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Adjust your setup and swing for better bunker shots

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The easiest shot in golf should be a greenside bunker shot. I say that because golfers can be much less exacting from the sand than other lies. A bunker shot can be hit anywhere from 0.5 inches to 1.5 inches behind the ball and the shot can still work. Imagine if golfers had that margin of error from the fairway!

Even so, bunker shots aren’t that easy for most golfers, because the vast majority still dread being in the sand. Professionals, however, prefer the sand to shots from the tall grass around the green because the outcome is usually much more predictable.

Do you want to look forward to bunker shots like the pros? First, we should discuss the golf club. The sand wedge was first conceived by the great Gene Sarazen some 80 years ago. It is unique in that it has a “flange” on the bottom where the trailing edge is lower than the leading edge. That part of the golf club is called the “bounce angle,” which is the angle from the trailing edge to the leading edge of the club.

Wedge bounce

Place a sand wedge on a table in front of you at eye level (as I did above) and you will see the angle I’m describing. Depending on your make and model of wedge, that angle can vary considerably. The width of the flange is another consideration. For example, if you have a wedge with 12 degrees of bounce with a 0.5-inch inch sole, its leading edge will rest considerably closer to the ground than a wedge of the same bounce with a 1-inch sole.

Keep this guide in mind when choosing your tool for the sand:

  • Do you play courses with fluffy, loose sand? You need more bounce, perhaps 14 degrees or so. 
  • Do you play course with firmer, tightly packed sand? You might need less bounce, perhaps about 8 degrees or so. 

Remember the leading edge can be the enemy of bunker play, and bounce is your friend. There are a lot of great resources on the web to help you learn more about wedge design and find the right sand wedge, such as Vokey.com’s Wedge Glossary and Tour Grinds Comparisons, and I recommend that you learn more about wedges before you purchase a new one. As for loft, I recommend at least 55 degrees. But this article is about bunker play, so let’s move on.

The Setup

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Posture: Think about this for a minute. If a golfer is trying to hit a ball resting in the grass with ball first contact, and then tries to hit another shot from the sand an inch behind the ball, can the setup be the same? The answer is absolutely not.

To impact the ground an inch or so behind the ball, a golfers has to lower his or her swing center. How is it done? First, take your normal stance. Now widen your stance considerably to create a stance width that is well outside your shoulders. What’s different? Well, the added stance width moved you closer to the ground, so if you’re trying to hit the sand and not the ball first, you just took a big step in the right direction.

Need to lower your swing center even more? Stick your butt out, which also gets you lower. But there’s an exception to all of this. Those of you taking huge divots on the grass likely don’t need to lower your swing center in a bunker. It seems that you’re already going to find plenty of sand.

Ball position: Here’s an easy way to understand the proper ball position in a bunker: Is the greenside bunker shot a high shot or a low one? It’s a high one, of course. Anytime golfers want to hit a high shot, they move the golf ball forward in their stance and a bunker shot is no exception.

Here’s a note of caution, however, for golfers who have an out-to-in swing path. They shouldn’t move the ball forward in their stance. That can make you more out to it and make it harder to find sand behind the ball, the main cause of bunker shots that fly 10, 20 or more yards over the green.

Grip: A bunker shot is one of the few times that it may help golfers to actually weaken their grip. That’s because loft is a golfers best friend when they’re in the bunker, and many good players weaken their grip for this shot to keep the club face open through impact. Not everyone should weaken their grip, and it’s a particularly bad idea for slicers; but if you’re are having trouble hitting your bunker shots high enough give it a try. Otherwise, your normal grip is fine.

Alignment: Bunker shot alignment is a very personal thing and varies from golfer to golfer, even with good bunker players. Often, golfers read about opening their club face and aiming left when they’re in a bunker. But I am suggesting that if you have a problem with slicing the ball (from an out-to-in swing path) that you should not open your club face or stance very much.

