Bunker shots can be, for some, one of the most misunderstood shots in all of golf. I haven’t written anything in a while that golfers or coaches could use to improve a certain aspect of their game. So, here’s an installment that I use to teach beginners the concept for what needs to happen in the green side bunker.
In my experience, very few beginning players have a good concept (an idea stolen recently from Meindert Jan Boekel(Thank You)) of exactly what they are trying to learn and accomplish with that shot. They’ve heard that it is different than all the other shots but not exactly sure what that difference is. The truth is that the shot is very similar to other shots but we miss the ball on purpose. So, here’s what I do.
The most important concept that the player needs to understand is sand control. By sand control, I mean the rate, the length it flies and the amount to name a few. The player needs to learn what things effect the aforementioned items and how those items affect what happens to the ball. Because the club and ball never make contact (sand squeezed between ball and club face like grass, thanks to Cameron McCormick), the player needs to understand how what they have done to the sand will affect the shots outcome.
I typically start off with how far the sand flies. I get players in the bunker and ask them to make some sand fly as far across the green as they can make it. Pretty quickly they figure out that the less sand they hit, the farther that sand will fly. Along with that, the faster the club is going the farther the sand will go. So I ask them, which sand is moving faster? The sand that goes far or the sand that goes short? Some get it right and some get it wrong but the answer is the sand that goes farther. So, in this first exercise, they start to piece together the concept that the less sand taken, the faster that sand is moving for the same club speed. They also learn that the shorter the sand flies the slower it was moving. This demonstrates how carry distance is created in the greenside bunker.
Next I explain the bounce, which you can read about here, and how that effects the sand. I ask them to try shots both ways (with bounce exposed and without) so they can see what effects it has to the sand itself and how the club interacts with the sand. Again, the whole exercise is designed to show the player how the sand reacts to different things. In this case, it’s the club shape. How does more or less bounce change the amount of sand taken and the rate that sand is moving?
The last thing I work on with beginners is where they enter the sand. I will draw a line in the sand and ask them to enter the sand where the line is. Where the club exits the sand is not important at this time. I’ll ask them to change the amount of sand they take when hitting the line and change the length they throw the sand when hitting the line. Now, they may not be able to do these things right away, but once again, this is an exercise in concept. I will offer set up advice at this time as well but won’t go into that for this post.
Before we try a shot, I want them to understand the concept behind how the shot works. I ask them, if you want the ball to carry farther do you want the sand to go faster or slower? I ask them, if you want the ball to carry farther do you want to take more sand or less sand? I ask them, if they want the ball to carry farther do you want the ball closer to the line or farther away? The first two, they usually get right away. The last one usually takes a little thought on their part. After they grind with it for a while they almost always come up with the right answer. Of course, there are still other things happening like spin which I don’t typically discuss in a beginners class but will talk about in a future post.
At this point, they start hitting shots. I always draw a line in the sand and let them put the ball wherever they like relative to that line. I remind them about the concept. The concept is sand control. It’s neat to see them make changes based on the results of the sand rather than the outcome of the ball.
If you’ve struggled with green side bunker shots in the past, I hope this post helps change the goal and the concept for you. Please consider sharing this with friends or if any coaches think it may help a problem student please fell free to share it on twitter and facebook by using the buttons at the bottom of this post.