Fundamentals for the Basic Greenside Sand Shot

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What is a Basic Sand Shot

Like other full swing shots, there is a great variety of sand shots you will face.  One analysis indicated there was more than fifty conditions from which you might have to play a shot.  The controlling variables are shot distance for both carry and roll, the elevation needed to get the ball up and over the lip of the bunker and your lie conditions.  To control these factors, you will need to be able to adjust your ball position, angle of attack, entry point into the sand and depth of cut into the sand, swing length and swing tempo.  The objective of this article is to learn to play a typical sand shot from mid-length, average trajectory, flat, ball setting up lie condition.  As a slight extension, the ability to control the trajectory and length of a basic shot will also be discussed.   

Overcoming Fear

In an effort to ease poorly skilled player's fear, countless lessons, books, videos and magazine articles have repeated the idea that the sand shot is "not a difficult shot".†† This teaching must be qualified. Playing from the sand can be very difficult for a player lacks a basic understanding of what he is trying to do, how he should go about doing it and a few other critical factors.†† However, once a player is armed with this knowledge and has developed a basic skill from a little practice time, it is entirely reasonable for nearly every golfer to expect to succeed.

Expect to Succeed

There are several valid reasons why you should expect to succeed. First, the pre-swing adjustments required for sand play are very similar to the ordinary and natural mistakes that must be overcome to skillfully execute a full, normal swing.Very simply, many players can go back to doing what they probably did first time they picked up a club. Second, the sand wedge was specifically designed to provide a larger margin of error than a Driver or 5-iron. When you are using a properly fitted sand wedge, you do not have to hit a perfect shot to get reasonable results. Finally, the swing mechanics of a basic sand shot are simpler than for a normal full swing. Generally the length of the backswing does not pass a three-quarter position.

Basic Performance Goals

The first rule for sand play is to "get me out of this trap". On the PGA Tour 55% is the minimum target number for sand saves.  For the bogey (or even less skilled) golfer, simply getting out of the sand and onto the putting surface is a challenging goal. There are few things more frustrating than to leave the ball in the bunker only to face nearly the same shot again. Extracting the ball from the bunker and leaving it anywhere on the green will usually leave little more than an intermediate length putt. Every golfer who follows the guidelines of this text should be able to perform to this level of skill.  Exceptional circumstances are the only reason a golfer might doubt his basic skill and expectation of success. Not only should you be able to escape the bunker, you should also be able to defeat the fear of "skulling" the ball over the green.      

While you may not be approach the 55% conversion rate of a tour pro, it is entirely possible for a middle handicap golfer to develop the skill required to challenge a sand save more than half of the time. To do this you must be able to place the ball on the green in a position, which leaves a reasonably makeable putt. Any putt outside of fifteen feet has little chance. Therefore, a reasonable measure of skill would be the ability to leave a sand shot within fifteen feet more than half the time. Remember, putting skill also figures into your sand game skill.  How do you get to be a better sand or short game player ... improve your short and intermediate putting

Finally, there are some shots that strike fear into hearts of even the very best tour pros. There are some shots which are just so difficult, even the best players cannot execute with any consistency. These circumstances are rare but they do exist. When faced with an impossible shot, gain a stroke by giving up a stroke. Play to a safe position rather than risking a low percentage shot.  Playing it safe and leaving an intermediate or lag length putt (getting up and down in three) will almost always produce the same or a lower number than the higher risk shot. If you are interested in the lowest reasonable score then discretion is often the better part of valor. Likewise, there are times when recording the lowest possible score is the only choice.  When you have nothing to lose, then go for it!

The Sand "Divot"

Most players know the club does not normally touch the ball when executing the basic sand shot. The ball "explodes" out of the bunker on cushion of sand, which resembles the type of divot, you see flying down the target line after a tour professional has hit a short iron into the green. The major difference is the turf taken from a normal divot comes from in front of the ball while the sand divot comes from behind the ball like the normal divot; the sand divot is produced by pre-swing set-up position and the execution of basic swing mechanics.

 

The ball is played more forward in the stance for a sand shot where as the ball is played more back in the stance for normal turf shot. Playing the ball forward in the stance allows the club to enter the sand one to three inches behind the ball without any adjustment in swing mechanics. All that is required is to correctly set-up for the shot, focus your eyes and attention on a spot on the sand, and then swing at the spot instead of the ball. With a sand shot, the amount of sand you take is an important factor that is controlled by several variables which include but is not limited to: type of sand, moisture in the sand, width of the club's sole and the "bounce angle" of the club's sole. There is an obvious need to be able to predict and than control the amount of divot you take.

