So many amateurs come to me completely spooked by the Darth Vader of golf, how to play out of bunkers without fear. It’s funny: from day one I embraced bunker play; perhaps it was the creative aspect the shot required. There are several ways to skin this cat. Allow me to simply share a few thoughts that have help me tremendously.
The first bit of information I received that helped me build my bunker play from average to outstanding was provided by my old friend and former swing coach during my playing days, John Elliott — a fine teacher from Ocala, Florida.
John calls the leading edge of the club the “digger” and the bounce of the club the “skidder.” He explained that if you could learn to use the bounce/skidder against the surface of the bunker and keep the club from digging, you could learn to hit those beautiful bunker contacts that sound like a thump and come out with beautiful spin and consistent trajectory. John also explained that the only situation that demanded a squared-up face and used the leading edge was if he had a fried egg/plugged lie in the bunker.
Next I was influenced by my dear friend and part-time student (he taught me more then I taught him), Seve Ballesteros.
Being ultra-creative, The Master did a number of special little things that made his bunker play magical. The one that helped me the most was the fact that he weakened both his left- and right-hand grip positions. To be clear, Seve dialed each hand to the left on the grip (for a right-handed player). This prevented the face from releasing at all, allowing the club to glide through the sand with the face staying wide open. It also allowed him to be highly offensive in swinging the club with a bit of speed. Seve said he set up with the face open and a weak grip so he could play his bunker shots offensively. He added that if you are in the bunker in a defensive mind set, it would be best to simply head for the clubhouse. With a weak grip, an open face and a bit of speed, the ball did two wonderful things: it came out higher and had more spin — pretty good combination in any successful bunker shot.
Now that you have been exposed to a few of golf’s wonderful bunker play secrets let’s circle back to a few things that might be important thoughts to start with.
Several things will influence how far the ball travels out of a bunker:
- The length and pace of your arm swing
- The amount of sand you displace
- The degree to which you preset the face open
- Allow the club to set/cock a bit early in the takeaway
- Club enters sand in the middle of my stance and the ball is somewhat left of that point one, two or three inches depending on how far I’d like it to travel
- Bunker play is very much a feel shot. Feel shots require repetition. Remember that word — PRACTICE!
Even armed with all this information, it’s still necessary to visit with golf’s most heralded teacher, Dr. Trial and Error! Great info and plenty of practice allowed me to become the bunker player I am today. I got in a practice bunker with all the above information and, playing with different combinations, I found my own bunker style. Part Patri, part Elliott, part Seve, part damn hard work and repetitions!
Embrace bunker play. Enjoy exploring the creative aspect of this unique shot like no other in golf. A good bunker game will give you a huge advantage over the majority of players you tee it up with at your local club.
Wow, Darth Vader no more!
Tom Patri is president/founder of TP Golf in Naples, Florida, GolfTips Magazine Top 30 Instructor and PGA Quarter Century Member. Reach him at email@example.com or visit him at www.tompatri.com