GET INTO GOLF: Make a splash, get out of the bunker
Last week, we learned about the “sand iron,” a golf club designed for play from the bunker. The club was invented by golf legend, Gene Sarazen, in the early 1930’s and truly changed the game. In the 21st century, the “wedge” has evolved into its own category of golf clubs that include “lob” wedges, “gap” wedges, and “pitching” wedges.
Sarazen’s wedge was specifically designed for sand shots by adding more mass to the bottom of the club (bounce), combined with greater angle on the clubface (loft). Irons in that era were very thin causing the golf club to dig into the sand and they did not have the loft that would help a ball get up in the air quickly. It is quite a bit easier to get a ball out of the sand when the club glides through the sand rather than digging in.
So, if the club was designed to make sand shots easier, why do they seem so difficult?
Even though our equipment has improved significantly, we still need a solid technique to get the ball out of the sand consistently and there is a method for controlling distance.
First things first, let’s talk about getting that ball out. Within a certain range, most of us are more concerned with getting it out than hitting it close. We just don’t want the ball to end up in the bunker on either side of the green and we would prefer not making multiple attempts from the same bunker.
Here is how to get that ball out of the bunker on a regular basis.
Number one; make a good, assertive swing. Most failed attempts come from being too timid.
Second, make sure the club hits the sand first. We’re not trying to hit the ball. We’re trying to hit sand and let the sand move the ball.
This is where the whole ‘bounce’ thing comes in. If we try to strike the ball square, without hitting sand, it is possible to hit a successful shot. However, the margin for error is razor thin. We would need to hit the ball perfectly, every time. Although perfection is a noble goal, let’s give us mere mortals some room for error. If we hit a little too much sand or not enough, it’s not a real problem. The ball will still come out.
Allow the club to essentially sweep a section of sand, the mass on the back of the club-head will bounce off the more solid sand under the surface and push the ball toward your target. Imagine a stone skipping across the water. The water will splash in the wake of the stone bouncing along. Similarly, we want the golf club to splash some sand.
Another good way to picture this is in a practice drill we use with juniors. We’ll take a plank of wood (1 foot by 4 feet) and bury it with about an inch of sand. Then we place a golf ball right on top. Next, we have the junior take a good swing at it. Works like a charm. The club hits the sand first, continues on to bounce off the plank, and the ball pops out of the bunker. You may not be too old to try this yourself.
For a while, you shouldn’t care too much about distance. Just hit a ton of balls. Get used to the feeling of the sand and the bounce and the ball.
When you start feeling comfortable, experiment with distance control. It’s very simple, the less sand you take, the farther the ball will travel. Make big splashes for shorter shots and a brush of sand for longer shots. Getting the ball out of the bunker will become fairly routine, but controlling distance is going to take some time.
The Ridge Golf Course and Alta Sierra Country Club have practice bunkers adjacent to their driving range. Make a few full swings on the range to get warmed up. Then, head over to the practice bunker and make a splash!
John Renslow is a PGA professional, VP of Yugi Golf Management, and provides golf instruction at local courses.
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