quick coaching

Success in the Bunker Starts with Forgetting About the Ball

By Keith Stewart, PGA
Published on

Coming down the stretch in the KichenAid Senior PGA Championship we witnessed some stellar sand play from those at the top of the leaderboard. KJ Choi displayed his fine form on 16 getting up and down for par. A par that was going to put a little pressure on the leader Alex Cejka. Cejka put on his own Sunday sand clinic with a long bunker shot on No. 8 and slick little splash from near the lip in the greenside bunker on 16.
Much was made about the size and texture of the renovated Southern Hills greens. Players knew it would be difficult hitting a large percentage of greens in regulation, and therefore bunker play would be a huge element of their success. In the case of both Choi and Cejka, we see two very different swings from the fairway and the tee. When it comes to their skill from the sand, there is one common characteristic between the two every everyday golfer should concentrate on. 
Success in the sand starts with a consistent strike. Not on the ball, but rather in the sand.
If you watch Alex and KJ you see a very steady approach into the bunker on the downswing. Much has been written from a PGA Coaching point of view about how to have success from the sand, but seldom do we read or hear about drills in the bunker dedicated to striking the sand. Here’s a cool drill you can do the next time you find yourself trying to sharpen your short game skills.
Once you get in the bunker, choose a flat place that has about ten feet worth of room. Select the spot, take your sand wedge and draw a straight line in the sand across the flat section perpendicular to your target. Once you draw the line start at the end and take your stance in the bunker. Always make sure you stand with a firm base and lean that weight toward your lead leg. The line should be halfway between your legs extending away from the side you are facing.
Begin the drill by taking a swing and striking the line in the sand. After the swing, evaluate where you struck the sand. Was your strike before, after or on the line? Assess your success. Step forward again and continue to successfully try and hit the line and follow through. As you proceed through the drill, make adjustments if you aren’t hitting the line. Try to see how many times you can hit the line in a row.
Once you get to the end, smooth out the practice area and draw another line just like the last one.  This time place three practice balls about an inch in front of the line (target side) near the end evenly spaced apart. Start at the beginning of the line again. Keep taking the bottom of that sand wedge and slapping the sand. Hit the line every time. This time as you walk down the line near the end you will hit a shot. Even though a ball is there, make sure you continue to hit the line. Watch what happens.
Major champions like Alex Cejka are exceptional bunker players because they simply hit the same spot behind the ball in the sand every time. The quickest way you can improve your bunker play is to do the same.

Keith Stewart is a 5-time award-winning PGA Professional with 25 years of experience in the golf industry. His network of players, coaches and insiders provide him with a unique perspective on the game. He's a writer on PGA.com and host of the ProShow on ESPN 920 AM Friday afternoons at 3:00pm EDT. Check out his PGA Coaching articles archived here or his conversations on air with this link to his website The ProShow.