Press the easy button on escaping bunkers

Western NY PGA Tips

In most cases, pro golfers are happy about finding their ball in the bunker. The sand almost always leaves a more consistent and predictable lie than the rough.

Amateurs, on the other hand, will still avoid the sand at all cost.

Joe Merlin is happy to help you make it easy.

The head professional at Monroe Golf Club has a three step setup that can make bunker play as straightforward as a putt.

First, Merlin wants his students to have a wide stance. Second, the player should move their weight slightly forward to the front foot. Finally, Merlin says to squat just a little bit.

The setup is only half the battle. There still is the swing, but it’s not anything tricky.

“As long as you turn back, get to a nice “L” position, turn through with your chest facing the target, we should have fairly good success,” Merlin says.

He also says a player should trust their feet in the sand when it comes to determining if the bunker is soft and fluffy or thin and wet. “Your feet are going to tell you a lot more than you think they do.”

Merlin does not preach a particular ball position when it comes to bunker play. He believes each player should feel comfortable with the ball position they individually prefer.

“I don’t think golf is a ‘must have’ in any shape or form,” Merlin says. “I tend to believe a lot of players have to adjust to find their own preferences.”

He also doesn’t instruct a player to strike the sand any sort of particular distance behind the ball. Merlin only says once you’ve decided where you want to hit the ball, just try to hit that point.

He even has a simple drill to practice this part of bunker play. Draw two lines in a bunker that are perpendicular to the swing path. The first line will be where the club should enter the sand and the second will be where the club should exit. They’ll be about 3-4 inches apart.

Merlin says to practice entering and exiting the sand where both lines are drawn. Keep taking swings all the way down the lines until the end. On the last swing, put a ball between the lines. That last swing should look like a proper bunker shot.

It may feel like squatting down on a bunker shot is asking for that heavy swing every hacker fears. The one where the ball doesn’t escape the sand. However, squatting will not take the normal swing and lower the impact point to below ground. Lowering the body will also lower the hands at address and flatten the swing plane just a touch. The perceived problem will, essentially, correct itself.

Merlin says the most likely reason for the heavy contact in the bunker is a swing that decelerates. The top priority on the swing is to keep the speed up.

When he plays, Merlin will adjust ball position and where his club impacts the sand depending on the type of shot he’s facing.

“I tend to find myself digging more into the sand if I’m trying to hit it slightly higher. I’m probably gonna put a little bit more weight on my front foot to try and help the ball launch a little bit higher,” he says. “For a longer bunker shot where I may try to fly it farther, I may try to get a little bit more cute and move the impact point close to the golf ball.”

If there’s plenty of green between the bunker and the pin, it allows the player more margin for error. Merlin says not to worry as much about a heavier contact.

“As long as you keep the chest rotating and keep the speed up, you should be in great shape,” he says.

Great enough not to mind those occasional trips to the beach during your round.

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