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Challenging Golf Holes

Ask the Pros: Tips for Getting Out of a Sand Trap

Technically, a sand trap is a hazard, but if you ever watch the professionals on television, hitting from a bunker is often much more desirable than some nasty, four-inch-long rough. Therefore, for the rest of the non-broadcast golfers, we shouldn’t consider landing in a bunker hazardous to our game. But for many, it still is, so we asked a pro for some tips to get out of the sand with our sanity intact.

That golf pro is John Kendall, manager at Giants Ridge Golf & Ski Resort in Biwabik. And right out of the gate, Kendall agrees that hitting out of a sand bunker can be a difficult mental obstacle for some players to overcome.

A Different Way of Thinking

“The approach to the shot is the biggest hurdle for the average golfer, since it’s the only shot that we’re going to hit where we’re not trying to hit the ball,” Kendall says. “For so many shots around the green, the amateur’s focus is on the leading edge of the golf club, but when in the bunker, people have to engage the bounce of the sand wedge, which is the sole of the club. So, that becomes a challenge. It’s a different way of thinking, it’s a different way of approaching the golf shot.”

Therein lies the challenge. The sand shot is completely different than most shots out of the grass, so golfers need a different mindset, and some different skills when hitting a sand shot.

“Since we’re not trying to hit the ball directly, the speed required, the effort required to hit the ball a certain distance, dramatically goes up because we’re moving the club through heavier material and using the sand that is moving out of the bunker to propel the ball out of the bunker. So, the effort and speed required are much greater than a regular shot off grass. That leads to some apprehension and some hesitancy, and that’s what gets most people in trouble.”

It’s possible to alleviate that apprehension and hesitancy by paying attention to some basic ideas about hitting out of sand. Here are some of Kendall’s keys:

Take a full swing

“The biggest thing is to make sure the club keeps moving through the sand and we continue our swing to a full, finished position. You will see a lot of players hit at the ball and either leave the club in the bunker in the sand or shortly past impact. That’s exactly the wrong thing to do. We have to swing through the ball with a nice high finish, and that will propel the ball out of the bunker.”

Hit behind the ball

“The best visual I can convey to amateur players is that if that ball is sitting on the middle of a dollar bill, you have to take all of that sand around that dollar bill out of that bunker with your shot. We should not be as ball focused, but we have to take a good bit of sand out to let that sand take the ball out of the bunker.”

Open the clubface

“Typically, I like to open the clubface up and do it with the grip. Turn your grip — if your regular grip is at 12 o’clock, turn it to about 10 o’clock — so the clubface actually appears open. That will engage the sole of the club, the bounce of the sand wedge, and help the club not dig when you do hit the sand. The club will work the way you need it to, and keep the club from digging and help propel the ball out.”

Line-up your shot

“Most people like to set their body line and feet a little bit open. For a right-handed golfer being open, they’d be aimed a little bit left. That’s more of a function of the shorter swing and the steeper nature of a shorter swing like this, when we’re trying to get down underneath the ball. We want the clubface to be pointed where we want the ball to go. Our body line and feet will be a little bit open — for a right-handed golfer, left of the target, and for a left-handed golfer to the right of the target.”

Examine the sand conditions

“Sand conditions can definitely vary between courses. It’s always a good idea before you go out to hit a couple practice bunker shots to get an idea of what you are going to face on the golf course.

“Another great way to determine sand conditions is when you are entering a bunker, your feet will give you a lot of feedback about how firm the sand is. Dig in your feet and get a read on the sand. It’s the best way to determine what the conditions are. Typically, the firmer the sand, the faster the ball will come out when you hit it. The fluffy, soft sand requires more effort, and the firm, wet, compacted sand requires less effort.”

Final adjustments

Ultimately, he says you have to approach sand shots differently than you are used to, but that doesn’t mean they should be feared.

“It’s a completely different mindset,” Kendall says. “It’s a completely different objective — because this is the only shot where we are not trying to hit the ball.”

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