Dial In Your Greenside Bunker Swing

Posted by
April 1, 2024

The Pelz Golf Institute has conducted a comparative analysis of professional vs. amateur play from sand. The results paint a vivid picture of where amateurs (at varying handicap levels) are skill-wise compared to the pros, and what they need to do to effectively improve their games.

Working with the PGA TOUR ShotLink staff (using their data collection hardware and software), we tracked hundreds of amateurs’ play under tournament conditions at the annual golf.com World Amateur Handicap Championship.

I’d like to share one aspect of this research with you: how pros deal with greenside sand shots compared to amateurs, and how understanding this difference might help your sand game.

The data shows Pros leave greenside sand shots, on average, less than 10 feet from the cup (on the green, with a chance for one-putt), while amateurs leave the same shots 19 to 26 feet from the hole, many of which are in the sand again or in some other kind of trouble.

Pros accomplish hitting behind the ball in sand by standing farther behind the ball (positioning the ball farther forward in their stance) while using their normal wedge swing. Use this as a “reference swing”.

Amateurs have watched do the opposite: they keep the ball in the normal place in their stance, and change their swing to hit behind the ball. This causes awkward swings that have different shapes, speeds and follow-throughs, and yields a variety of inconsistent results.

My suggestion for your future sand play is as follows: from a grassy spot outside the bunker always make a normal wedge swing and note where your divot occurs (somewhere near the center of your stance). Now assume this same swing will serve as your sand swing.

As you step into the sand, position the ball forward in your stance (up at the instep of your front foot) so your same normal divot will start in the sand behind the ball. This will cause your club to hit behind the ball as consistently as you hit normal wedge shots solidly from grass. If you also lay your wedge face open in the sand, the club will scoot under the ball, spinning it up and onto the green.

Aim your sand shots to a spot on the green (not necessarily at the flagstick) that leaves you extra space to stay out of trouble. It makes sense that Tour pros aim dead at the flag since they usually hit it to less than 10 feet. When you practice as much as they do, you can aim there, too! For now, aim to spots that give you more green to work with and take hazards (shot-adding situations) out of play. I think it will save you strokes!

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