Club Design and Function

Understanding how the sand wedge is designed to work in conjunction with a simplified swing technique can add conveyance to your game. The sand wedge is designed to allow you to hit down sharply on the sand yet not "dig" too deeply into the sand. There are two primary design features on a sand wedge, which allow you to accomplish this task.

The first feature is the width of the sole. In general a sand wedge has a much wider sole than other clubs. Because of the added width, a sand wedge is usually several swingweight points (how heavy the clubhead "feels") heavier than your other clubs. Conceptually, think of it as the difference between an ax and a sledgehammer. The ax, even though is much lighter than a sledge, can penetrate into a wood log. A sledge, if swung at the same velocity as an ax would have substantially more power but would never penetrate into the log.

The second design variable is the "bounce angle" of the club. With the club sitting on a flat surface, look at the toe end of the club when the shaft of the club is in a vertical position. You will be able to see how the back edge of the sole is the only part of the club, which touches the ground. The leading edge of the club is

 elevated several degrees (normally 8-12°) higher than the back edge. This difference is the bounce angle. Bounce works in conjunction with the width of the sole to prevent the club from digging too deeply into the sand. When a sand shot is correctly executed, the back edge of the sole is the first part of the club to touch the sand. The dub literally "plows" through the sand rather than digging into the sand.

It is important for a golfer, especially a beginning or poorly skilled golfer, to be correctly "fitted" with a sand wedge. Some players have spent years fighting the problem when a different club could have made things a lot easier. Having more margin for error raises a player's confidence, which in turn results in more relaxed mind and body, which in turn translates into better skill. It's either a vicious circle spiraling into more and more failure or a stepwise progression towards success. The correct fit for any golfer is relative to skill level and normal playing conditions. In general, the more skill a player has, the narrower the sole and the lower the bounce angle can be. A narrow, low bounce sand wedge can also be used as a multi-functional club for various greenside conditions whereas the more typical sand wedge is generally limited to bunker play.

The type of sand you normally expect to play also influences the design characteristics of the wedge you should use. For dryer, lighter or more powdery sand, a sole with bounce is recommended. For wetter, heavier, or more dirt-like sand, more sole and bounce is required As a general rule, include a club specifically designed to match your skill and typical playing conditions. Do not out think the game. It is far better to remove a less useful club (from your fourteen club limit) and to replace it with a third or 60 degree wedge rather than trying to force a less suitably designed sand club with as a multi-functional club. You'll only end up making twice as many mistakes.

Basic Performance Goals

The first rule for sand play is to "get me out of this trap". On the PGA Tour 50% is the minimum target number for sand saves. For the bogey (or even less skilled) golfer, simply getting out of the sand and onto the putting surface almost every time is a laudable goal. There are few things more frustrating than to leave the ball in the bunker only to face the same shot again. Extracting the ball from the bunker and leaving it anywhere on the green will usually leave little more than an intermediate length putt. Every golfer who follows the guidelines of this text should be able to perform to this level of skill.Exceptional circumstances are the only reason a golfer might doubt his basic skill and expectation of success. Not only should you be able to escape the bunker, you should also be able to defeat the fear of "skulling" the ball over the green.††††††

While you may not be approach the 50% conversion rate of a tour pro, it is entirely possible for a middle handicap golfer to develop the skill required to challenge a sand save more than half of the time. To do this you must be able to place the ball on the green in a position, which leaves a Reasonably makeable putt. Any putt outside of fifteen feet has little chance. Therefore, a reasonable measure of skill would be the ability to leave a sand shot within fifteen feet more than half the time. Remember, putting skill also figures into your sand game skill. How do you get to be a better sand or short game player ... improve your short and intermediate putting

Finally, there are some shots that strike fear into hearts of even the very best tour pros. There are some shots which are just so difficult, even the best players cannot execute with any consistency. These circumstances are rare but they do exist. When faced with an impossible shot, gain a stroke by giving up a stroke. Play to a safe position rather than risking a low percentage shot.Playing it safe and leaving an intermediate or lag length putt (getting up and down in three) will almost always produce the same or a lower number than the higher risk shot. If you are interested in the lowest reasonable score then discretion is often the better part of valor. Likewise, there are times when recording the lowest possible score is the only choice.When you have nothing to lose, then go for it!

