Why'd I Do That?

By Rick Smith Illustrations by Paul Blow
January 19, 2015

"In the sand, you want to hit it fat. The question is, how fat?"

There's probably no shot in golf that makes you want to disappear faster than leaving a ball in a bunker. You dump it weakly into the lip, and as it rolls back down the slope, you have to jump out of the way. Sometimes it hops into one of your footprints. Not fun.

Maybe you were afraid of blading it, or you got too cute (trying to just clear the lip), or you simply don't have a decent concept of what to do. Good news: A sand explosion shot is a controlled fat shot, so it's easier to execute than a pitch from turf.

Here are the basics:

(1) Take a wide stance so your setup feels stable.

(2) Stay centered over the ball as you swing back.

(3) Keeping your lower body firm, release the clubhead down and through the sand.

(4) Make sure to hit the sand an inch or two behind the ball and accelerate to the finish.

To practice, push a tee down into the sand so only its top is exposed, and set a ball on it. Open your stance (aiming left of the target), then open the clubface (aiming at the target). Swing back and through, using the bottom of the club to dislodge the tee. The ball, tee and sand will come out together. Remember this tee image on the course.



Pilots train for emergencies so they don't panic under pressure. Leaving the ball in the bunker is a golf emergency. You need a bulletproof, go-to process. I like S.F.T. (See, Feel and Trust). It's a pre-determined decision that trumps panic. You see success, not disaster; feel calm, not tense; and trust, instead of doubt. Every week, tour players practice lots of sand shots. If they dump one during a round, they recover.

—David Cook, Ph.D., Author of Golf's Sacred Journey



In the final round of the 2004 Masters, Phil Mickelson put his approach to the fifth green into a bunker. He attempted a full explosion shot, but the ball hit the lip and stayed in the hazard. (He later said he underestimated the thickness of the sand.) Undaunted, Phil adjusted, and his next swing—bigger and with more speed—sent the ball out. He saved bogey and went on to win his first green jacket.