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3 simple rules to avoid big trouble off the tee



One of the hardest things for average golfers to do is avoid trouble off the tee. In fact, if they could eliminate these penalty shots, they may no longer be average golfers in the first place! Usually golf course designers place trouble that you must avoid on one side or the other, but provides you ample room to “miss it” on the other side. Think 18 at Doral, or 18 at The Players; both have water all down the left side that begs you to challenge it in order to get the shorter shot into the green, but you do have room to bail out if needed.

Holes such as those cause the weekend golfers fits, because they tend to miss the ball in the ONLY place they cannot… the water. In this article, I want to give you my three rules as to how you can avoid problems like this off the tee.

Rule No. 1

Tee the ball up on the side of the tee with the trouble and aim away from it.

We have that same type of shot as Sawgrass or Doral at one of our courses here at Punta Mita. The water is all down the left, yet we have ample fairway right to hit the ball. I have placed the ball on the left side of the tee box and from here I will aim right…well right to take advantage of the angle away from the water.

Rule No. 2

Pick a spot in front of the ball so you begin the ball on the correct line

In this photo, you can see the extra piece of grass just to the right of my driver; this is directly on the line I have selected (from behind the ball), which is the one I want to take in order to hit the right portion of the fairway. This simple spot-aiming technique gives you a great way to visualize the line you want to take when you are aiming cross-line or away from the natural angles of the tee box.

Rule No. 3

Make your LAST look before you take it back where you want the ball to go, NOT where you don’t want it to go!

The last look is very important as it programs your body as to what you want the ball to do, and it’s just as impactful as the visualization players do from behind the ball beforehand. Your last look can either program you mind and body with positive information, or you can give yourself negative thoughts to fight while in the early stages of your backswing.

I have always preferred to focus on the positive rather than the negative while aiming. I might not pull it off every time, but at least I have done all I can to promote a good swing. They say the mind can talk you out of a good shot if you let it, but this is the best way I have found to make sure that does not happen to you!

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Tom F. Stickney II is the Director of Instruction and Business Development at Punta Mita, in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico ( He is a Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher, and has been honored as a Golf Digest Best Teacher and a Golf Tips Top-25 Instructor. Tom is also a Trackman University Master/Partner, a distinction held by less than 15 people in the world. Punta Mita is a 1500 acre Golf and Beach Resort located just 45 minuted from Puerto Vallarta on a beautiful peninsula surrounded by the Bay of Banderas on three sides. Amenities include two Nicklaus Signature Golf Courses- with 14 holes directly on the water, a Golf Academy, four private Beach Clubs, a Four Seasons Hotel, a St. Regis Hotel, as well as, multiple private Villas and Homesites available. For more information regarding Punta Mita, golf outings, golf schools and private lessons, please email:



  1. unoho

    Aug 6, 2018 at 2:09 pm

    Stinkney plagiarizing Nicklaus… hohum

  2. ...Patrick Loughran

    Aug 4, 2018 at 1:56 pm

    Jack Nicklaus advised this technique many years ago and IT Still Works….

  3. ...Patrick Loughran

    Aug 4, 2018 at 1:54 pm

    When I first started playing golf over 50 years ago I read “Play Better Golf” by Jack Nicklaus he advised doing this on every shot Enough said…Still works today…

  4. Bolt

    Aug 3, 2018 at 5:15 pm

    Keep in mind that placing an object in your aiming line is against the rules. So only pick something that is already there.

    • Mizzle Fizzle

      Aug 3, 2018 at 6:20 pm

      Beat me to it…

    • Joe

      Aug 4, 2018 at 10:50 pm

      I use the line on the golf ball to aim (like putting, but off the tee) it’s helped a lot and I don’t think is illegal …

  5. LD

    Aug 3, 2018 at 12:30 pm

    Good advice. Thanks

  6. millennial82

    Aug 3, 2018 at 11:09 am


  7. juststeve

    Aug 3, 2018 at 11:03 am

    Good stuff Tom.

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3 keys for getting out of bunkers with soft sand



One of the most infuriating things in golf is to land in a bunker that has too much sand, or sand with the consistency of a truckload of talcum power. Now, I am not picking on the Superintendents; they do have to add new sand from time-to-time, so no hate mail please! It’s my fault for hitting it in the bunker in the first place, and bunkers are supposed to be hazards; I know that.

The one thing we will assume for this article is that even though we are in soft sand, we will have a good lie, not a plugged or semi-plugged one. We are in a bunker that just has a bunch of sand, or it’s soft and fluffy sand. Everyone asks me what the secret is to handling these types of conditions and I’m here to help you get better.

1) Get a wedge with the correct bounce

Let’s consider that you play the same golf course every weekend, or that you mostly play on courses that have the same type of playing conditions mostly. When you have this luxury, you should have wedges that fit the conditions you tend to play. So, if you have a low bounce wedge with a sharp flange and you’re playing from bunkers with lots of sand, then you are putting yourself at a disadvantage.

Why alter your swing if the wedge you have can help you? Use a high bounce wedge (9-12 degrees of bounce) for soft sand, and a low bounce wedge (6-8 degrees) for firm sand.

2) Control your Angle of Attack 

As with most things in golf, there are always things that you must pay attention to in order for you to have the odds in your favor. Simple things such as paying attention to the lie you have can help you save shots in the rough. In bunkers, you cannot test the surface, however, you can use your feet to feel the density of the sand. Pay attention to what you feel in the balls of your feet. If you feel a ton of sand below you, then you know you will have to alter your angle of attack if you want any chance to get out of the bunker successfully.

So what do I mean by this?

The setting of your wrists has a very dynamic effect on how much the wedge digs in or skids through the sand (assuming you have an open face). When there is a surplus of sand, you will find that a steeper attack caused by the maximum cocking of your wrists makes it much easier for the wedge to work too vertical and dig too deep. When you dig too deep, you will lose control of the ball as there is too much sand between the blade and the ball — it will not spin as much and won’t have the distance control you normally have.

The secret to playing from softer sand is a longer and wider bunker swing with much less wrist-set than you would use on your stock bunker shot. This action stops the club from digging too deep and makes it easier for you to keep moving through the ball and achieving the distance you need.

3) Keep your pivot moving

It’s nearly impossible to keep the rotation of your shoulders going when you take too much sand at impact, and the ball comes up short in that situation every time. When you take less sand, you will have a much easier time keeping your pivot moving. This is the final key to good soft-sand bunker play.

You have made your longer and more shallow backswing and are returning to the ball not quite as steeply as you normally do which is good… now the only thing left to do is keep your rear shoulder rotating through impact and beyond. This action helps you to make a fuller finish, and one that does not lose too much speed when the club impacts the sand. If you dig too deep, you cannot keep the rear shoulder moving and your shots will consistently come up short.

So if you are in a bunker with new sand, or an abundance of sand, remember to change your bounce, adjust your angle of attack, and keep your pivot moving to have a fighting chance.

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WATCH: How to stop “flipping” through impact



Are you flipping through impact? In this video, I share a great drill that will help you put better pressure on the golf ball at impact. By delivering the sweet spot correctly, you’ll create a better flight and get more distance from your shots immediately.

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The Wagon Wheel Drill



For many golfers, the ability to hit shots golf ball to the target is a difficult task, especially when you take into account the rough, trees or hazards lining the hole. In this video, I share “The Wagon Wheel Drill,” a simple idea of how to practice intentionally hitting the ball left, right and on target.

Practice this and you will soon be hitting the target more often.

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19th Hole