An Examination of Bunker Play - Part 1
There has been a lot of dialog here about bunker play and it's probably the subject I get more questions on from both TheWedgeGuy and Ask EIDOLON. But I'm not going to try to cover such a complex subject in one article, as it can’t be done.

Recognizing that, I’m going to share with you a very simple bunker technique that should help any of you improve that area, regardless of your handicap. But let’s start with an overview of what we face and what our expectations should be when we land it on the beach.

The Intimidation Factor

Bunkers have a mental intimidation factor that affects our ability to execute a sound, fluid swing. That’s aggravated by our confusion about exactly how we should hit a bunker shot, as we’ve read a jillion tips about how to do it, and none of them have worked so far. So I’m going to ask you to forget all that you think you know about bunker play (unless that is a strength of your game already), and let me help you build a bunker technique that produces reliable results. But first, let’s talk about exactly what that means.

As of today (5/1/2009), the PGA Tour leader in sand saves is Webb Simpson with a 70.8% success rate. [But for amateur golfers, in my opinion, a sand save does not have anything to with the actual score made; it refers simply to getting up-and down in two shots from the bunker.] Simpson’s percentage is phenomenal, but you have to go all the way down to the 86th ranking to get to 50% (a six-way tie, including Davis Love and Todd Hamilton and Rocco Mediate). The last player ranked (190th) is Kirk Triplett, who’s up and down percentage is just under 25% -- only one out of four attempts! On the Nationwide Tour, the leaders are in the same range, but only 36 players (and these guys are good, too) are above 50%, and 104 above 25%!

The reason I go into this is so that you can set your expectations at a reasonable level. If Fred Couples only gets up and down from greenside bunkers 1 out of 3 times -- on courses that have the same sand texture from bunker to bunker and week to week -- and some Nationwide Tour players less than 1 out of five,
what should your goals be?

Setting Realistic Expectations

Let’s be realistic. Unless you are the best player at your club, your bunker play goals broken should be broken down into two measures:

1. What percentage of the time do you at least get it out of the bunker and close enough to two-putt or chip to one-putt range, so that the bunker did not destroy the hole for you?

2. Then, what percentage of the time do you get out of the bunker and close enough to the hole to make the putt, whether for a birdie, par, bogey or double?

The first one is the “round killer”, when an approach into a greenside bunker results in a double bogey or worse. You either leave the ball in the sand so that you have to do it again, or you come out long and over the green, which often puts you in worse trouble. Only after you have learned a technique that makes those occasions rare can you begin to change your focus on getting the ball close to the hole.

Now that we understand just how hard bunkers are, on Tuesday, we’ll begin to examine a functional technique to get the ball out of the bunker and back in play.
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[ comments ]
bducharm says:
Terry, I always tell my higher handicap friends that there should be 3 goals or expectations from a bunker - out, on, in!!! Definitely accomplish the first one - get out in the first shot (unless there are unusual circumstances). Then the goal is on the green - give yourself a chance. And if by some miracle the third can happen, well then you have done well Grasshopper!!! Out, On, In!!!
perlguy9 says:
My attitude is always "out is good".
onedollarwed says:
Thanks for the reassurance. And I suppose avoiding the bunkers is a high priority. Typically, I'm not in the sand that often - I'll have to look (once a round maybe). My last round was terrible - 8 times. Only once did I hit it twice in the sand (Not as bad as I was thinking I guess!). It used to be that the sand was a nuetral experience with occasional great results. Now, it's like bad, with occasional good results - probably a factor of raised expectations of the round as a whole. The bunkers cost me at least the 8 or 9 shots needed to get out (one was awful, and one was great). I guess that's what they're there for.
Thank you for treating the mind - the number one club in golf!!!!
Kickntrue says:
Awesome article. Can't wait to see the actual tips.

Bunkers are def mental. I'm no pro out getting out- but with a short 3 minute lesson I've gotten a lot better. It's easy to see why pros say they'd rather be in the sand than greenside rough.
jt1135 says:
Maybe I'm an aberration but bunkers don't intimidate me. Have pretty much always been able to get out and on the green. Just open the club and the stance and take a decent swing. Now the putting after that might be a different story.
jerdman says:
I'm guilty of catching ball first, and occassional the chunk. Yet as bad at and as much as I hate being in them, I went back and updated my actual sand saves from greenside bunkers and I'm at 23.7%. I'll take that anyday. But improvement would be nice.
jbird899 says:
I actually love the sand. My golf club had a bunker to practice out of and I use to hit 3 shag bags a week out of it. Just like every shot in golf......practice, practice, practice!
kidputter says:
The bunkers at my home course in AZ are so hard I use my putters mostly to escape. We don't get really good sand at the local public courses. It's more like a fine gravel.

Just waiting for the tips so when I finally experience SAND I will know how to deal with it.
bedaun says:
Prefer bunkers for the extra fringes! What a golfer needs to look for are the type and thickness of the sand in the bunkers. Fairway bunkers are much more different than greenside bunkers.
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Terry Koehler is "The Wedge Guy" and President of SCOR Golf- The Short Game Company.

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