Tag Archives: bunker shots

The Hardest Shot in Golf – Conquered!

Playing from a fairway bunker at Oyster Bay

What’s your hardest shot?  For me, it’s the long bunker shot.  You know, 50-60 yards and perhaps over another bunker or with water behind the green.  The shot places seeds of doubt in your mind and what follows is not pretty.  It’s made more difficult by the infrequency that it occurs.  I don’t practice it, will go several rounds without confronting it, and often play away from it altogether.  Yesterday, I learned how to hit it.

I had been struggling with consistency in my green-side bunker game and went to my pro for a lesson.  He had me hit a few shots to a close in flag with my lob wedge and quickly identified a flaw in technique.  I was forward pressing the grip and that was causing me to hit the shot heavy (take too much sand and leave the ball short).  The fix was to move my hands back – even or slightly behind the ball which allowed me to use the bounce in my wedge to slap the sand in a more aggressive motion.  Not very complicated and the burst of adrenaline from the “ah ha” moment teased me with anticipation.

This practice bunker has targets at 20, 40, and 60 yards and the lesson progressed into hitting shots with the new technique at varying distances.  I changed out to my 54-degree sand wedge for the longer green-side shots.  The new setup allowed me to approach with an attack mindset.  I now controlled distance with club selection, how fast I swung, how hard I hit the sand, and with the confidence that I wasn’t going to chunk or blade the shot.

In the past, my aversion to the long bunker shot was rooted in the belief that I didn’t have enough power to take sand and get the ball to the hole.  But I do!  We talked about choice of wedge for this shot and my pro said he adjusts by squaring the face on a sand wedge or gap wedge.  Gap wedge?  I had never thought of that and tried a few with the square blade at 60 yards and presto!  Never in a million years did I think I could hit an explosion and cover the distance.

We then moved to uphill, downhill, and side-hill bunker shots.  I hit a few out of footprints and learned this was an excellent way to practice.  Don’t get married to hitting simple 20-yard shots from a perfectly raked lie.  We finished up with some 9-iron, 7-iron, and 4-iron fairway bunker shots.  Of utmost importance out of the fairway bunkers is to keep your lower body and your head as still as possible.  I made good contact on most of these but without the lower body rotation, pulled them a bit.  I learned I need to aim a little right and allow for it.

Finally, we dialoged set make-up.  I recently purchased a TaylorMade M6 3-hybrid and had been considering dropping a wedge to get to 14 clubs.  He advised against this because the wedges are key in scoring situations which should be my top priority.  We agreed I should remove my 3-iron instead.

This was a fantastic learning experience.  My only regret was that a steady wind was blowing in our face for the entire lesson.  After nearly a hundred balls I was caked; but was beaming with confidence. 😊

What is your toughest shot to execute?  Need any help with that?

Play well!

 

Book review: The Art of the Short Game by Stan Utley

I read The Art of the Short Game (Gotham Books – 2007) over the Christmas holiday and actually tried out the techniques at my local muni’s practice green, and wow!  YOU NEED TO GET THIS BOOK!   Those who follow this blog know I’m a big proponent of short game and continuously look for and share valid methods for improvement.  The infusion of life this book had on my chipping and pitching technique was remarkable.

Stan Utley is a journeyman pro turned short game/putting guru, and has put together a system that simplifies the approach to playing chips, pitches and bunker shots that’s easy to implement and is tremendously effective.  In two hours of practice I found my distance control and consistency of contact and direction significantly improved.   For chipping and pitching, Utley’s main premise is to keep everything square to the target line (club face, hands, feet, knees, shoulders) and make a mini-golf swing that includes a pivot.  This is counter to a lot of conventional chipping advice whereby you play from an open stance, keep the ball back and the lower body still and essentially make a arm swing with a short iron.  He also advocates using your sand wedge for all shots around the green rather than switching clubs based on the distance required for carry and roll.  This was a significant paradigm shift for me but after practicing with the altered technique, I was easily able to control the distance on longer chips with my 56 degree wedge.

The pitch is simply a longer extension of the chip, with a bit more pivot supplying the power.  Admittedly, the 30-40 yard sand wedge shot is the weakest part of my game but I was able to dial in amazingly well with the technique.  I was not able to practice the bunker play recommendations and they are significantly different from conventional advice.  I would advise to first spend some time on the chipping technique and convince yourself the method works before moving to pitching and bunker play.  So get the book,  you will not regret it.  Here are my practice notes for the chipping techniques just to get you started.  Good luck!  Now go wear out your carpet.

  1. Setup with a neutral grip with the Vs in both hands pointing towards your right collarbone.
  2. Square the club face at the target
  3. Play from a square stance; it’s okay to flare out your left toe for comfort
  4. Position the ball in the middle of your stance, not in the back
  5. Shade 2/3 of your weight on your forward foot and keep it there throughout the shot
  6. Forward press your hands so they are even with your front thigh
  7. Allow for a small hip turn away from the ball on the back swing
  8. Initiate the downswing with your hips turning slightly toward the target
  9. Your hands will naturally be pulled toward the target and lead the club face towards solid contact.