The Loop

Saturday Morning Tip: Master the sand with Paul Runyan

September 30, 2011

In doing some research for an article in Golf Digest this week, I re-read the classic book by Paul Runyan: The Short Way to Lower Scoring. It reminded me once again that Runyan was a genius about the golf swing--especially about the short game. Here are a couple of quick thoughts on sand play from the man they called "Little Poison" because of the way he took down bigger and stronger players. He famously defeated Sam Snead, 8&7, in the final of the 1938 PGA Championship, even though Snead outdrove him by as much as 75 yards!


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*Runyan, shown here in the 1936 Met Open, was a master out of the sand. Photo by AP.

Here are some thoughts from Runyan about how to handle different lies in the sand:

*The deeper the ball sits in the sand, the deeper the penetration must be to move the clubhead under the ball. If you see that the lie is good, with the ball setting atop or just slightly down in the sand, you would tentatively plan to play a shot with minimal clubhead penetration. In that case, you would set the clubface slightly open at address and apply [your] normal V-shaped swing.

If the ball is half buried, you need a deeper penetration. Thus you plan to address the shot with your sand wedge square or somewhat closed to the left and/or plan on a more upright backswing and more descending downswing. Again, lean more to the left, possibly playing the ball farther back in your stance as well to increase the angle of the descent further.

If the ball is almost fully buried, I suggest you play the shot with a pitching wedge or a 9-iron. These clubs, lacking any inversion, will give you even deeper penetration. The clubhead can clear the underside of the buried ball*.

I hope these thoughts from Paul Runyan help you this weekend. If you have confidence in your sand game, you can fire at more flags, knowing you have a good chance of getting the ball up and down if you end up in a bunker. Also, you can go for par 5 greens in two with the knowledge that hitting into a greenside bunker is not a bad place to be. That's the way the pros think. They often would rather be in a bunker near the green than have to pitch from the rough. Good luck with your game this weekend.

*Roger Schiffman

Managing Editor

Golf Digest

Twitter [@RogerSchiffman