A Lesson Learned: Be aggressive and play the miss in fairway bunkers

Steve Stricker
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Steve Stricker's play out of the fairway bunker on 18 on both Saturday and Sunday led to his third straight John Deere Classic title
Trevor Gliwski

Problem Area: Bunkers
Series: Lesson Learned

Published: Sunday, July 10, 2011 | 11:17 p.m.

Steve Stricker wins the John Deere Classic. This is not a repeat from last year. Or the year before. Congratulations to Stricker for his third straight title - and what a way to do it, back-to-back birdies on the final two holes to storm back and win!

Though there were several pivotal points on the day, there was one shot that stood out to me as both the key to the tournament and the best lesson for all golfers to learn from. It was the fairway bunker shot that Stricker hit on the final hole that led to his birdie and win.

For those that missed it as it happened, you could tell that many in the gallery and on t.v. were thinking, "What is he doing?". The ball was not only in a bunker with a prominent lip in front, it was also sitting on a downhill, sidehill lie. In fact, Stricker's stance meant he had one foot in the bunker and foot on on the lip. The green was 170 yards or so OVER water. But he needed a par to tie for the tournament.

Many golfers and instructors would tell you to play it safe and make par by getting up and down from a wedge distance. But Stricker felt confident enough in his skills to go for the green. And despite how hard the shot looked to us, he made it look pretty easy, running it through the green on the right and then, of course, putting it in from off the green for an unbelievable birdie (and win!).

But what did he know that you should too?

Check the replay of the bunker shot. Stricker not only knew how to hit the shot well, he knew hot to miss that shot.

By that I mean, it was no accident the ball ended up right and long. Stricker knew that the one miss he could not make was hitting the ball fat. A fat shot meant a ball in the water and the end of his hopes to win the tournament. His aggressive lower body move on the shot, and yes, there was significant hip and leg action, meant the bottom of his swing arc would move forward a bit. Thus, he would hit the ball first, and the clubface could be slightly open - a thin shot to the right was his miss. No chance for a fat shot to the left.

You need to contact the ball first above all else, especially with trouble between you and the green. Stricker knew that and made allowances for it.

It drives me nuts to hear players and teachers talk about a quiet lower body out of bunkers - especially fairway bunkers. This is the exact opposite of what you want. Perhaps the most famous fairway bunker shot was by Tiger Woods at the 2000 Bell Canadian Open when he hit a 6-iron from 218 yards out of the bunker on the final hole to clinch the win. If you look back at that shot, you see some aggressive body action on that shot as well.

Steve Stricker knew that a shot at the heart of the green, even slightly long and right, gave him a good chance for par. In fact, it could even give him a good chance for birdie. And it did.

The next time you're in a fairway bunker, do as Stricker did make an aggressive move through the ball. Move the ball just a bit back in your stance, swing aggressive and know your swing arc will move a bit forward and play for a miss that goes long and a little right.

I hope this tip helps you lower your scores and enjoy this great game a little more.  

Trevor Gliwski is the Director of Instruction at Rick Smith Golf Academy at Tiburon in Naples, Florida. His teaching career began in 1994 and has been with the Rick Smith Golf Academy for about 11 years. For more on Trevor, click here.

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