Pre-Swing Setup for the Basic Greenside Sand Shot

The Standard, "5-Part, Pre-Swing Set-Up Routine

Every golfer should have a pre shot routine which gets you both physically and mentally ready to play the next shot Your goal is to systematically reduce the fear of failure and to increase your confidence. Any pre-swing round should be consistent and integrated into the whole game. Simply, how you get ready for a putt should be the same as how you get ready for a drive which should be the same as how you get ready for an escape from a trouble condition ... even if you have to stand on one foot!Obviously, different conditions require different responses. The more simple things are, the more consistent the results will usually be.

The five points of performance in this section describe only the basic essentials of what a player must do when physically setting up for a shot. The complete pre swing routine involves much more than just these five points.There are mental things you must do while standing behind the ball and as when you approach the ball (visualize, analyze and select then point and paint). There are also mental things you must do after you have taken your stance over the ball and after you have made your swing (clear, focus and fire then analyze and reinforce). The complete pre-swing routine is taught in another instruction module. The following pre-swing routine has been proven to work.

     Club ... Sole the club flat on the ground then turn it left or right until it is square to your intended target line.

Sand Play Adjustments to the Standard 5-Part Routine

Club:The rules of golf do not allow the clubhead to touch the sand.Hold the clubs so the clubhead is a couple of inches off the sand and three to four inches behind the ball (see section on focus of attention). A second adjustment is also made. Basic alignment far the face is about 30ļ open relative to the intended target line. The exact amount of alignment is a matter of individual comfort Face alignment is also a primary variable used to control the trajectory and flight length of a shot (see section on trajectory and ball flight).

Grip:There are no significant adjustments required for sand play.However the technique of aligning both thumbs down the shaft the a stronger position will help quiet the hands as they pass through the impact zone.

Point:To control the amount of divot you take there are a few critical things a golfer must do.First, you must correctly position the ball between your feet then you must establish a correct relationship between the ball, shaft, hands and shoulders.With the ball in a forward position, aim the shaft of the club at your left breast. Doing this will cause hands to be even with or even slightly behind the ball. The purpose of a technique is to force the bottom rear portion of the club's sole to correctly 'bounce" through the sand rather than digging in.

Aim:†† Align your shoulders and knees in an open position relative to the intended target line. Shoulder and knee alignment should be nearly "equal and opposite" to the amount of clubface alignment you have established. This adjustment is necessary to allow the hips to release slightly prior to the club making contact with the sand. Correct swing mechanics for the sand shot feature reduced lower body action. While this appears to be conflict of objectives, the goal is to provide enough range of motion in the hips to prevent the swing from being restricted but not so much freedom to allow the swing becomes "loose" at the bottom. Also remember, shoulder alignment is directly related to ball position between the feet. Opening or closing the shoulders affects ball position between the feet. Ball position is directly related to trajectory and ball flight.

Hang:NO significant adjustments are required for sand play.Check you posture over the ball for...butt up, chest down, chin up, arms hang and weight is balanced on the balls of your feet.Posture creates the possibility for a natural, free flowing swing. Bad posture is not compatible with good golf.

Visual Focus of Attention

Your mind's eye must be focused on the spot where you want the club penetrate into the sand.Vision is the "queen of all senses". If you canít see your target, then it becomes much more difficult to actually hit your target. The full swing admonition "you canít hit what you canít see and you canít see what youíre not looking at" is still true.In this case the basic problem is not "looking up" but the common mistake of holding the club too close to the ball, which blocks your view of the entry, point into the sand.The very simple technique of holding the club three or four inches behind the ball eliminates this mistake.This technique alone improves many playersí skill.

 

The sand shot is mechanically simpler than the full swing because your hands seldom elevate higher than your shoulders.A full, free flowing weight transfer characterizes a normal full swing.The sand swing is more compact.The sand swing requires your weight to stay balanced "between your feet". The swing is more up and down and "outside (the target line) to inside" than the normal full swing shot. The re is no conflict with natural body mechanics. Even less flexible golfers have little trouble with a three quarter swing. A more vertical swing plane lets gravity do most of the work. The common mistake of "cocking" the wrists too early in the backswing actually help correctly execute the sand swing.Finally, there is no need to perfectly square up the clubface or the swing path through the ball. The common mistake of making an outside to inside swing path is actually desirable in a sand shot swing.

Hand and Arm Action:The hands can be more active on the backswing and less active on the down and through swing.This is almost a complete reversal of everything you must do in a normal full swing.On the backswing the early cocking of the wrists cause the hands to change the natural "U" shaped swing arc (path of the club head) On more of a "V' shape. Generally it can be said that the hands 'pick up the club" rather than swing it back. This is acceptable in the sand shot because full weight transfer to the back foot is not required or even desired. on the downswing the hands are inactive. A deliberate effort must be made to "hold on" or to "block" the shot rather than releasing the hands as you would on a normal swing The last thing you want is for the clubface to "square up" to the ball.

