The Loop

Saturday Morning Tip: Escaping a steep bunker

February 25, 2011

It wasn't a Saturday morning; it was a Monday morning. And I remember it like it was yesterday morning, even though it was in 1983 at the U.S. Open at Oakmont. Due to severe weekend weather, the final round of the tournament was finishing a day late. Tom Watson was in a fierce battle with Larry Nelson, who was playing ahead. On the short par-4 17th, the pin was cut on the right side of the green, and Watson fired at the flag. His ball ended up short-sided in a steep bunker to the right of the green. I was standing nearby, just inside the gallery ropes, and from my great vantage point I could see no way for Watson to get his bunker shot close. But Tom hit a miraculous shot, the ball floating out softly, then spinning to within a few feet of the hole. He had a tricky sidehill putt, which he lipped out, losing the championship to Nelson.

But I'll never forget that shot. Interestingly, Tom clearly remembers it as well. He referred to it in a tip he did with Nick Seitz in the September 2008 issue of Golf Digest. Check out the tip below, play some great golf this weekend and remember to follow me on Twitter @RogerSchiffman.

*Roger Schiffman

Managing Editor

Golf Digest*

In a deep greenside bunker like the one I'm[#image: /photos/55ad731aadd713143b424940]|||Thumbnail image for 31107227e24e5ebc71be9ee3b49229f6.jpg|||

trying to escape from here, I take a weak grip and open the clubface even more than 45 degrees. Then I hinge my wrists early and swing the club up outside my normal arc--much like Fred Couples does on his typical swing. I keep the clubface open through impact by holding on firmly with the last three fingers of my left hand.

The bunker in the photo here is on the 200-yard, uphill 17th hole at The Conservatory in Palm Coast, Fla., a course I designed. This British-style pot bunker protects the front-left of the green. You can play to the right side safely, but you'll leave yourself a long putt on most days.

I once faced a tough, deep-bunker shot on another 17th hole, at Oakmont during the 1983 U.S. Open. I made the kind of vertical swing described above, sliced under the ball, and it came out high and rolled to about five feet. I lipped out the putt but remember that shot as one of my best.

(Photo: Dom Furore)