It’s true that opening the club face usually adds bounce to a club, giving it a better chance to work through the sand, but if you’re a slicer you already have an open face relative to your path at impact. And since you already have an out-to-in path, why would you want to set up more open? That will cause you to swing even more out to in.

The Swing

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Let’s consider two scenarios: Golfers who hook the ball in their full swing, and those who slice the ball.

Generally, golfers who hook the ball tend to have shallow attack angles. To become better bunker players, they might consider:

  • Taking a wider stance.
  • Sticking their rear end out more.
  • Putting most of their weight on their lead side.
  • Opening their club face and their stance.
  • Picking the club up abruptly in the backswing, creating a very early wrist set.
  • Feeling as though they have “high hands” in their backswing
  • Following through more, which helps get even more of their weight on their left side.

Generally golfers who slice the ball tend to have steep attack angles. To become better bunker players, they might consider:

  • Setting up square to their target.
  • Having a slightly open to square club face at address.
  • Centering their weight at address.
  • Standing a little more upright at address.
  • Feeling a slight shoulder turn in their backswing.
  • Feeling that their downswing is coming more from the inside.
  • Releasing the club earlier.

Again, slicers tend come into the ball from the outside and fairly steeply. Those who hook the ball tend to come from the inside, and have an angle of attack that is more shallow. Think about that in terms of what I’ve written above and you’ll start to see why there is a difference.

Teaching bunker play without seeing an individual’s swing is nearly impossible. Too often teachers see great players giving bunker lessons telling people what they do to hit good bunker shots. That’s well and good, but a 20-handicap likely doesn’t have the skills of that good player and is just trying to extract the ball from the cat box!

If you have are having trouble in the bunker, I’m here to help. Post a video of your bunker swing to my Facebook page and I’ll do my best to give you my feedback. You can even post a video of your full swing, because I can tell a lot about your bunker game by how you hit full shots. Give my page a like while you’re there, too.

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Dennis Clark is a PGA Master Professional. Clark has taught the game of golf for more than 30 years to golfers all across the country, and is recognized as one of the leading teachers in the country by all the major golf publications. He is also is a seven-time PGA award winner who has earned the following distinctions: -- Teacher of the Year, Philadelphia Section PGA -- Teacher of the Year, Golfers Journal -- Top Teacher in Pennsylvania, Golf Magazine -- Top Teacher in Mid Atlantic Region, Golf Digest -- Earned PGA Advanced Specialty certification in Teaching/Coaching Golf -- Achieved Master Professional Status (held by less than 2 percent of PGA members) -- PGA Merchandiser of the Year, Tri State Section PGA -- Golf Professional of the Year, Tri State Section PGA -- Presidents Plaque Award for Promotion and Growth of the Game of Golf -- Junior Golf Leader, Tri State section PGA -- Served on Tri State PGA Board of Directors. Clark is also former Director of Golf and Instruction at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort. He now directs his own school, The Dennis Clark Golf Academy at the JW Marriott Marco Island in Naples, Fla.. He can be reached at dennisclarkgolf@gmail.com

5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Winmac

    Mar 8, 2014 at 10:23 pm

    If you reverse pivot yourself in the bunker, you will likely hit a fat on fairways but in sand, it will work great.

    Or just do a normal pitch shot, but collapse your right knee on downswing. That will make you hit behind the ball and make that bunker shot.

  2. SN

    Mar 6, 2014 at 10:15 pm

    Thanks for a great article.

    My worst enemy in bunker play is info-overload mind, though.
    Lately I just have one swing thought, “Believe in the bounce (angle)”

    • Dennis Clark

      Mar 7, 2014 at 8:37 am

      Thats a good thought…speed might be another.

  3. Dennis Clark

    Mar 6, 2014 at 2:31 pm

    you’re welcome; steep is the key and shallow is the enemy. If you have anything like an ascending angle, sand is tough!

