Based on my observations and feedback from recreational golfers of all skill levels, I believe one of the most puzzling and challenging of all shots for most golfers is the greenside bunker “explosion” shot. Far too many times, the result is either making a swing that is way too steep and plows the clubhead into the sand, or it’s the exact opposite – catching the ball right “in the forehead” and skulling it across the green into who-knows-what kind of new trouble. In either case, the end result is a blow-up hole that puts a double bogey or worse on the card.
And the damage to your psyche is much worse than that done to your card.
Besides the visual and mental intimidation of finding your ball in the bunker, we recreational golfers are faced with a super-wide variety of lies and sand textures, unlike the tour players who see essentially the same bunker texture week after week. In contrast, on my own private club course, for example, we have bunkers ranging from wet packed sand (almost mud) to dry fluffy sand several inches thick. In contrast to the tour professionals, we “mere mortals” have a constantly changing set of obstacles in the bunkers, each requiring a different approach.
Let’s start with the basic premise of the bunker shot we have all been taught. While there are slightly varying instructional directions for the execution of the swing, most teach that you should make contact about two inches behind the ball. And it’s often taught that this is the easiest shot in golf, because you don’t even have to hit the ball. I’ve always challenged that notion, because on EVERY OTHER SHOT I face, I am trying to make precise contact with the ball, from driver to putter. So, since those few bunker shots in a round require me to abandon my primary objective . . . couldn’t that possibly make bunker shots the hardest?
Anyway, back to the topic at hand . . . is there a different way to approach bunker shots that might help you improve your up-and-down percentage and significantly reduce those left-in-the-sand or skulled-over-the-green disasters? I believe there is, and I’ve been doing some experimenting with a different approach lately that is showing great promise.
What I’ve been doing is approaching bunker shots in very much the same way I execute any delicate greenside pitch, that is to view it as just another pitch shot, albeit from a more challenging lie than if the ball were sitting on the fairway or light rough. My goal is to make the wedge contact the ball and the sand at just about the same time, and just vary my swing power based on the texture of the sand – wet sand will “reject” the club more than dry, softer sand, requiring less power, much as tight firm turf will reject the club more than a softer lie in the rough.
As I play around with this approach, it seems much easier than trying to actually hit the sand some “measured” distance behind the ball, which also makes it easier for me to judge the distance I need the ball to fly and how much roll out I can expect. What’s most interesting for me is that as I began to experiment with this technique in the practice bunker, I paid close attention to where it “looked like” I was making contact with the sand. I put that in quotes because the sole of the wedge splashes out a large and clearly defined divot, so it really does look like I’m making contact further behind the ball than I really am.
If you are already an accomplished bunker player, my bet is that you are actually making contact much closer to the ball than the proverbial “two inch rule”, and kudos to you for figuring this out.
But for the majority of you out there who find a bunker shot a bit more challenging and fear-inducing, I highly recommend spending even a half hour in the practice bunker giving this “new” method a try. You still want to make a deliberate but relaxed swing and keep your angle of attack as shallow as possible so the bounce in your sand wedge’s sole can do what it was designed to do.
I’m sure we all would appreciate you sharing your own results and discovery with the rest of us.
5 examples of how Lexi Thompson has been treated harsher than any of her peers
Following Lexi Thompson’s Solheim Cup post-round presser on Friday evening, the 28-year-old has been the topic of much discussion.
Golf pundits and fans alike have been weighing in with their takes after this exchange with a reporter surrounding an untimely shank on Friday afternoon went viral:
Confounding answer from Lexi and subsequent reaction from the US side. It was one of the pivotal moments of the entire day and somehow that's off limits? pic.twitter.com/9std3LFlmN
— Tron Carter (@TronCarterNLU) September 23, 2023
After the incident, LPGA Hall of Famer Nancy Lopez said that Lexi has “been picked on and drug through negative comments. She is tired of it”
So has the criticism of Lexi Thompson been justified, or is this yet another example of her being unfairly treated?
Well, here are five times, in my opinion, that Lexi has been scrutinized far differently over the years than her peers.
2022 KPMG PGA Championship
At the 2022 KPMG PGA Championship, Lexi Thompson held a two-stroke lead with three holes to play. She couldn’t close the deal and lost the tournament.
Afterwards, she was fined $2k (as were the rest of the group) for slow play.
Lexi declined to speak to the media and got hammered on social media for doing so…
Lexi Thompson has declined to speak with the media here at Congressional.
Not a great look?
— Zephyr Melton (@zephyrmelton) June 26, 2022
Almost every golfer at some point has skipped a media session following disappointment on the course, and nobody has really batted an eyelid.
Tiger skipped back-to-back post-round media briefings at the 2019 WGC Mexico after being frustrated with his putting. Remember the backlash over that? Nah, me neither.
