In golf, you are your own coach. Even if you do take lessons, I’ll bet you spend most of your practice time hitting the same shot over and over, whether it’s a driver or a chip shot. You think you’re getting better, but all you’re really doing is grooving compensations as you go. On the course, you get one chance to hit the shot; that’s what you need to improve.
To help players like you use their practice time better, I’ve created a three-step system. The first step is Block Practice: Set up a practice station to work on a skill. Next comes Random Practice: Apply that skill to different shots you face on the course. Finally, there’s Competitive Practice: Make each shot count so you’ll be ready to use it under pressure.
Here I’ve applied my system to the short game, one area for each level of player-bunker play for 100-shooters, chipping for middle-handicappers and putting for the better players.
1. BLOCK: SPLASH THE SAND
First, a quick refresher. To hit a bunker shot, take a slightly open stance, open the clubface about 20 degrees and play the ball off your left instep. Hit two inches behind the ball, and swing hard enough to hit it twice as far as your target. For example, use a 20-yard swing to hit a 10-yard bunker shot.
Here’s a great Block Practice drill. Draw a line in the sand and straddle it in the center of your stance (left). Without a ball, practice splashing sand out of the bunker, the club touching down in front of the line. Once you can do this consistently, you’re ready to move on to Random Practice.
2. RANDOM: LEARN TO GO DIFFERENT DISTANCES
Find a long greenside bunker and drop balls at three spots: short, middle and long. The middle station should represent a standard bunker shot, say, 30 feet from the hole. Start in the middle and practice hitting onto the green, then move forward and try it from the shortest station before moving to the longest.
To hit sand shots different distances, adjust the length of your backswing and finish–and remember the 2:1 distance ratio above. For the standard shot, swing your left arm back just past parallel to the ground, about 9:30 or 10 on a clock face, hinging the clubhead above your hands. Then accelerate through the sand to the other side. For the shorter shot, your backswing should go just short of 9 o’clock, and for the long one, about 10:30 or 11.
Two more adjustments. On the short shots, open your stance more and open the clubface about 40 degrees instead of 20. On the long ones, set your stance and the clubface almost square, maybe 10 degrees open. The face should always start slightly open to counter its tendency to be closed when it reaches a ball played forward in the stance.
3. BONUS DRILL: UNDER MEANS OUT
To hit a successful bunker shot, you have to move the sand under the ball. If you do that, the sand pushes the ball out.
One great way to get a feel for this dynamic is to practice hitting bunker shots from buried lies. Drop a ball in the sand and the surface. Play the ball off you front heel and try to blast it out. You’ll quickly realize that you have to really boat down on the sand to get the club face under the ball. This is a great exercise because most golfers need to learn to swing more aggressively down in to the sand.