Develop great rhythm and tempo in your golf swing by practicing bunker shots

Practicing bunker shots can improve your rhythm and tempo
Practicing bunker shots can improve your rhythm and tempo

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.

  1. Bunker shots become much easier.
  2. Lose the fear of being in a green-side bunker.
  3. Help with rhythm and tempo.
  4. 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.

30 Day Challenge: Wedges – Day 5 last few days of practice were pretty much rained out by one of the seemingly many tropical storms that’s hitting the north east.  Luckily the skies will clear up for about a week.

I continued to practice short shots at the range, devoting 80% of the bucket of balls to them.

The positive thing is that my distance control is becoming better.  I can get pretty close to the distances I want with virtually any club.  For example there is a green out on the range at 126 yards.  I can hit it pretty consistently with the following clubs 52* sand wedge, PW, 9i, 8i, 7i.  I’m finding that although the 52* can get it there, in fact it can land at about 130.  It gets a super high ball flight.  It’s one of those shots that’s much better if there is no wind.  I’m finding it’s easier to hit consistently with the pw or even 9 iron because the trajectory is more controllable.  With those clubs, the shots feel like half shots almost, but the trajectory is nice, and the ball gets a lot of spin, though I’m not trying to put a lot of spin on it.

I’m still working on accuracy.  Although I’m getting a good feel for the distances, I tend to miss a bit left or right depending on the target. I think that’s simply a matter of working with it.  It continues to be a lot of fun and I know my accuracy will improve.  I’m not missing by much, so that is exciting.

I hit the last 20 balls with some longer irons, hybrid, and woods.  My rhythm was better and I hit some fantastic irons and some really good hybrids.  The driver is the one club that continues to give me a bit of inconsistency but I’m not too worried about that as I don’t need to hit driver all that much to play well.  Still, it would be nice to get the driver in better shape.  I hit some great ones and some poor ones, but even the poor ones would be in play.

I also felt something interesting on my best shots.  It felt as if time slowed down at the top of the backswing.  It was kind of strange, but it also felt really in sync.

Control distance with trajectory are many excellent reasons to learn to control your distance with trajectory.  Here are some of my favorites:

  1. Not every shot is a full shot.  The more you can learn to master partial shots, the more control you’ll have approaching greens.
  2. Dealing with the wind.  Lower trajectory shots fly better in the wind and are less likely to be taken off line.  Have a short shot and it’s a windy day? Take more club and use a partial shot to take the wind out of play.
  3. Helps your short game.  Partial shots are all about feel, control and imagination, learn to do this and it will make your wedge game and short irons so much more effectively.  It will also open up more of the green enabling you to play safer shots to tucked pins and still get the ball close.
  4. Learn solid contact.  Partial shots require you to stay within yourself.  The more you practice these the more you’ll learn to feel how a solid shot feels.  Trust me, it transfers to your long game and full shots and makes you a better ball striker with every club.

Take the 30 day challenge: wedges and learn how to control your irons and wedges with more imagination and creativity.  You’ll learn valuable things that will help your entire game and make you a better player.

Review: The Floppy – Indoor Practice Golf Ball

Master the short game and you can score well even when your long game is off.

The Floppy is a soft indoor practice golf ball.  It has  a woven cover, a liner and a proprietary filling.

The Floppy Close Up
The Floppy Close Up

The videos on the homepage do a good job of showing what the floppy does and how it reacts when it bounces of windows.  When I first saw the floppy on-line I thought it was going to be a bit like a hacky sack in the shape of a golf ball.  But when you squeeze it, it instantly bounces back into shape.   The quality of the woven cover is very good.  I would imagine that a single ball could easily take thousands of hits.  The sticker on the ball won’t last that long though.  It pretty quickly got worn down so that the text was difficult to read.    That does not affect it’s performance.

How it behaves

It is best to have it land on something as close to turf as possible.  I found that on carpet it does react very much like a golf ball.  It checks up pretty well, and can even spin back a little bit.  You can hit it high or low and it will behave predictably.

For us North Easterners, and anyone else stuck in the cold, it does provide a nice way to practice your short game.    Depending on how hard you hit them I think they could still knock some things over as they do have a little bit of weight to them.  However they do absorb impacts well and lightly bounce of harder objects like walls or plate glass.  I think these would be a blast to use in an indoor AstroTurf field.

Overall I think The Floppy is a very cool indoor practice ball.  When I combine it with my golf mat (Country Club Elite) and use the stance mat as a grassy target it really does allow me to practice short chips and pitches very well.   I was easily able to practice chip shots inside up to 25 ft, limited by my living space and not the ball it self.  I could hit high little floaters or low running chips well with it.

The Floppy certainly takes a bit of the sting out of being in a cold part of the country with a few months until the golf season officially starts here.  In the meantime I can become a deadly chipper and pitcher and hopefully a short game wizard.  My preference with the floppy is to land it on the “short grass” of the stance mat, and see how it rolls out or responds rather than bouncing it off the walls as it is show in the videos on the home page for the product.

On a side note, I am a fan of Phil Mickelson’s “Secrets of the Short Game”, and find that the Floppy with the mats allows me to groove a consistent hinge and hold.

Although it can be used for the long game, I do not have a net and I would not take full swings with the floppy, at least not until I had a good practice net in place.  But for short game practice, I have not hit another practice golf ball that gives me the kind of feedback that the floppy does.

The Floppy Home Page