with Kevin Haime, PGA of Canada Class A Professional
The most misunderstood shot in golf has to be the sand shot. Most average golfers have very little idea about to hit the shot. If I ask 10 golfers to tell me how they hit a sand shot, I’ll get 10 different answers. That lack of understanding leads to a lot of fear and lousy shots so let’s clear up the confusion now…
Some of the blame for poor sand play rests with the language about the shot. You’re taught to blast the ball out or to hit an explosion shot. Blast? Explode? It all sounds pretty violent. Many high handicappers I work with start out swinging so hard in the bunker, it’s no wonder that they mishit so many shots. In truth, the sand shot is a more delicate shot. The idea is to just skim a little sand under the ball so the ball floats up onto the green. So, your first tip to becoming a better sand player is to treat the shot more like any shot around the green. Green side shots are softer, touch shots played with rhythm and control. Sand shots really aren’t that difficult once you know how you’re supposed to hit them.
Here are 10 steps to better sand shots:
GET IN THERE: How many of you can say you’ve ever spent a solid hour in a bunker? Very few golfers ever really practise this part of their game. Everyone is quick to complain about lousy bunker shots, but you have to do something about it. If golfers took just one sand shot lesson and followed it up with 10 hour-long practice sessions over the next few weeks, they would be very good at the shot.
FILL YOUR TOOL BOX: As you fill your golf bag, you should have a quality sand wedge that is fitted to you and your swing shape. So many golfers I come across either have a sand wedge that just matches their iron set, or they have an old hand-me-down club. You’ll hit your sand wedge from either sand or grass at least five times a round, so make sure it is fitted to you and your swing then spend the money on a top brand.
GET YOUR EYE OFF THE BALL: You don’t want to hit the ball, so why are you looking at it? In the sand, your club should contact the sand two inches behind the ball, so that’s where you should be looking. You should also place your club at that point, too. I see way too many golfers placing their club directly behind the ball.
DRAW A LINE IN THE SAND: My all-time favourite drill for improving your sand play is “the line in the sand” drill. A real key to sand shots is controlling where your club enters the sand, so I have golfers literally create a line in the sand with their club and then ty to hit it. Once you can hit the line consistently, you’ll start seeing a lot more consistent sand play.
OPEN UP: You don’t want to dig too much in the sand and that will happen if the leading edge of your club contacts the sand first. To hit proper sand shots, you want the back edge of your club to splash the sand which prevents digging. To do this you should open up your club face slightly then take your grip. It also helps to open up your body alignment to compensate for that open club face. Opening up your body to the target also encourages an out to in, steeper swing path which I prefer for higher, softer shots. I have my students open the club 20 degrees or so then open their alignment about the same amount. This set up leads to offsetting angles and straight, soft shots.
DEVELOP SOME FEEL: I’m a big believer in taking the same amount of sand for almost every sand shot. Just like with every other shot around the green, you should control the length of the shot with your rhythm and the length of your swing.
STAY STILL: Keep your body as quiet as possible and you’ll have a lot easier time controlling your entry point every time and that is another key to consistency. If you move your legs or hips too much, or even worse if you sway or lift during your swing, you’ll be a lot more likely to miss-hit your shot and leave it in the bunker or skull the ball over the green.
LOAD THAT LEG: If you’re having a tough time staying still when you swing, try loading your weight on your front leg (left leg for righties) and leave it there throughout the swing. Your ball will tend to come out a little higher than usual, but if you’re struggling with staying still during your swing, you should really give this idea a try.
FLEX, FLEX, FLEX: Another key to making sure you don’t move around too much is to add a little extra knee flex to your address position. You want to slide your club under the ball, so lower yourself a bit to make that easier for you. Digging your feet in and creating a solid stance will also help you slide your club under the ball more easily.
MOVE IT FORWARD: Since you want to hit a spot two inches behind the ball, you should move the ball two inches forward of where you would play the same shot from grass. To pitch a ball in grass, I position the ball one inch forward of the centre of my stance, so in the sand I position the ball three inches forward of the centre of my stance.
A sand shot is considered one of the easiest around the green by the best players in golf. If you want to lose your sand shot fear and anxiety your answer is simple, just do what they do…. learn the proper technique then spend some time practising the shot.
I really like this action shot because it shows so many important things. You can certainly see that I’m open to my target and turning through the ball with quiet leg action and a neutral grip. You can also see that my club face is still open after it slid through the sand under the ball. The divot looks nice and shallow and the ball is popping almost straight up suggesting a high, soft shot. Notice how far past the ball the club head is in the photo…textbook stuff.