The Dreaded "Sand Trap"
The dreaded "sand trap". Comical that we should call it a trap. It sounds like once your ball enters the sand it's never coming out and you are doomed. Funny though, that the term "trap" or "sand trap" is not in the rules of golf established by the United States Golf Association, the governing body. The nickname "trap" most likely came about because that's exactly how most amateurs feel when they enter a bunker.
Learn to Hit Consistent Bunker Shots
To make things worse, they have to listen to the announcers on t.v. constantly comment on how the pros would rather be in the trap because they deem it an easier shot than most green side pitches.
In most cases, it is an easier shot if you know how to execute it. What makes sand easy is that 9 out of 10 times you should have an almost perfect lie, unless you are unfortunate enough to play behind some ding-a-ling that doesn't know proper etiquette and doesn't rake his footprints. There are also the rare plugged balls or "fried eggs". Usually however, the ball is sitting up nicely and you know exactly what you are dealing with. When your ball lands in the rough or long grass around the green, it's hard to tell what is under the ball and it is difficult to get the ball to spin or check up. The longer the grass the more likely it will get caught between your club face and the ball resulting in less spin and more roll.
Easy Shot For a Pro
In 1986 at the PGA Championship at PGA National Bob Tway holed out from the green side bunker on 18 to win. I was watching it on t.v. and remember jumping up and down in excitement. Just weeks after, I was fortunate to qualify for the National Junior PGA which was played on the exact same course with the difficult conditions remaining. My play was nightmarish, but it was a dream come true running into Bob on the elevator at 6:30 in the morning on my way to breakfast. He had come back in support of the junior event. It was one of the most exciting shots I had seen in my young lifetime. Two more incredible bunker hole outs on the 18th hole of a big tournament came later. In 1993 Paul Azinger holed out to win the Memorial. In 2005, Birdie Kim holed out to win the Women's U.S. Open. Tour players have proved to us again and again that bunkers are not all that difficult, not only by holing out, but also by hitting amazing shots that end up right next to the pin. This should give you the confidence that with the right information, you can learn to hit bunker shots with success.
Simplify The Sand
Develop a simple approach to bunker shots
I believe there are several reasons why the average player is so afraid of hitting out of a bunker. First and foremost, there have been so many tips and styles of hitting from the sand that have been taught throughout the decades. Although well intended, most of them are actually detrimental, resulting in some pretty bad shots such as shanks. These require a big recovery effort adding even more strokes to the golfer's score. These teachings include a lot of manipulation to the set up and to the club face. This is so unnecessary and complicates things. It's much more simple than that. Instead of trying all of these crazy tips, you need to get to the heart of the matter...what actually happens when you hit a bunker shot? To become a great bunker player you must first start by understanding what happens when the club enters the sand and the ball in turn flies out. You may have heard that it is the one shot in golf where you miss the ball. If you have a good visualization of your club hitting the sand and the sand in turn displacing your ball, it will make better sense. It's really not all that different from a pitching motion. On MyGolfInstructor.com, we offer an extensive collection of bunker tips, lessons and drills to help you develop a much more simple approach to this very playable shot.
Maria Palozola is a member of the LPGA and has participated in multiple LPGA Tour events. She has provided instruction to thousands of students in the past 20+ years and has won multiple teaching awards from the LPGA, Golf Digest, and Golf Magazine including being ranked as one of the top 50 female instructors in the world.