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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. Dennis now teaches at Bobby Clampett's Impact Zone Golf Indoor Performance Center in Naples, FL. .

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

TXG: Should you carry TWO DRIVERS? // Distance, Accuracy, Draw & Fade Setups

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Some of the best players in the world have been testing a two-driver setup for their bags. Does it make sense to play two drivers if they are set up for two different shot shapes? We test one driver setup for maximum distance and draw flight and another setup for accuracy and fade flight. See whether this could be an advantage for your game—and help you get off the tee better at your course!

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Fixing the shanks: How to stop shanking the golf ball (GolfWRX Explains)

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May you never be concerned about fixing the shanks! But if you’re begging the golf gods for guidance how to stop shanking the golf ball? Ready to offer up your first-born child for the wisdom how to stop shanking irons? Frantically asking Google how to never shank a golf ball again?

Fear not. We’ll get to drills to stop shanking irons shortly that are guaranteed to ingrain the proper feel and anti-shank action, but first, a brief discussion of what exactly a shank is (other than will-to-live crushing).

More often than not, a shank occurs when a player’s weight gets too far onto the toes, causing a lean forward. Instead of the center of the clubface striking the ball—as you intended at address—the hosel makes contact with your Titleist, and—cover your ears and guard your soul—a shank occurs.

How to stop shanking the golf ball

If you’ve ever experienced the dreaded hosel rocket departing your club at a 90-degree angle, you know how quickly confidence can evaporate and terror can set in.

Fortunately, the shanks are curable and largely preventable ailment. While there are drills to fix your fault you once the malady has taken hold, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

How to stop shanking the golf ball

If you’re trying to understand how to stop shanking the golf ball, you need to understand where the ball makes contact with the club during a shank.

Fixing the shanks

To avoid shanking the golf ball, it’s important to lock in on some keys…

  • Have a proper setup and posture…Athletic posture, arms hang down, neither too bent over nor too upright, weight on the balls of the feet.
  • Keep your grip light and arms tension free…If 10 is a death grip of golf club and 1 is the club falling out of your hand, aim for a grip in the 4-6 range. Make sure your forearms aren’t clenched.
  • Maintain proper balance throughout the swing…50/50 weight to start (front foot/back foot). 60/40 at the top of the backswing. 90/10 at impact.
  • Avoid an excessively out-to-in or in-to-out swing path…Take the club straight back to start, rather than excessively inside (closer to the body) or outside (further away from the body).

The best drill to stop shanking the golf ball

Set up properly (as discussed above), flex your toes upward as you begin your swing and keep your chest high (maintain your spine angle) throughout the swing.

Other than those focal points, keep your brain free of any additional chatter, which only exacerbates shankitis.

(For more advice, be sure to check out what our friends at Me and My Golf have to say below)

Now you know how to stop shanking the golf ball and have the tools to never shank the golf ball again.

Praise the golf gods!

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Cameron Smith’s 3-month Covid-19 training block

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Whilst Covid-19 has presented countless grave health and economic challenges to the world’s population, it has also provided opportunity for many people to focus their attention on projects that they normally wouldn’t have time for.

Turns out PGA Tour players are no different, and in the case of Cameron Smith, we used the enforced break from competitive golf to undertake a very rare, uninterrupted 3 month block of strength training.

Cam plays 25-30 events a year spread across 4 continents and this presents a number of challenges to overcome from a training and programming perspective:

– Varying facilities

– Travel fatigue and jet lag

– Concerns around muscle soreness affecting ability to perform on course

– Physical and mental cost of competing

When combined, these challenges can often render even the most carefully planned training programs redundant. So whilst many golf fans were coming to terms with a prolonged absence of PGA Tour events, I was getting stuck into designing programs that would hopefully elicit the following outcomes for Cam:

– More muscle mass

– More strength

– More power

In a normal season, I’m hesitant to prescribe programs that focus on muscle gain, because the nature of the training volume tends to tighten Cam up (reduce his range of motion), reduce his club-head speed and elicit a lot of muscle soreness…..not an ideal combination for short term performance! But I knew in this case, we could get stuck into some higher volume work because we would have plenty of time to recover from any lost mobility, reduced speed and increased soreness before tournaments started again.

