A Line In The Sand

By Kevin Haime, CPGA Teaching Professional, www.kevinhaime.com

When it comes to which shot is the toughest in golf for the average player it is no contest.  You can talk all you want about long irons and driving the ball being tough but they’re not even close to the sand shot.  Nothing strikes fear into the average player like their ball rolling into a bunker.  Most golfers are happy just to get out of the sand in one shot let alone trying to get their ball close to the hole.  Interestingly enough, the shot is considered pretty easy for the better player.  Tour pros will actually prefer their ball in a bunker than in the long rough around the green.  So where’s the disconnection between the two levels of golfers?  Why does the sand shot cause absolute terror in the newer player and a sigh of relief for the game’s best?

There are four main reasons why most golfers are so poor out of the sand and three of them have nothing to do with talent.  The first reason deals with equipment.  More than half of the players I work with either try to use a pitching wedge out of the sand or they don’t understand how to set up with their sand wedge and how it should enter the sand.  The second reason is a lack of practice.  How many of you can say that you have ever dumped a bucket of balls into the sand and spent an hour or two working on your technique and touch?  Most players hate practicing in the sand because it’s hot, dusty, and demoralizing.  You’ll definitely need to take a lesson before your practice to make it worth your while, but believe me, bunker practice is pretty fun and rewarding once you start to get results.  The third easy fix is to warm up with a few bunker shots before every round.  Sand and its playability characteristics vary drastically from course to course and day to day.  Without hitting a few practice shots it’s virtually impossible to know how hard to swing and how your ball is likely to react on any given day.

Now we come to the fourth reason golfers struggle in the sand.  Frankly, almost everyone I see try to hit this shot has poor technique so a lesson should be your first priority before you waste your time practicing the wrong thing.  However, the biggest common denominator is fear.  It paralyses players so that they can’t repeat their motion over and over.  Simply put, almost no one I’ve ever worked with can consistently get their club to enter the sand in the same spot every time.  There are a few checkpoints you should work on in the sand – club face slightly open, stance and shoulders slightly open to your target, a touch extra flex in your knees, the ball placed about two inches forward in your stance more than with a regular pitch shot, nice quiet, flexed legs in the back swing, a downward arm swing splashing behind the ball, and a fairly full finish with an athletic weight transfer.  But the real secret to this shot rests with your ability to get your club to enter the sand in the same spot behind the ball every time.  To master this secret to the sand shot you should focus all of your vision and attention on the spot you want your club to enter the sand, not on the ball, which is what most golfers do.  Pick a spot behind the ball and return your club to that spot at impact and you’re sand shots will improve dramatically.  A great practice drill to master this technique is to draw a line, or even paint a line, in the sand, and then practice splashing your club repeatedly along the line.  It’s the best sand drill in golf and the line in the sand drill will help you get over your fear of the shot.

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During my backswing I try to maintain my knee flex and keep my excess motion to a minimum so that I can return my golf club to my orange practice line every time.  Notice how quiet my hips and legs are.

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If you’re going to have any success in the sand you’ll need a sand wedge to splash through the sand properly.  I like to open my clubface slightly to ensure that the back edge of the bottom of the club enters the sand before the leading edge.  If your leading edge enters the sand first it will dig in, not slide through the sand.

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A little quality time spent hitting practice shots in the sand is something very few golfers ever do.  Like with every part of the game, practice will give you confidence and improve your ability.

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To hit a sand shot properly you’ll need to aim your feet and shoulders slightly open to the target and open the clubface of your sand wedge slightly.  You should swing your golf club along your shoulder line.  In this photo I’ve drawn two parallel lines to help me with my foot placement and my preferred swing path.  The line that runs behind the golf ball is my preferred impact point.  All of my attention is on that orange line.  I try to not even look at the ball.