A trip to the Bahamas almost always means a lot of time at the beach. For a golfer, we know that’s a bad thing. However, Tony Finau was able to turn a day in the sand into something great during the second round of the Hero World Challenge.
On the par-5 9th hole, Finau’s second shot was pulled left of the green, about 30 yards into a mounded bunker complex. For his third shot, he faced a level lie off firm sand, but he had to carry about 20 yards of the bunker complex and land the ball short of the putting surface if he had hopes of the shot fishing close to the hole.
Because there was such little green to work with, Finau opted for a high trajectory blast-style shot and focused on nailing his landing spot. Setting up for a higher shot meant he could swing harder into the sand and minimize the risk of ball-first contact or catching the shot thin.
The blasted shot landed just short of the green and released a few feet, eventually finding the bottom of the hole. Swinging hard into the sand and hoping to carry it 20 to 30 yards will likely not put any spin on the ball, so using the trajectory to control the release of the shot is our only option. The higher the shot, the more direct the descent and landing will be into the turf- leaving little energy for the ball to travel directionally forward.
When you look to play a bunker shot high, it is crucial you place the ball in the middle or middle-front of the stance and work on a swing plane that sets you up for a more upright swing plane.
Too many players execute a longer bunker shot by coiling and over-rotating their body, which means they bring the club low and inside. This creates a flat or shallow swing plane and increases our chances of not taking enough sand and thinning the shot. Finau used a very abrupt swing motion that set the club high on the backswing and unloaded the energy into the sand. The result was a violent impact in the sand and very little follow through.
This shot is by no means easy and there are a few pitfalls many amateurs fall into when facing a long bunker shot.
First, they focus on the ball and the results are disastrous. When in the sand, hit the sand! Landing the club on the ball first will produce topped and bladed shots that either plug in a bunker face, roll a few feet in front of you, or travel way too far over the green.
Next, using just your body leads to many players not having enough force at impact. In the long bunker blast, incorporate your arms and your body to ensure you have enough force to hit behind the ball in the sand and that the sand will propel the ball forward.
NOTE: There’s no need for a perfect finish with this shot, stopping waist high with minimal body turn towards the target means you used all the force at the right time, ie. behind the ball in the sand.
Finally, plan for the shot you are trying to execute. By this we mean find a landing spot or visualize how the ball will react when it lands. How often have you hit a bunker shot perfect only to watch it land next to the hole or just beyond and release well beyond? Finding the landing spot means we can calibrate the length of the backswing to produce the correct carry distance.
Next time you are looking at a long carry with minimal green from a bunker, “blast off” with the correct ball position, swing shap, and landing spot for the perfectly executed escape from trouble.