Execution of the Basic Sand Shot

In our full swing module, the whole backswing is broken down into four one-quarter parts. The takeaway is the initial movement of the club away from the ball to a point just outside the right knee or into an area between a 7-8 o'clock position (6 o'clock being equal to the ball position). The backswing is the movement of the hands and club up to the half way or two-quarter position at waist or 9 o'clock high. The upswing is the movement of the hands and club up to the three quarter position at shoulder or 10 o'clock. The final, four quarter movement is the setting the hands at the top. The whole backswing is executed as one continuous, flowing motion. However, for the purposes of instruction it is convenient to break the backswing down into parts for the purpose of sequentially looking for the most common errors associated with each position.In learning to play, a golfer should use the Whole, Part, Whole concept o£ learning. 

To comply with this fundamental of learning, always correct, major, whole swing, gross movement errors first.Examples of whole swing fundamentals are correct posture; looking at the ball and making a full shoulder turn back and through the ball. When you are making consistently solid contact, then you can be comfortable knowing you are fundamentally sound these whole swing fundamentals.Once you are fundamentally sound with whole swing fundamentals, you can systematically break swing mechanics down into smaller points of performance and analyze common errors. For example, at takeaway, a very common error is to "roll" the wrists (and clubface) into an wide open alignment. This mistake is small, very insidious and the last thing most golfers would ever think to look for. It is also absolute swing killer. Once you know and appreciate the seriousness of this mistake then is only a matter of applying a simple corrective technique and a little practice effort.Once this problem is corrected, sequentially move to the next most serious error. This Part Phase of learning is also where you become fundamentally sound with your pre-swing fundamentals such as ball position, shoulder alignment, distance you stand from the ball.

The greenside sand shot features a generally similar movement but it also requires some adjustments to basic whole swing technique.It is more appropriate to describe the backswing in terms of two movements rather than four. Four words que the normal backswing:Reach, Back, Up and Cock. Reach is the initial takeaway movement to the one-quarter position. Back is the rearward movement of the hands and club to the two-quarter position. Up is the upward movement of the hands and club to the three quarter position. Finally, Cock is the setting of the hands that completes the backswing. With the sand swing, these basic movements are recombined, reordered and abbreviated.

Takeaway / Backswing:The sand backswing is recombined and reordered from the movement of a normal, full swing technique. The reach movement to initiate the takeaway and the cock movement, which would stop a normal backswing, are combined. The Cock movement, which normally stops weight transfer on the backswing, occurs first rather than last. This is possible because a full transfer of weight onto the back foot is neither necessary of even desirable for a sand shot. Execution of this first movement occurs when the hands begin swinging backward, moving the club away from the ball while at the same time the thumbs radially flex (cock), changing the normal 'U' shaped arc of the clubhead to a more vertical "V" shape. Early cocking of the wrists insures two things are more likely to occur. First, your weight will stay more evenly balanced on and between both feet. Less weight transfer is permissible and desirable because the longest sand shot is still only a three quarter swing. Second, because there is less lower body movement, the sand swing is more controlled and accurate than an full swing motion. Because of better balance and a more vertical swing arc, you will be able to more accurately strike your desired entry point (focus of visual attention) into the sand.

Upswing:The backswing for the sand shot is completed by elevating the hands "Up" to one-of two positions: short or long The length of the backswing is one of the variables which control the distance the ball will fly. Under this system, the short backswing is executed when you raise you hands to a position slightly above waist high or (9-10 o'clock). The long backswing is executed when the hands are raised to about shoulder high.

Controlling the movement and length of the backswing are concepts and skills, which must be learned. To learn a skill you must fully understand the what, why and how of the skill you are learning. There are two physical components to the sand shot backswing, which you must learn how to correctly execute. First, you must practice the "back and cock" initiation of the swing, and then you must practice limiting the length of the backswing to each of the two positions.

There is one kinesthetic component to sand play. You must learn to control the rhythm of the backswing. Like any other golf shot, the sand shot requires a "slow and go" rhythm. Unlike other shots, there is a generally higher level of stress to a sand shot which directly translates into jerky movement, which put you on the fast track to disaster. Even a novice ... especially a novice golfer ... knows making a smooth, rhythmic sand swing is more difficult with a sand shot. Bogie golfers are barely in control while tour professionals actually aim at bunkers in certain situations. Knowledge and careful practice result in better skill. Better skill produces confidence. Once even a slightly higher-level confidence has been developed, it allows you to begin a consistent, upward spiral in performance. Unfortunately, the opposite is also true.

