Bend your knee
This setup key led to Viktor Hovland’s 'hallelujah' bunker moment
After three PGA Tour wins and a standout pperformance at the Ryder Cup, it’s hard to believe there was a time that Viktor Hovland’s short game, in his own words, "sucked."
Hovland has talked a lot about his wedge transformation and even shared a few of his tips for improving around the green. But according to him, one of his biggest "hallelujah" moments was when he dialed in his sand game.
On a recent episode of The Smylie Show, Hovland recounted a time when he was even contemplating not competing in the Memorial Tournament, an event he won this year, because of the difficult bunkers that line nearly every fairway and green at Muirfield Village Golf Club.
“I just had no chance,” Hovland said, “In those bunkers you’re always going to be on a downslope, and if you can’t catch the ball cleanly out of the bunkers, you’re not stopping the ball on the green.”
This was a problem for Hovland, who was chunking his sand shots at the time, something that might sound familiar to many amateurs.
Hovland attempted to correct the issue by using his upper body to control the speed of the shot. But, it wasn’t until Hovland teamed up with Golf Digest Best in State Teacher Joe Mayo, his current coach, that he had his breakthrough.
Together, they reinvented Hovland’s short game approach by introducing more "spin loft" to these short touch shots. You can read a more in-depth explanation of spin loft here, but in simplest terms, Hovland began swinging down on the ball with a steeper angle of attack.
While spin loft was the cause of Hovland's breakthrough in the bunker, he also shared a setup key that has played a crucial role in his successful sand game.
The Key: Bending his lead knee
During his interview with Smylie Kauffman, Hovland mentions how important it is that he maintains a bend in his lead knee through the finish.
This position is worth copying because it helps keep your weight forward throughout the entire shot—which Hovland says is key to pulling off any bunker shot.
It’s hard to throw your clubface or release the club properly if your weight isn't already forward, Hovland says.
That’s because weight in the front leg creates a fixed point for you to rotate around. Which eliminates sway from your sand shots and produces more consistent strikes.
A bent lead knee also opens up your stance, making it easier to rotate around your post leg and turn through the shot completely. A simple change that will make a big difference if you have a tendency to hang back on bunker shots.
Lastly, bending your lead knee will increase your stability. If you watch the clip above, you’ll see how little Hovland’s head moves when he makes his swing—something most amateurs should strive for into their bunker game.
Most amateurs bob up and down when hitting sand shots, a move that’s often exaggerated under pressure. While this might feel like you’re hitting down on it, the vertical movement is actually causing you to lunge at the ball. Which leads to frustrating inconsistencies from the sand. It’s probably why you chunk one then thin the next.
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