Alternative method of playing bunker shots - More than one way out
As a PGA Professional of some 40 years, I thought it unlikely that there would ever be any significant changes in swing technique or method. That is a dangerous assumption for a coach; it is vital to a teacher’s development to keep abreast of “new” ideas and innovative swing theories. Be it the “Rotary” swing, “Stack&Tilt” or “One Plane/Two Plane” methods, there is always something to be gleaned that is useful and helps me improve as a coach. To that end, it is vital to keep an open mind and learn from fellow professionals.
They say ‘originality is the art of concealing one’s source’. So, I would like to thank the eminent short-game coach, Gary Smith, for introducing me to a very different bunker technique a couple of years ago. When Gary first demonstrated what he called the ‘Radial’ sand shot, it seemed to go against everything I had ever been taught. In fact, it seemed a perfect recipe to hit a “shank”! It took me quite a while to get my head around it, but I could not deny how dramatic and effective the results were. Gary taught me how to play this shot, but I had to understand why it worked before I could embrace it wholeheartedly.
So, I ask you the reader to give me the benefit of the doubt whilst I teach you the “Rotary” Bunker shot – I promise that it will be worth it! But first, let’s recap on a tried and tusted technique you are no doubt familiar with...
THE INDUSTRY “STANDARD” BUNKER SHOT
Every manual ever written about teaching golf has taught us to play the majority of bunker shots around the green from an ‘open’ stance (i.e. feet, knees, hips and shoulders all running on a line aligned left of the target). Used in conjunction with a short, upright sand iron, the golfer was programmed to do the following;
- To swing across the ball strongly from “out-to-in”
- To employ plenty of wrist cock or hinge
- To make a steep angle of attack to impact
- To cut across the ball describing a fairly “straight-line path”
This method has served us well for decades, so I am not suggesting for one minute that we discard it. Rather, the new “Rotary” bunker shot that I am going to demonstrate for you (overleaf) is an additional technique to be used when appropriate. The conventional “out-to-in” style of bunker shot was always considered to be quite a difficult technique to master on long bunker shots of 40 to 70 yards. The “Rotary” sand shot is more versatile, and can be used for very delicate bunker splash shots to the longer, intermediate shots of over 40 yards or so.
The main difficulty of a “steep” angle of attack in the downswing is judging how much sand to take behind the ball. An inch or so out can easily lead to heavy or thin bunker shots; it is very easy to “stall” the clubhead on gentle shots and difficult to take little sand on long shots. The “Rotary” bunker shot changes all that!
THE “ROTARY” BUNKER SHOT IS PLAYED IN A ROUNDABOUT WAY
Here is the address position for the ‘Rotary’ bunker shot; it is played from a wide stance with the weight leaning heavily to my left side. The ball is positioned well forward, opposite my left heel; I will explain why in just a minute!
The biggest difference is the fact that I am playing from an absolutely square stance. The straight white rod is parallel to the ball/target line. You might also be wondering what in the world the curved, D-shaped semi-hoop denotes.
The D-shaped curve denotes the fact that the club head is going to be swung back, around my body in the backswing, and returned back around my body on the follow-through. So rather than a very steep out-to-in angle of attack, the clubhead will approach the ball at a very shallow angle. The cutting action will describe a circular path, rather like that of a scythe through grass.
Now we understand the reason for leaning so heavily onto my left foot at address; the shallow angle of attack can enter the sand precisely. If I did not lean to my left I would strike the sand centrally in my stance; leaning left helps me to deliver the leading edge of the sand iron very precisely an inch or two behind the ball. So, here are the first things we need to adjust our mindset towards:
- Address the ball with a “square” stance
- Play the ball well forward, inside the left instep
- Swing the club flat behind you in the backswing
- Swing the club around and across the ball in the through-swing
Now, I know what you are thinking: “Isn’t that a perfect recipe for a shank or a Chinese hook? I cannot blame you, as that is exactly what went through my mind, the first time I saw this technique!
WE MUST KEEP THE THUMBS UP IF THIS TECHNIQUE IS GOING TO WORK!
This ‘Rotary’ bunker technique is based totally on rotating the chest to the right in the backswing and then rotating even more strongly in the throughswing. It is absolutely vital that the forearms do not rotate during the backswing and follow-through.
(1) As you can see, in the sequence of shots from down-the-line without a club (above) my thumbs are up at address.
(2) I turn my torso and chest to my right – see how my thumbs are still pointing vertically at the completion of the backswing.
[NOTE: In the inset picture I am demonstrating a disastrous rolling of my thumbs and forearms. The key to the Rotary sand shot is that we turn the body but stop the forearms from rotating!]
(3) Like at address, my thumbs are up at impact, demonstrating that the leading edge of the sand iron will be square or very slightly open as it impacts the sand behind the ball. Again, it is vital not to roll the forearms but to keep the chest and torso turning strongly around to face the target. It is this torso rotation that allows the forearms to remain passive, causing the clubhead to cut across the ball with a circular, scything action.
Also, the bounce of the club is retained; rolling the forearms would cause the club to dig into the sand. It is the passive nature of the forearms that ensures a shallow angle of attack and keeps the clubface moving sweetly through the sand.
(4) In the follow-through my thumbs are still up in the same way as the shaft of the sand iron would be vertical. I can only achieve this by ensuring that my torso rotates through impact and leaves my chest pointing towards the flag at the finish of the shot.
THE ROTATION OF THE UPPER BODY IS THE KEY TO THIS SAND SHOT
ADDRESS: So here is the address position for the ‘Rotary’ bunker shot. My stance is square or parallel to the target line; it is a wide stance where my weight heavily favours my left foot. The key is to keep the weight over on left foot throughout the backswing; there is no need for weight shift with this technique. This factor ensures that the leading edge of the sand iron can enter the sand with precision. Centred weight dispersion will cause you to strike the sand too far behind the ball.
HALFWAY BACK: I turn my shoulder line, torso and chest around and behind me in the takeaway. There must be zero forearm rotation and there is also no need for excessive wrist hinge or wrist cock; the wrists can be really quite passive but certainly not stiff.
TOP OF THE BACKSWING. I have coiled my shoulders and torso through a full 90 degrees; the club is ‘toe-up’, to use a phrase. If the face were pointing skywards at this point, it would be a disaster. This rotary bunker shot is all about body rotation going back and an equally strong one through the ball.
IMPACT: Re-rotating the chest and torso through impact is vital; you can play very delicate sand shots without the clubhead stalling at impact. The key is in the acceleration through – just keep turning that chest back and around to face the target.
THROUGH: See how the clubface is slipping across the ball with a circular cutting action. The clubface stays facing the target however; when the ball lands it will release forward rather than spinning sideways.
FULL FOLLOW-THROUGH: Shaft is now pretty vertical and my chest and torso are fully facing the target – just enjoy the view as the ball lands softly by the pin.
As I said at the outset, this article might seem contrary to everything we’ve been taught in the past. It took me some time to understand why it works and still longer to develop the belief to use it.