Downswing:From a balanced three quarter position (maximum backswing length) the downswing is executed by "pulling" the handle of the club downward towards your entry point (visual focus of attention) into the sand. This is a "left-handed" shot. The right hand is passive. It is on the club only far added stability and control. Some effective mental ques are to "backhand the sand", "bayonet the sand" or "karate chop the sand" using the left hand as the prime mover of the club. The path of the swing is from outside to inside the intended target line. This path should be the natural result of allowing the arms to follow the swing direction created by the alignment of the shoulders. A mental que for this technique is to "aim the clubface to the right and swing the arms to the left".

There are only two big mistakes you can make during the swing. The number one problem for most amateur golfers is to leave the ball in the sand because they "finesse" the shot. A sand shot DOES NOT require a white-knuckle death grip, gut busting "blast". A sand swing DOES require about two times more force than a greenside pitch shot of the same length. Having a "feel" for the exact amount of force needed to execute a sand shot requires experience, visualization and judgment. Adding sufficient force to a sand swing can be accomplished by using the same swing you would use for any other shot and making the necessary adjustments. The second most common mistake is to try to "help" the ball get up and out of the bunker. A fear of not getting out of the sand causes a player to "hit with his right hand". This in turn causes a closing the clubface and "digging into the sand" or a severe redirecting of the swing arc resulting in a skilled shot that burns across the green endangering man and beast. Ignorance is the real cause of these problems and knowledge is the best cure. A quick right hand is usually overcome by simply knowing the purpose and function of the bounce angle on the club, a clear focus on your desired entry point in the sand and use of a correct left-handed swing technique.

Uncontrollable Variables for Sand Play:

Sand for golf course bunkers comes from several places. The playing characteristics of white beach sand are very different from that of river bottom sand. Through expedience, you must learn to judge and expect changes between types of sand from course to course and even changes to your favorite course when weather changes normal playing conditions.

Grain Size of the Sand:The finer the grain, the more a sand divot will tend to disintegrate. The faster the divot falls apart the more force you must make to move the ball. A second reason fine grain sand requires more force is because packs tighter than larger grain sand. There is resistance to the club's initial penetration into the sand. Trajectory is the greatest influence on a shot played from fine grain sand. The ball will land "dead" and will roll forward in relative to the downward flight angle of the ball. A golfer learning to on finer grain sand might start with a sand wedge having and medium width sole and less bounce angle.

Depth of the Sand:An often-overlooked variable is the depth of the sand. A bunker with a sufficient layer of sand covering the base material is much easier to play from than is a washed out hole in the ground. When there is too little sand, the club will bounce excessively hard. The frequent result is a skulled shot. Conversely, a bunker with too much sand will cause deeply buried lies that are nearly impossible to play from. Course superintendents spend a lot of time and money trying to keep bunker conditions consistent throughout the course.

Controllable Variables Affecting Trajectory, Ball Flight and Expected Amount of Roll:

Your task is to learn how to control the trajectory and length of ball flight, then to have a general knowledge needed to anticipated how much roll you will get from any given shot. The easiest "system" is to vary four pre swing conditions while keeping the rhythm and timing of the swing constant. The four pre-swing variables are: grip length, backswing length, clubface alignment and ball position. Some of these concepts can be a little tricky because ball position, clubface alignment and shoulder alignment are all directly related. When you change one thing the other two things also change. To the uninitiated, getting all this right might seem to be as difficult as balancing a ball bearing on the point of a needle. Don't panic, everything will work out in the end. Remember two things. First, the energy you put into the shot can move the ball in one of two directions ... up or out. Second, the goal is to replace talent with technique whenever possible. This concept translates into the simple idea of keeping the swing the same while relying on pre-swing, no talent required, variables to do the work!

A longer or shorter grip will add to or reduce the velocity of the swing when the tempo and power of the swing are held constant. The length of your backswing can be either short or long. A short backswing is executed when the hands are raised to about waist high (9 o'clock). This is equal to about a one half backswing. A long backswing is equal to a three quarter swing where the hands are raised to shoulder high (10 o'clock). Obviously, the longer the swing, the further or the ball will fly. Keeping the swing rhythm and velocity constant is the key. Most amateur golfers to not practice enough to develop any ďfeel" for a sand shot. Because of this, you can't rely on talent. Obviously, we must have great technique. Another plus for technique over talent is that talent and feel are up and down on a day-to-day basis. Technique can be there for you, even on days when your talent is absent!                                                                       

 

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