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.

The Magic Golf Swing of Ben Hogan

I love this video.  Ben Hogan’s swing is so classic and there is so much to learn from it.  Even on his short swings watch how he generates lag and delivers the club to the ball.  Just beautiful.   Hogan’s swing is the best example of what I talk about in my book.  He is efficient and was known for amazing accuracy and shot making.

He never looks like he swings hard but he always hits it solid.  Very inspirational.

Building Club Head Speed

badsimpactThere are a lot of articles and posts about building club head speed.  But I think there are two ways, a wrong way and a right way.

The Wrong Way

The wrong way to build club speed is with a lot of effort.  This leads to over the top moves, loss of control, reduced smash factor and lots of swing faults.

But when we do it the wrong way, we do it because it feels like it’s fast.  Have you ever been in a cheap, compact car, doing 45 on a rough road?  That 45 can feel like 80 really quick.

Have you ever been in a sportscar, or luxury car cruising at 80 on a smooth straight road but it feels like you’re going 45?

The feel of speed is subjective.  The compact car on the bumpy road feels faster, but it isn’t.  There is a lot of effort and moving parts, but it’s not going all that fast.  The sports car on the smooth road is really traveling much faster but it doesn’t feel that way.  It just feels nice and easy.  That is the way club speed should feel.

The Right Way

The right way involves solid fundamentals to generate coil, lag, and the crack of the whip through the impact position.  My best strikes always feel effortless.  My poor strikes always feel like I’m working too hard for it.  For me, the biggest keys to a fast club head seem to be:

  1. A soft grip on the club
  2. Proper spine tilt
  3. Maintaining my balance
  4. Not trying to kill it

When I do these things I generate power that surprises me.  When I don’t do them, then I’m working too hard.  When you look at the impact position above, note how the hands are past the club head at impact.  This is not that easy to do for your average golfer.  But this is critical to generating club head speed.

Winter Golf Round

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Okay, so there wasn’t any snow on the ground.  And that’s not a picture of the course I played.  But it was an unbelievable 62 degress in December in the Northeast.

Had to take advantage of it so I went out and played a round.  The course was pretty spongy and wet from all the rain we got last night.  But I can’t complain too much as I think the rain was responsible for the warm temperatures.

I warmed up at home with the Orange Whip Trainer, then headed out to the course.  My rhythm felt good and I felt like it was going to be a good ball striking day.

I started the round off with a 4 wood that flew quite a bit longer than my driver usually does.  It flew a good 40-50 yards further.  I don’t know if it was the warmer air or I just hit the ball extremely solid but I was very pleased with that shot.  On the next hole I hit an enormous drive, GPS measured to 302.  That is long for me.  Lately I’ve been carrying it out about 265-270.  There was very little roll on the course due to the wet conditions so I was amazed when we got the GPS measurement on it.

For the most part the day went somewhat like this.  I was hitting my irons very crisp again.  I continued to try to use as light a grip as possible.  I got a little over excited with the driver a couple of times and tried to force it (which resulted in some predictable blocks).  I was pretty much zeroed in with my wedges.  The only thing that let me down today was the putting.  I needed 33 putts which is why I ended up with an 81.  It’s a respectable round but it could have been so much better.  I think my work with the Orange Whip and the Country Club Elite golf mats is really starting to pay some dividends.  I feel like I’m a lot more patient on the course and I feel like my rhythm has just improved so much.