Every (or nearly every) big-name golfer under the sun has played golf with Donald Trump. Tiger Woods, Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy etc. Nobody really cared.
For whatever reason, when Lexi Thompson did, it was a story, and she took herself off social media soon after the photo was posted.
View this post on Instagram
2021 U.S. Women’s Open
In the final round of the 2021 U.S. Women’s Open, Lexi Thompson had a 6-foot eagle on her opening hole. She missed and made birdie to lead by five.
She then lost the tournament.
Following the round, Brandel Chamblee said on ‘Live From’:
“She’s got 6 feet away. Now professional golfers don’t miss the center of the face by a pinhead. Look where she hits this putt on the very 1st hole. Look where this putt comes off the face. She would have missed the center of the putter there by a half an inch. I have never — I have never — seen a professional golfer miss the center of the putter by a wider margin than that. That was at the 1st hole. “
Honest? Absolutely. Correct? Brandel usually is. Has any other LPGA golfer been handed the full-on Chamblee treatment? Not to my knowledge.
2023 Solheim Cup
Lexi Thompson spoke the words, “I don’t need to comment on that” when a reporter asked her about a failed shot, and the golf community collectively lost their minds.
Lost on many people is the fact that she literally answered the question instantly after.
Jessica Korda described the reporting of the awkward exchange with the media member as yet another example of the golf media shredding Lexi, but in reality, it was really just golf media covering the furore created by golf fans reacting to the viral clip.
So sad seeing golf media , yet again, shred Lexi. It’s easy writing about other people’s mistakes. It’s
Golf, bad shots happen- give the girl a break. She grows the game more than anyone on tour… And she’s a great player!!
— Jessica Korda (@Thejessicakorda) September 23, 2023
Lexi then won her next two matches, collecting 3 points from 4 for the U.S. team. But nobody seems to care about that.
‘yOu ShoUlD PrAcTIce puTTinG’
There’s very few golfers that have been plagued with such inane posts on their Instagram page as Lexi Thompson has.
I’ve tracked golfer’s social media accounts over the past few years (job requirement, sort of?). I can categorically say that Lexi gets some of the angriest and most aggressive responses to her posts of any golfer. Male or female. (She also gets some very nice ones too).
Despite countless posts of Thompson relentlessly practising her putting, the number of comments from dummies accusing her of neglecting that area of her game is both bizarre and alarming. Notice how the comments have been disabled on the post below? Probably not a coincidence.
View this post on Instagram
Go on any other golfer’s social account, and it will be hard to find the same dynamic.
Throw in the scandalous rules decision at the 2017 ANA Inspiration that cost her a second major title and spawned the “Lexi rule,” and it’s hard not to think Lexi has had a bit of a raw deal at times.
The Wedge Guy: My top 5 practice tips
While there are many golfers who barely know where the practice (I don’t like calling it a “driving”) range is located, there are many who find it a place of adventure, discovery and fun. I’m in the latter group, which could be accented by the fact that I make my living in this industry. But then, I’ve always been a “ball beater,” since I was a kid, but now I approach my practice sessions with more purpose and excitement. There’s no question that practice is the key to improvement in anything, so today’s topic is on making practice as much fun as playing.
As long as I can remember, I’ve loved the range, and always embrace the challenge of learning new ways to make a golf ball do what I would like it to do. So, today I’m sharing my “top 5” tips for making practice fun and productive.
- Have a mission/goal/objective. Whether it is a practice range session or practice time on the course, make sure you have a clearly defined objective…how else will you know how you’re doing? It might be to work on iron trajectory, or finding out why you’ve developed a push with your driver. Could be to learn how to hit a little softer lob shot or a knockdown pitch. But practice with a purpose …always.
- Don’t just “do”…observe. There are two elements of learning something new. The first is to figure out what it is you need to change. Then you work toward that solution. If your practice session is to address that push with the driver, hit a few shots to start out, and rather than try to fix it, make those first few your “lab rats”. Focus on what your swing is doing. Do you feel anything different? Check your alignment carefully, and your ball position. After each shot, step away and process what you think you felt during the swing.
- Make it real. To just rake ball after ball in front of you and pound away is marginally valuable at best. To make practice productive, step away from your hitting station after each shot, rake another ball to the hitting area, then approach the shot as if it was a real one on the course. Pick a target line from behind the ball, meticulously step into your set-up position, take your grip, process your one swing thought and hit it. Then evaluate how you did, based on the shot result and how it felt.
- Challenge yourself. One of my favorite on-course practice games is to spend a few minutes around each green after I’ve played the hole, tossing three balls into various positions in an area off the green. I don’t let myself go to the next tee until I put all three within three feet of the hole. If I don’t, I toss them to another area and do it again. You can do the same thing on the range. Define a challenge and a limited number of shots to achieve it.
