I play a lot of golf with my students, and I watch them closely when their ball is heading toward a bunker. Their reactions range from simple inquiry ("Did I make the sand?") to panic ("Did it stay out?") to the grim and desperate ("Noooo!"). Most amateurs, sad to say, are at the wrong end of the scale.
If you despise these hazards, I'll tell you what I tell my bunker-hating students: It's not your technique; it's tension that's holding you back. Get rid of tension, and the technique comes out. So here's a relaxation cue: You can miss the shot and still come away with a good result. In fact, you can hit one, two, three, four inches behind the ball and put it on the green. Now that's stress free!
Using visualization works, too. Picture you're splashing a handful of sand onto the green (above). Can you do that if you chop down steeply? No. Can you do that if you quit on the shot? No. That simple thought—a handful of sand onto the green—keeps the club skimming through the sand and accelerating to the finish.
Having good feel also helps, so imagine what the club needs to do through the sand. Grab your sand wedge and make a few practice swings outside the bunker, trying to brush through the rough—no divots, just sweep with speed. Then get in the sand and repeat.
Back to your shot process, let me be clear: I'm not talking about the mental game, as in staying focused. Hell no, sand shots are emotional. You have stress, which causes a steep swing that crashes into the sand. You have to push out bad thoughts with positive feelings.
Remember, you get to miss it, as long as you keep up some speed and splash sand onto the green. You'll experience success, and as fast as you got that bad mojo, you'll turn it around. So go hit some good ones.
Will Robins, a Golf Digest Best Young Teacher, is based in Folsom, Calif.
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