Bunker play. What comes to mind for you? Does it fill you with fear? Do you think, “how many shots will it take to get out”?
This is one of the areas that amateur golfers practice the least. And it’s one area where the average golfer can really save a ton of strokes. So practicing bunker shots can save you shots and has a number of extra benefits.
- Bunker shots become much easier.
- Lose the fear of being in a green-side bunker.
- Help with rhythm and tempo.
- Smooth out your swing.
The first two benefits are pretty obvious. Practice from the bunker and not only will it get easier, but yes, you will lose the fear of being in a bunker.
The last two benefits are not obvious. How could practicing bunker shots help with rhythm and tempo, and smooth out your swing?
The other day I decided to practice for one full hour hitting shots from the greenside bunker in the short game practice area at my local course. It was an area I had neglected recently as I, for some reason, almost never end up in a greenside bunker. I don’t know why that is, but it’s true. Regardless, I wanted to become more comfortable with bunker shots.
As I practiced I realized something. I have a fairly quick transition in my swing, when it gets too quick, I start losing accuracy and my ball striking degrades. In the bunker, too quick of transition led to bunker shots that were too fat or too thin where I caught too much ball. I also felt on my good bunker shots, that the transition was just right, and I felt the forgiveness of the bunker really help smooth things out.
What most amateur golfers don’t realize is that a bunker shot has the most margin for error of basically any shot in golf. You can hit the sand from 1 to 6 inches behind the ball and still have a reasonable result. I noticed that when my transition was smooth, I hit beautiful shots out of the bunker that went high, landed soft, and spun to a quick stop. Over the course of that hour, my bunker shots got better and better where I could land 6 to 8 out of 10 within a couple of feet of my intended target. But the most powerful effect was the smoothness that I felt in the shots. My swings out of the bunker felt so right. The timing was good, the rhythm was great, and they just flowed.
After 1 hour of hitting bunker shots, I proceeded to practice chips, pitches and lob shots. The tempo from the bunker stayed with me, and I hit some really great short game shots.
I think the main reason that bunker shots encourage such great rhythm is that you’re not actually trying to hit the ball. You have an area of sand behind the ball that you want your sand wedge to enter, and like I said, you’re not actually trying to hit the ball. So you are practicing 3/4 to half swings that are real shots but where you’re not hitting the golf ball, you’re hitting the sand, and this changes the focus.
I have found this to be a really great part of the game to practice because in the process of becoming a better bunker player, you’ll improve your rhythm and timing, which will help your overall game.