Unlike when they are swimming at the beach, most golfers don’t appreciate the sand, no matter how nice it looks against that lush green background.
Mohawk Golf Club head pro Jeremy Kerr understands his members’ worries about bunkers, and he tries to take away the fear factor with several tips that any duffer can use.
“I think most amateur players are afraid of two things in golf — bunkers and water,” he said at his club’s famous “Postage Stamp” 15th green, which is surrounded by 11 bunkers. “This is a perfect place to teach bunker play. Golfers seem to tighten up when they see the bunkers or try to hit over water, but if they concentrate on where to hit the ball instead of where not to hit it, they will be much better off.”
The first tip Kerr gave us this week was which club to use.
“Most players choose a
56-degree wedge or a sand wedge, but it’s much better to use a lob wedge or a 60-degree wedge,” he said. “The more loft you have, the easier it is to get the ball out of the sand, and it also won’t run away from the hole so far.”
Once you have picked your weapon of choice, it’s important to get your setup correct.
“When you get into the sand, your feet should be pointed a bit left of target, and you should also open your clubface up so that it faces the sky,” Kerr said. “Dig your feet into the sand to get a good base, and make sure your ball placement is just slightly forward of center.”
Kerr said both the choice of club and the ball placement could change, depending on if you are trying to hit a very long bunker shot, where you might have to switch to a pitching wedge, or if your ball is plugged in the bunker, forcing you to close your clubface. But for normal bunker shots, these fundamentals will apply.
“Make sure you follow through along your toe line, and only follow through as far as your backswing,” Kerr said. “Some golfers take a very short backswing and then try to force the club through the sand. It’s better to keep your backswing and your follow through the same distance.”
Once you have your club and you are set up correctly, Kerr suggests trying to hit the sand about an inch or so behind the ball. Remember that you are not trying to hit the ball first in a bunker. He also wants golfers to use their upper body and chest to complete the shot.
“Bring the club through with the mass of your body,” Kerr said. “Many golfers try to use only their hands and their wrists to make their swing, but if you use your upper body and chest area, it will be much easier to get the ball out of the bunker, and you will be much more consistent. And don’t forget to accelerate. Many golfers actually slow down their swing because they are afraid they will hit it too far.”
During the shooting of a Daily Gazette video segment on bunker play, Kerr blasted out of the sand and near the hole time after time. After a while, he was replaced by his 13-year-old son, Logan, who attends Van Antwerp Middle School.
“I ususally get out of the sand without much of a problem,” Logan said. “I’m not afraid of the shot.”
But while Logan was barely able to get out of the bunker, he couldn’t get the elevation that his father did, and the ball often landed in the fringe — especially on the bunker shots from the deepest bunkers in front of the 15th green.
“Logan doesn’t have a lob wedge yet,” his father said. “Younger players probably don’t need a lob wedge until they get a little older, but more experienced players and adults can definitely do a better job out of the bunkers with more loft.”
Former Price Chopper CEO Neil Golub, a longtime member and club champion at Mohawk, has always been known as a superb bunker player.
“When we had the old Skins Game, we used to bring in some of the game’s most well-known players, like Arnold Palmer, Lee Trevino and Freddy Couples,” Golub recalled. “As one of the sponsors, I would always have a sponsors challenge, where I would hit some bunker shots against these players for a charitable pledge. I was always pretty good at it, and I wasn’t nervous, because I warmed up and always prepared.
“One time, on the ninth hole at Albany Country Club, just before the sponsors challenge, Couples asks me what are we playing for. I told him Ellis Hospital. He then went on to ask me again what are WE playing for? I told him we were playing for each other’s putter. All I can say is that we both hit our bunker shots, and I’ve owned his [Roll Face Teardrop] putter ever since.”
Golub agrees with Kerr in that he uses a lob wedge for bunker play.
“I prefer a 60-degree wedge, but I learned a long time ago that wedges have a leading edge and a bounce,” Golub said. “I learned how to use the bounce rather than the leading edge. If you open the blade, you can access the bounce, and that allows you to skim through the sand and lift the ball up in the air. If you use the cutting edge, you can get into trouble.”