- Don’t get in a groove. I was privileged enough to watch Harvey Penick give Tom Kite a golf lesson one day, and was struck by the fact that he would not let Tom hit more than five to six shots in a row with the same club. Tom would hit a few 5-irons, and Mr. Penick would say, “hit the 8”, then “hit the driver.” He changed it up so that Tom would not just find a groove. That paved the way for real learning, Mr. Penick told me.
My “bonus” tip addresses the difference between practicing on the course and keeping a real score. Don’t do both. A practice session is just that. On-course practice is hugely beneficial, and it’s best done by yourself, and at a casual pace. Playing three or four holes in an hour or so, taking time to hit real shots into and around the greens, will do more for your scoring skills than the same amount of range time.
So there you have my five practice tips. I’m sure I could come up with more, but then we always have more time, right?
More from the Wedge Guy
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Vincenzi: Fortinet Championship First Round Leader picks
The PGA Tour begins its fall season with a trip to Wine Country as the world of golf patiently awaits the 2023 Ryder Cup which is just a few weeks away. Silverado is a course where plenty of players with varying skill sets can compete, but strong West Coast history tends to be a major factor.
In the past four editions of the Fortinet Championship, there have been six first-round leaders or co-leaders. Of the six, three have started their rounds in the morning wave, and three started in the afternoon. The leading scores have all been between 63 and 65.
As of now, the winds look to be very docile, with speeds of 4-7 MPH throughout the day. I don’t see either the AM or PM wave as having a major advantage.
2023 Fortinet Championship First-Round Leader Picks
Zac Blair +9000 (FanDuel)
First-Round Tee Time: 1.22 p.m PT
A big theme for me this week is targeting players who have had success at both Silverado and the West Coast in general. Blair finished 22nd here last year, and also finished 4th back in 2019. That year, he shot 66 in rounds two and three, showing his ability to go low on this track.
In 2022, Blair gained 3.8 strokes putting and in 2019, he gained 8.6. The 33-year-old seemingly has these greens figured out.
C.T. Pan +9000 (FanDuel)
First-Round Tee Time: 8.23 a.m PT
At the end of the 2023 season, C.T. Pan showed flashes of what made him a good player prior to his injury struggles early in the year. He finished 4th at the AT&T Byron Nelson in May, and 3rd at the RBC Canadian Open in June. He also finished 6th at Silverado back in 2021, gaining 4.5 strokes on approach and 6.6 strokes putting.
A few weeks off may have given Pan a chance to reset and focus on the upcoming fall swing, where I believe he’ll play some good golf.
Joel Dahmen +110000 (FanDuel)
First-Round Tee Time: 7:28 a.m PT
After becoming a well-known name in golf due to his affable presence in Netflix’ “Full Swing” documentary, Dahmen had what can only be considered a disappointment of a 2023 season. I believe he’s a better player than he showed last year and is a good candidate for a bounce back fall and 2024.
Dahmen finished in a tie for 10th at the Barracuda Championship in late July, and the course is similar in agronomy and location to what he’ll see this week in Napa. He has some strong history on the West Coast including top-ten finishes at Riviera (5th, 2020), Pebble Beach (6th, 2022), Sherwood (8th, 2020), TPC Summerlin (9th, 2019) and Torrey Pines (9th, 2019).
James Hahn +125000 (Caesars)
First-Round Tee Time: 1:55 p.m PT
James Hahn absolutely loves golf on the West Coast. He’s won at Riviera and has also shown some course form with a 9th place finish at Silverado back in 2020. That week, Hahn gained 4.7 strokes putting, demonstrating his comfort level on these POA putting surfaces.
He finished T6 at the Barracuda back in July, and there’s no doubt that a return to California will be welcome for the 41-year-old.
Peter Malnati +125000 (BetRivers)
First-Round Tee Time: 12.27 p.m PT
Peter Malnati excels at putting on the West Coast. He ranks 3rd in the field in Strokes Gained: Putting on POA and has shown in the past he’s capable of going extremely low on any given round due to his ability to catch a hot putter.
His course history isn’t spectacular, but he’s played well enough at Silverado. In his past seven trips to the course, he’s finished in the top-35 four times.
Harry Higgs +150000 (BetRivers)
First-Round Tee Time: 1.55 p.m PT
In what is seemingly becoming a theme in this week’s First-Round Leader column, Harry Higgs is a player that really fell out of form in 2023, but a reset and a trip to a course he’s had success at in the past may spark a resurgence.
Higgs finished 2nd at Silverado in 2020 and wasn’t in particularly great form then either. Success hasn’t come in abundance for the 31-year-old, but three of his top-10 finishes on Tour have come in this area of the country.
Higgs shot an impressive 62 here in round two in 2020, which would certainly be enough to capture the first-round lead this year.
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