There you are in a fairway bunker, 160 out. No big deal, right? Nice little 5-iron. But you catch it thin, and the ball crashes into the lip and rolls back down to your feet.
There are two things to remember before trying this shot: (1) Take more loft. If the yardage calls for a 5-iron but there's a lip to get over, you probably need a 7 or an 8. It's better to get out and be short of the green than to risk the ball coming back at you. (2) Stay grounded. Great fairway-bunker players have a stable lower body throughout the shot and a slight forward lean of the shaft at impact. That provides a downward strike for solid contact. Players who have a lot of body action struggle to catch the ball flush. They often look "leggy," with overactive hips and knees.
Practice the Line Drill in a fairway bunker. Draw a 10-foot line in the sand perpendicular to your stance. Place several balls on the line, and set up so your sternum is slightly ahead of it. Make three practice swings getting your divot to start at the line and go forward. (A divot before the line would be a fat shot; way past the line, a thin shot.) Then hit three balls in a row. Shift and rotate left before you accelerate the club through the sand.
HOW TO TRICK YOUR BRAIN
The big problem from fairway bunkers is that most golfers try to pick the ball clean and help it into the air. That practically guarantees a thin shot into the lip. If you were in the fairway, you'd want to make contact with the ball and then the grass, right? Same thing here. Imagine as vividly as you can the ball sitting on green grass. Then swing as you would from the fairway.
--Joe Parent, Ph.D.
TAKING ONE OFF THE BANK
At the 2003 Masters, Jeff Maggert went into the final round ahead by two shots. But his lead evaporated on the third hole when he found the fairway bunker about 100 yards from the green. His shot from the sand caught the lip, and the ball rebounded into his chest for a two-stroke penalty. Maggert managed to sink an 18-footer for triple bogey, but he went on to shoot 75 and finish fifth.
Rick Smith is a Golf Digest Teaching Professional.