Short Game Success!

Short shots that will help you gain confidence and shoot lower scores

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Hitting out of the sand is one of those areas where I see students struggle. And the funny thing is, bunkers are where we tend to place the lowest expectations, meaning that most of us are satisfied just to get the ball out of the sand, and if we happen to knock it close to the pin, that's a bonus.

To ensure sand success, I like to make sure we can get the ball airborne. Doing that means opening the face and using more bounce under the club. The more open you get the face, the more aggressive you can be with your shot, and I find that being aggressive is almost always better than getting too willy-nilly and trying to finesse it. So open the face and strike the sand behind the ball with more momentum than you're maybe used to.

You've probably been told that it's important to accelerate the clubhead when hitting in the sand, and while I agree with that, that doesn't help if you tend to strike down into the sand on too steep an angle or you accelerate and then stop the moment the club enters the sand. Instead, I want you to use the wrists to accelerate the club, allowing the back of the clubhead to hit the sand, not the leading edge. This maintains and even accentuates the bounce of the club and prevents you from digging too much. It will also produce the "thump" sound in the sand, not the "thud" that amateurs often hear. So don't try and dig or gouge the ball out of the sand. Opt more for bouncing the club off the sand and let it enter and exit the sand with an accelerating stroke!

Want to make sure you're in the right position at the top of your backswing when hitting from the sand? Try this fun drill. First, gather a clump of sand on the face of your wedge as I have here. The rest is simple. I want you to imitate your bunker swing in slow motion, and be sure you hold the sand on the face long enough so you're able to fling the sand behind you as you can see in the lower-left photo. If you can do that, you'll do a great job of holding the face open to your path, which then makes it a lot easier to get the ball up and out of the sand.

By allowing the sand to fall behind you and not slip off the face early in the backswing, you'll be less likely to strike the sand with a square or even closed clubface. It takes some repetition to achieve, but after practicing this drill a few times, you'll develop a strong sense of the clubhead through the stroke and avoid digging too much into the sand. Give it a shot!

Derek Nannen, PGA, is the director of instruction at the Eagle Mountain Golf Academy in Scottsdale, Arizona. Visit for more information.


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