  4. Philip

    Mar 6, 2014 at 2:09 pm

    Thanks for a brilliant look at cause and effect on bunker play from different angles. This helps to explain why when I went from tending to fade/slice last season to drawing/hooking while trying to improve my swing that I suddenly started to struggle in the sand. I was at a loss as to why I was occasionally thinning bunker shots and in spite of my continued progress with my swing, I was nervous thinking about what to do this season. I’ll be marking this article for study and review later.

    Once again, thanks!

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Instruction

Golf 101: What is a strong grip?

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What is a strong grip? Before we answer that, consider this: How you grip it might be the first thing you learn, and arguably the first foundation you adapt—and it can form the DNA for your whole golf swing.

The proper way to hold a golf club has many variables: hand size, finger size, sports you play, where you feel strength, etc. It’s not an exact science. However, when you begin, you will get introduced to the common terminology for describing a grip—strong, weak, and neutral.

Let’s focus on the strong grip as it is, in my opinion, the best way to hold a club when you are young as it puts the clubface in a stronger position at the top and instinctively encourages a fair bit of rotation to not only hit it solid but straight.

The list of players on tour with strong grips is long: Dustin Johnson, Zach Johnson, Bubba Watson, Fred Couples, David Duval, and Bernhard Langer all play with a strong grip.

But what is a strong grip? Well like my first teacher Mike Montgomery (Director of Golf at Glendale CC in Seattle) used to say to me, “it looks like you are revving up a Harley with that grip”. Point is the knuckles on my left hand were pointing to the sky and my right palm was facing the same way.

Something like this:

Of course, there are variations to it, but that is your run of the mill, monkey wrench strong grip. Players typically will start there when they are young and tweak as they gain more experience. The right hand might make it’s way more on top, left-hand knuckles might show two instead of three, and the club may move its way out of the palms and further down into the fingers.

Good golf can be played from any position you find comfortable, especially when you find the body matchup to go with it.

Watch this great vid from @JakeHuttGolf

In very simple terms, here are 3 pros and 3 cons of a strong grip.

Pros

  1. Encourages a closed clubface which helps deloft the club at impact and helps you hit further
  2. It’s an athletic position which encourages rotation
  3. Players with strong grips tend to strike it solidly

Cons

  1. Encourages a closed clubface which helps deloft the club at impact and can cause you to hit it low and left
  2. If you don’t learn to rotate you could be in for a long career of ducks and trees
  3. Players with strong grips tend to fight a hook and getting the ball in the air

 

Make Sense?

 

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Clement: Driver lesson to max out distance and help you get fit properly

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This is an essential video on how to get you prepared for a driver fitting at your local Club Champion or favorite golf shop or store. I will be showing you two essential drills that we use at Wisdom In Golf, which will get you in the right focus for your driver fitting session which will also give you way more accuracy and consistency out on the golf course. What you should be looking for before your fitting session is the consistency of the golf ball hitting the center face of the driver and your ability to maintain an ascending angle of attack to your target.

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Clement: How to use the legs in the golf swing

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Shawn Clement’s Wisdom in Golf has been going against mainstream instruction for the last 40 years. Before that, we had the Snead Squat, and the teachings of Bobby Jones and Jack Nicklaus and Wisdom in Golf has taken it from there while others were too busy nipping and tucking all the talent and natural ability out of the game through video analysis. Those teachings showed up in the ’80s, we have theorized on what to do with our body parts and we have examined under a microscope what the leg work of the PGA Tour and LPGA tour players have. We taught “resist with the legs and coil upper body against the lower body” and paid a heavy price both physically and mentally. Then we said “stable lower body,” then finally, just a couple of years ago, we start saying to “let the hips turn” in the backswing.

Well, we have been doing our own thing and blazing a trail for our 115, 000 followers, and because your Human-machine is free of wires and strings, it knows what to do if you give it a clear task. CLARITY IN YOUR TASK will get you the consistency in the movement and it is important for your mind to understand so you know how to let things happen! Enjoy this video on proper leg work in the golf swing and enjoy the practice in your backyard with the easy drills we provide you!

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