When people get into the bunker, the first thing they do is panic.
Brian Jacobs says that’s the wrog attitude. He calls being in the bunker “a gift.”
“Getting into the rough or the cabbage around the green, you can’t really predict the spin or the height of the shot,” he says.
Most amateurs still won’t buy the bunker>rough equation, but Jacobs has a way to get you out. He can show you with baby steps.
It starts with a lie board. A lie board is approximately 16 by 8 or 10 inches and made of a hard plastic. The first step of learning to hit in the sand is to first hit the board. Jacobs wants his students to learn about “turf interaction”.
“Most people you’d think would be able to hit the board properly,” said Jacobs. “Sometimes, they miss and it means they’re too shallow or they smash it behind the board and it’ll be too steep. They start to get a reference point of… that’s the low point in the swing and that’s where things have to happen.”
The next step is placing a pile of sand on the board and blasting that out. After that, a ball is placed on the sand pile on the board. Again, a student will practice hitting the ball off the manufactured lie atop the board. All the while, a player keeps the same feeling and the same motion.
Finally, the board is removed, but it leaves a rectangular shaped flat spot in the sand. This allows the student to practice what’s been learned off a perfect lie.
The swing Jacobs wants his students to use is something called a “whirlybird”.
“We’re trying not to close the face,” he says. “When you close the face, it digs. If you whirlybird the face, it stays open and you get the bounce into the ground.”
It can be practiced one hand at a time. The finish is the most jarring part of the swing. Instead of bringing the club across the body so the head ends up behind your back, Jacobs wants the clubhead hanging in front of your face when the swing ends.
It’s something a player can practice at home with the most unusual of swing aids.
“Just put a dot of baby powder on the ground and just swing down and touch it,” he says. Jacobs even knows that the average bottle of baby powder is good for about a dozen swings.
Though most short swings and most short swing teachers will prefer a player control their distance, by controlling the length of their backswing, Jacobs prescribes controlling the speed. A slower swing will produce a shorter shot. His rule is three yards of swing distance for every one yard of actual distance. Figuring that out is a feel thing for each player.
A big problem for amateurs in the sand is believing in a swing change. Even after a handful of good shots, it only takes one miss that careens 50 yards past the green to return that fear. The first thing Jacobs wants a student to remember is the bunkers at public courses can cause a problem even if your swing is good.
“There’s no consistency to the sand. There just isn’t. Some are raked out great. Some are not,” he says. “You have to be able to feel some stuff.”
Like anything else, it takes practice. Step by step, you can learn to like getting in the sand.