, or do you play it like a pitch shot? Second, it's a shot few players practice very often. Even tour players experience a shot like Thompson's just a handful of times per year, and many club players don't even have a place they can practice something like that.
So what do you do if it happens to you?
"The main thing most amateur players struggle with—even on shorter greenside bunker shots—is incorporating the entire body into the swing," says Golf Digest 50 Best Teacher Michael Jacobs. "They try to freeze the lower body and hit this shot with all arms—either because they're trying to be 'precise' about where they hit the sand or because they're freaked out and don't know what to do."
Instead, approach this shot the same way you would one from intermediate rough the same distance—where you would be cognizant of having to swing hard enough to get the club to and through the ball. "What you want to notice about this shot, Michael hits a long-distance splash shot with a full-range body motion, " says Jacobs. "I tell my students to think of cutting the ball out of the sand with their body, as if there was a clubhead attached to the center of their chest. That gets you making the dynamic motion you need to produce enough speed to get the ball to the target."
Do it right and you'll get it not just on the green, but in a place where you can lock down your match—or, in Thompson's case, the tournament. Thompson hit his to two feet on the drivable par-4 and made birdie to give himself a one-shot cushion before door-slamming with another birdie on 18 to win by two.