Talk Sand Play - David Leadbetter, Gary Player & Ernie Els
The world's No.1 coach, David Leadbetter, found himself cast in the unlikely role of spectator as Ernie Els and Gary Player put on an impromptu bunker clinic during the filming of a video for sponsors SAP earlier this year at Old Palm Golf Club in Palm Beach, Florida.
After a three-hole shoot-out, Ernie and Gary spent a few minutes sharing their thoughts on bunker play, taking in turns to demonstrate the skills that have made both men legends in the game. Courtesy of SAP, Golf International dropped in on their conversation.
Know your sand-iron - "I think the one main thing you have to understand is the sand iron is designed differently to the other irons in the golf bag. You have this big area of metal on the sole of the club – the flange – and the key on the majority of these basic green side shots is that you aim to get the back edge of the flange entering the sand first, and not the leading edge. That just wants to dig down too deep and stop.
The secret here is that the clubhead is always moving through the sand, and you achieve that by gliding or surfing the flange through, which is exactly what it's designed to do. I always aim to focus on a spot an inch or so behind the ball. That's where I want to make contact. There's always a bit of 'give' in sand, so don't be afraid to accelerate the clubhead – like I say, you have to keep the clubhead moving. That's the secret.
Smooth 'n' Easy - Here, on a regular sand shot, with a good lie, the clubface is opened up just a fraction (this is something you can and must experiment with), the ball is in the middle of the feet, my weight pretty evenly spread.
As I start the club back, you'll notice there's an early hint of a wrist action – that helps me to get a real feel for the clubhead and sets my rhythm for the swing. And all the time I'm focused on entering the sand an inch behind the ball.
Swing in harmony - The wrists, arms and shoulders are working together to create a connected swing. Note there's relatively little hip turn involved – with the feet nicely grounded, this is basically all hands, arms and upper body.
Compact, controlled - This is the full extent of my backswing for typical green side bunker shots – it's all you need, too.
A good turn of the shoulders, with a full wrist cock, will give you all the acceleration you need in the downswing. My weight remains even between the feet.
Acceleration here... The smooth unwinding of the downswing sees the clubhead accelerate on its way to impact – as I mentioned earlier, the key is that you keep the clubhead moving throughout the delivery, focusing on that entry point an inch behind the ball.
'Slap' the sand - As you practise and improve your bunker play, you will get used to hearing the sound of a good sand shot – a 'fizz' – as the flange on the club works as it is designed to do, surfing through the sand, taking a shallow divot – and with it the ball.
Release right hand - Gary Player is known as the best bunker player the game has seen, and, as he tells you overleaf, you cannot hope to play these shots stiff-wristed.
You need to cultivate a good wrist action, both on the way back and then releasing the club on the way through. This crossover of the wrists is a sign of a natural release that not only guarantees the clubhead keeps moving but takes you on to a balanced finish.
Enjoy the view! One of the most common faults I see amateurs make is to attack the sand with a short, stabby swing – and they usually end up off balance.
But if you learn to play these shots with the emphasis on repeating a smooth rhythm I guarantee you'll enjoy watching the results as you hold a balanced finish!
Wrist action gives you the ability to 'release'
When playing any type of bunker shot, the one thing you cannot expect to do is achieve a successful result with wooden or stiff wrists. It doesn't work. You, know, in many areas of this game I'm the first to tell you there are generally no hard and fast rules, everyone is different, but the one thing you must do here is cock your wrists so that you are able to release the clubhead and get it moving through the sand.
We're not playing on grass, we're in sand, which really stops the club. So work on your wrist-cock to get that nice bit of acceleration.
Hit a little harder up the slope to make the desired distance
Practise these shots long enough and you'll discover it's hard to hit that 30- or 40 yard shot with a sand-iron. So why not experiment with other clubs? In a tournament I might use an 8- or 9-iron, depending on the lie and how I see the shot to the pin. I simply go down the shaft and play the shot as you see above.
Try it and you'll discover you can play a longer bunker shot more easily. By focusing on entering the sand a consistent distance behind the ball – just an inch or so – and develop that wrist action to accelerate the club up the slope.
– Gary Player
Body and slope in tune
Here on the up slope, there's no need to add loft to the clubface – the up slope automatically does that for you. So, take a settled, comfortable stance, with your body angled to match the slope.
You don't want your weight leaning against the slope – the trick is to get your body tuned to the gradient, as you see here.
Use your wrists - This essential wrist-cock on the way back gets the clubhead swinging up (look at that angle between my left arm and the clubshaft!) and also helps you to feel the rhythm as you get the clubhead swinging.
Release up the slope - Remember, the effect of the up slope is to make the ball fly higher, so you have to make sure you hit these shots a little harder than you would to achieve the same distance from a level lie.
The way you set up to the ball in the first place helps you to play up the slope, and not straight into it.
The down slope
This is a tough situation, no doubt about it. Watch here how I play this shot right off the back foot – that's how you make the necessary contact with the sand on a downhill lie. The ball is going to come out low and run like crazy, so you have to adjust your expectation levels. (Don't try to hit a high shot from here – you'll only end up scooping it.)
You know, sometimes in this game you have to accept the fact that you've hit a poor shot to end up in this position, and you have to play for your bogey. Don't try and force the issue.
On the up slope (sequence above) the ball will always come out high – and that's a shot you can still get close to the pin if you adjust the speed into the sand; on this down slope it's going to come out low. And from here a good result is getting the ball out and somewhere on the green, albeit past the hole. As I say, sometimes you have to take your bogey and move on. Gary Player
Adjust your set-up - and your expectations - Look how far I'm gripping down the shaft here – that's a good tip when you find yourself in the back of a bunker and need to avoid the back lip as you get your swing started. And this is not a shot you can expect to get close – getting the ball out is a good result from this lie
Chop & release - In this situation, the key is to chop down sharply into the sand and keep the clubhead moving on through, down the slope (again, look at the release of the right hand), to what will be a relatively short finish. The ball will come out low and without any spin, so it's going to run on the green.