“The object of a bunker or trap is not only to punish a physical mistake, to punish lack of control, but also to punish pride and egotism.” – Charles Blair Macdonald
By Ian Hardie
Having been involved in the game of golf in one form or another, for over 30 years now, it’s not very often that I hear a golfer say something new or as is the case with what I’m about to share with you.
It’s not very often that you’ll find me lost for words – when it comes to golf.
A couple of weeks ago though, I found myself in just that situation having heard a golfer make the statement that this article is all about.
As we were discussing various parts of the game, focussing on the golfers chipping and putting which had been costing them a few shots in recent rounds – the golfer asked if I could watch them hit a couple of sand shots before we finished our session.
By the way there’s nothing unusual about doing that, in fact more golfers should be asking me the same thing when we spend time together.
What came next though, stopped me in my tracks when the golfer quickly followed up their request with the statement that “they don’t like playing sand shots”.
Now in truth, I’m pretty used to hearing statements like that from most golfers.
This is due to the fact that most golfers, right from the very first day that they step on to a golf course – will do almost anything to avoid going into a sand trap – while being almost paralyzed with fear if they do happen to go into one and have to try to hack their way out.
Most often taking considerably more than one attempt to do so!
What was different in this situation though, was that the golfer who made the statement has a current handicap index of less than 2, with around 30 years’ experience in playing the game of golf.
Not the sort of golfer that you would expect to have a problem with sand shots – right?
I certainly wasn’t expecting to hear a statement like that from them but I got to thinking about it afterwards and realised that long ago in my career as a golfer – I had a similar problem with sand shots at the same sort of handicap level.
Something that I was able to overcome so efficiently, that given the right situation on the golf course – I will happily aim to have my shot finish in a sand trap.
Take a minute or two here to try and figure out how that works.
If you can’t even begin to contemplate doing that, then I’d suggest that the best thing for you to do right now is to book in for a golf lesson focussed on sand shots – with me if you are able to or your local PGA Pro if that’s not possible.
So anyway, the reason that I had a similar problem with sand shots way back when I was on the same sort of handicap level was effectively a practical one, in that the golf course that I began and learned my golf on had very few sand traps.
I recall about ten of them but I’m pretty sure a couple of them have been filled in over time – so as far as I can tell, the current count for the course is eight and no practice area with a sand trap either.
Eight sand traps, all of which were set a little way back from the putting surfaces on an eighteen hole course – is not going to give many opportunities to become at ease with sand traps.
Back then, there could easily have been many months between going into one.
Consequently, once I started to develop my game and experience different golf courses – some of which had considerably more sand traps in play than the one I had learnt my game on – I struggled with playing sand shots.
Which for me meant getting them close to the hole, rather than getting them out.
As you can guess, if you don’t do something very often – it’s very difficult to become proficient at it – sure you can get lucky every once in a while but over the long term a lack of control over sand shots can add many shots to a golfers round.
The other factor that’s important when playing sand shots, is to be perfectly at ease while playing them – as opposed to knowing that ‘you don’t like play them’ while walking in towards your golf ball.
After all, how well do we do things that we don’t like or want to do?
The turning point for me came in the second year of my apprenticeship as a Golf Professional when I began to really work on my golf game, helped by my teacher.
Having played many holes together by that point, a simple throwaway line during a discussion about golf in the back of the Pro Shop – set me on the way to sand shot proficiency and most importantly, confidence.
His words that changed it all for me?
“You need to become more at home in the sand, go hit as many shots as it takes until you feel comfortable in a sand trap”
It just so happened that the course I was at, had a single practice sand trap at one end of the practice area and after a few weeks of experimenting (yes, it does take that long sometimes) I had come up with the best method to become comfortable in a sand trap.
While still working on the rest of my golf game in my spare time.
As I tended to have to start work quite early, my practice time each day was generally after work in the evening and as I was still working on building a repetitive action for all the rest of my golf shots – the bulk of that time was spent doing just that with a bag of about a hundred practice balls – so I made a point of working on those areas of my game until the sun had begun to go down and it started to be difficult to see the flight of the golf balls.
Once this had happened, I stopped hitting full shots, picked up all of the golf balls and headed to the practice sand trap – emptying the contents of the bag into the trap.
As the green was fairly small and only had a single flag stick that became the target for each sand shot, with the variation in distance and lie coming from the randomness of emptying the practice bag.
On most of the evenings that I practiced, I was able to get through two full bags of practice balls or in other words, two hundred sand shots per day – until the rapidly approaching darkness meant that I couldn’t see the golf balls to hit them anymore.
I’m sure that I left many balls there over that time as a result of not being able to see them to pick them up but I’d say that was well worth it – as the other thing that I left there:
Was any fear of having to play a sand shot.
Just take a minute now to consider how much your golf game could benefit, if every time that you stepped into a sand trap – you were supremely confident in your ability to not only get the golf ball out but to get it to finish close to the hole as well.
It’s a real game changer that I’m glad was suggested to me.
Now it’s your turn.