Finding your ball in a greenside
trap fill you with dread?
Help is at hand. In the first
part of our new instruction
series written by ladies for
ladies, Lynn McCool, Director
of Golf and Head Professional
at the wonderful Lough Erne
Resort in Northern Ireland,
explains why learning to generate
more clubhead speed
through the sand is the secret
to escaping successfully first
time, every time.
It doesn’t matter whether you are eight or eighty
years old, the one thing that the average lady club
golfer has in common with all her counterparts is
the belief that you can use the same technique as
you would to chip the ball from greenside grass to
play a regular bunker shot. Wrong. The simple reality
is that if you want to glide the clubhead through
the sand beneath the ball – your No.1 objective
here – you have to commit to accelerating the
clubhead through impact at significant speed.
Speed is of the essence: a commitment
to accelerating the clubhead
all the way through the
sand – extending the arms free –
produces the desired result.While there are the obvious benefits of clubhead
speed for generating power and distance off the
tee, few ladies appreciate that it is also required to
play bunker shots successfully. Without acceleration
to a completed follow-through it is virtually
impossible to splash the ball out of the bunker and
onto the green with any sort of consistency.
In fact lady golfers aren’t alone in fearing the
dreaded sand shot; there are plenty of men who
avoid going into bunkers at all costs, too. Even
though men have greater natural strength and
therefore the ability to generate clubhead speed,
many don’t realise that they need to use this in a
bunker and attempt to play sand shots with a delicate
action that inevitably fails to get the ball out.
So, the key to successful sand shots is acceleration
with good arm extension – never quit.
As with every shot in golf it is important to
remind yourself of the basics, so I’m going to give
you a refresher course in the fundamentals that will
make the greenside sand shot easy. After that a
selection of simple drills that you can practice to
improve your clubhead speed. As you’re about to
discover, once you learn to accelerate the clubhead
through the sand you’ll never panic when
faced with a bunker shot again.
The Set Up
There are four fundamentals that you must get
right in order to address the ball correctly in the
1. Select your sand wedge and grip down the
handle about three inches, this will promote
2. Shuffle your feet down into sand. This will
enable you to feel the texture of the sand and get
some idea as to its consistency – i.e. deep or
shallow, fine or heavy. It also gives your stance a
solid base and prevents the feet from shifting as
you make your swing, which is easily done on a
soft, unstable surface. This stable base will also
help lower your centre of gravity closer to the
sand, giving you a much greater chance of
splashing the ball out on a bed of sand.
3. Position the ball between the centre of your
stance and left heel. This is a detail you should
experiment with until you find the position that
matches up with the bottom of your swing arc,
thus enabling you to slide the clubface underneath
the ball. [With the ball too far back
you will be prone to hitting bunker shots
‘heavy’ as the club will still be on its
descent; conversely, play the ball too
far forward you are likely to thin a lot
of these shots as the club is travelling
‘on the up’.
4. Hover the club above the ball. A
common mistake many golfers make is
to hover the club directly behind the ball
just above the sand. This encourages a shallow
takeaway and makes it difficult to get the
club travelling on the correct steep path in
the backswing. By hovering the club
three inches directly above the ball you
will naturally pick the club up steeper.
Alignment & Aim
The ideal set up for a sand shot is to aim the
body just a touch left of the flag, perhaps
between 10 and 20 degrees, the leading edge of
the club pointing at the target. What you don’t
want to do is exaggerate this adjustment, so that
you end up with your body aiming way to the left
of the target (framed red above – a common fault
that makes it very difficult to synchronise the
movement of your arms and body).
In reality modern sand wedges have such a
good design that if you want to keep things really
simple you can address the bunker shot with
your stance and clubface virtually square to the
target and there will still be plenty of ‘bounce’ in
effect to ensure the clubhead glides through the
sand and the ball pops out.
Most important of all, once you are set up and
ready to go, remember to engage your wrists
early so that you pick the club up a little steeper
in the backswing than usual – this will ensure that
you create the angle necessary to slap the flange
of the sand iron into the sand, literally removing a
divot of sand from beneath the ball.
If you master the basics and work on your speed drills
you will soon discover a renewed confidence in your
sand play. The next step is to add finesse and learn to
control the landing distance on the green. So let me
leave you with a couple of ideas to experiment with,
two key factors influence distance control: (1) the
length of your swing and (2) the amount of sand you
take from beneath the ball. Make a mental note, however,
that your swing tempo must remain constant.
Even for a shorter bunker shot you must still be
aggressive and accelerate through the sand.
The simplest method of controlling the distance your
bunker shots travel is to alter the length of your backswing.
I like to use three different length swings – half,
three-quarter and full. These give me the versatility to
play every bunker shot, from the pin being placed
close to the edge of the bunker all the way the back of
the green. Regardless of the length of your backswing
you must maintain an even tempo and accelerate
through the sand into a full finish.
2. Regulate the amount of sand you take
A more advanced technique involves regulating the
amount of sand that you take. This requires a good
deal of practice, and there’s a very effective way of
going about it: draw two lines in the sand perpendicular
to the direction of your target, as you see above.
The first line represents your point of entry; the second
indicates where the ball would be positioned. Set up
with the club hovered above that first line and work on
your technique until you can produce a set of consistent
sand divots. The more sand you take before the
ball the shorter your shots and the less sand you take
before sliding beneath the ball the further your shots
will travel. Over time you will develop a significant
sense of feel for the depth of sand taken.
As I’ve said already, the absolute key to playing
bunker shots successfully is to be aggressive
with your attack. Don’t be afraid of hitting
the sand but be positive and swing the club
with total commitment.
“Work on the speed drills to
build confidence in striking the
sand – when you then play
the shot for real the ball will
float out on a cushion of sand
every time”You don’t need to
worry about the ball travelling too far; the sand
acts as a cushion, absorbing the power. The
following drills will train you to become aggressive
with your approach to bunker shots, accelerating
through the sand rather than quitting.
1. Tee to target
Replace your golf ball with a tee peg turned
upside down and positioned in the middle of
your stance. Taking your regular set-up, practice
splashing the tee peg out of the bunker.
This tiny target really grabs your attention and
helps you to focus on hitting a specific point
in the sand. Believe it or not, you’ll actually
have to be more aggressive to splash a tee
peg onto the green than a golf ball, as
although it is lighter, it won’t travel as far!
2. Sand blast!
Another very simple drill involves no object at
all – simply practice splashing the sand out of
the bunker and onto the green. Use your new
committed swing and really get the clubhead
gliding through the sand. Extend your arms
towards the target in the throughswing and
watch the sand fly up into the air.
3. Splash a coin
Place a coin in the centre of your stance
where the ball would be positioned and practice
splashing it out onto the green. Because
the coin is flat the club will be forced to
slide beneath the coin, collecting it on
a bed of sand and floating it out
onto the green. When you have
mastered this action replace the
coin with a golf ball and you’ll
instantly notice the difference.
Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine