Greenside bunkers have always been one of my favourite places to be on a golf course. As a kid, I pretended to be Seve Ballesteros and would try to get the ball out of all kinds of difficult lies in the sand. It was fun, but I'm guessing many of you might not feel the same way about bunkers.
I helped my coach, Pat Goss, with a study on sand play a few years ago. We found that bunkers cost amateurs more shots than when they hit their ball into the water.
I think amateurs struggle because they fail to do one or both of these things: (1) Keep the clubface open, so the back of the wedge strikes the sand before the leading edge does. (2) Take as much sand in front of the ball as they do behind it.
To tackle the first problem, remember to open the clubface before you take your grip. If you open the face after you grip the club, you'll set your hands in a strong position, and that makes it difficult to keep the clubface skyward throughout the swing. A great drill to help maintain the open position is to put some sand on the face of the club and try to keep it there as you rehearse backswings.
To take sand on both sides of the ball, you need to shallow your swing path so the club can skim the top layer of sand just behind the ball and continue moving through it after impact. You can set up for this shallow path by playing the ball up in your stance near your front foot and leaning the shaft slightly away from the target. Try my windshield-wiper drill to get a feel for this skimming action. Make little swings using only your wrists. Hinge the club up with your wrists in the backswing and rehinge it in the follow-through. That's the feeling you want when you hit these shots.
Everyone wants to hit big drives and towering long irons, but if you're serious about lowering your scores, you need to improve around the greens. My ability to hit good pitches and chips, knock bunker shots and half-wedges close, and hole putts was a big reason I got to No. 1 in the World Golf Ranking in 2011 and 2012. So where should you start? How about watching my new series, “Luke Donald's Short-Game Secrets,” on the Golf Digest Schools video platform? It's a five-video series offering my in-depth approach to putting, chipping, pitching, bunker play and half-wedge shots. You can check it out, along with the other great GD Schools content, at golfdigest.com/allaccess.
LUKE DONALD has led the PGA Tour in sand saves three times. —with Ron Kaspriske.