 

Mid March – Program 1 – General Hypertrophy Focus

We decided with the global virus outlook looking dire and the PGA Tour promising to deliver a 30 day notice before resumption of play, we should focus on hypertrophy (increasing muscle size) until the 30 day notice period was delivered. At that point we would switch to a more familiar power based program in preparation for tournaments starting up again.

Program Breakdown:

– 4 weeks

– 3 sessions per week

– 1 x lower focus (legs, glutes, core)

– 1 x push focus (chest, shoulders, triceps, core)

– 1 x pull focus (back, biceps, core)

– Gradually increasing volume over 4 weeks (more reps and sets to failure)

Training Variables:

Sets: 3 to 4

Reps: 8 to 12

Tempo: 2-0-2 (2 seconds up, no pause, 2 seconds down)

Weight: around 70% of maximum

Rest: 60 seconds, but this can vary when pairing exercises together in supersets or mini circuits

 

Example Workout – Lower Body Focus (legs, glutes, core):

 

Example Exercises:

 

Mid April – Program 2 – Lower Body Hypertrophy Focus

As Cam was about to finish up his first hypertrophy program, there was a fairly clear indication that there would be no play until mid June at the earliest. Knowing that we had 2 more months of training, we decided to continue with another hypertrophy block. This time increasing the focus on the lower body by breaking down the leg work into 2 seperate sessions and ramping up the training volume.

Program Breakdown:

– 4 weeks

– 4 sessions per week

– 2 x lower body focus (1 x quad focused workout and 1 x hamstring / glute focused workout)

– 1 x push focus (chest, shoulders, triceps, core)

– 1 x pull focus (back, biceps, core)

– Gradually increasing volume over 4 weeks (more reps and sets)

Training Variables:

Sets: 3 to 4

Reps: 8 to 12

Tempo: 2-0-2 (2 seconds up, no pause, 2 seconds down)

Weight: around 70% of maximum

Rest: 60 seconds, but this can vary when pairing exercises together in supersets or mini circuits

 

Example Workout – Pull Focus (back, biceps, core):

 

Example Exercises:

Mid May – Program 3 – Power Focus

Once we received confirmation that play would be resuming 11th June at Colonial, we made the call to switch to a power focused program. Moving back to 3 days per week, lowering the volume and increasing the intensity (more weight and more speed in the main lifts).

The idea is to get the body used to moving fast again, reduce muscle soreness to allow better quality golf practice, and supplement the with more mobility work to re-gain any lost range of motion.

We also added some extra grip work because Cam discovered that with the muscle and strength gain, plus lifting increased weight, his grip was failing on key lifts…..not such a bad problem to have!

Program Breakdown:

– 4 weeks

– 3 sessions per week

– 1 x lower body focus (legs, glutes, core, grip)

– 1 x upper body focus (chest, back, biceps, triceps, core, grip)

– 1 x combined focus (legs, glutes, shoulders, core, grip)

– Volume remains constant (same sets and reps), aiming to increase intensity (either weight or speed) over the 4 weeks.

Training Variables:

Sets: 4 to 5

Reps: 3-5 for main exercises, 8-12 for accessory exercises.

Tempo: X-0-1 for main exercises (as fast as possible in up or effort phase, no pause, 1 second down). 2-0-2 for accessory exercises.

Weight: around 85% of maximum for main exercises, around 70% for accessory exercises.

Rest: 90 seconds, but this can vary when pairing exercises together in supersets or mini circuits

 

Example Workout – Combined (legs, glutes, core, shoulders, grip):

 

Example Exercises:

 

If you are interested in receiving some professional guidance for your training, then check out the services on offer from Nick at Golf Fit Pro

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