I'm going to assume you don't need my advice to hit a putt solidly. That's pretty easy to do. But what about the rest of your game? If you're honestly assessing it, are you making great contact most of the time on your drives, irons, pitches, chips and bunker shots? Yep, you can hit bunker shots solidly—you're just hitting the sand, not the ball. And the same logic applies: Better contact means better results. So instead of worrying about whether your left arm is straight during the backswing or some other swing thought, let's get your focus back to where it should be during a swing—hitting the ball with the center of the clubface. Here I'll give you advice on how to do that, and how to play better from the sand.
IMPROVE YOUR SEQUENCING
Golf is a lot more fun when you're hitting your driver solidly. Players who struggle with this club typically have sequencing issues—the upper body is too involved at the start of the downswing. That forces the club into a steep, out-to-in path, and the ball is struck with a glancing blow.
I advise you to routinely check your driver's face to see where your impact was. If it's “toey” a lot, try to make sure your chest stays in the top-of-backswing position a beat or two longer. To get a feel for that, make swings with your driver on an upslope; no ball needed. The goal is to brush the ground then clip the tee. If your club crashes into the ground behind the tee, or the tee flies to the left, you're upper body is still leading the downswing. Instead, hold it off for a count, and feel your lower body shift up the slope first.
An arms-only swing leads to fat and thin chips. You've got to get your body moving to chip effectively.
To train the body pivot, place a tee in your armpit closest to the target. Swing back and through trying to keep it there. You will if your arms and body move as one.
“Skilled iron play is about hitting it flush from all sorts of lies.”
How often do you hit the same iron from the same lie in the same round? There's always some variance once you're off the tee. That's why hitting it flush from the fairway or rough is all about adaptability.
Try this drill to assess how well you adjust. Drop three balls that come to rest in your hitting area. Now try to strike each one as solidly as you can without changing anything but the club's position at address. You'll soon find you have better awareness of how to swing to get the club to bottom out in front of each ball. This drill prepares you for how to adapt to get solid contact every time you swing.
CONTROL THE FACE
Many greenside sand shots get thinned into the bunker's face. The problem often stems from trying to maintain a wide-open clubface throughout the swing. I know, I know; you were told to do that. But the thing is, if you leave the face wide open, you've got to make a pretty aggressive swing to get the ball out. And for many golfers, a big swing leads to inconsistency.
Instead, try hitting bunker shots with a closed clubface at address. If you keep your grip pressure medium to light, the club will open as it moves through the sand, and you'll hit a solid shot with far less effort.
RENEE TRUDEAU O'HIGGINS is a Golf Digest Best Young Teacher. She is based at Quail West Golf and Country Club in Naples, Fla.