PGA Certified Professional Kevin Weeks, the director of instruction at Cog Hill Golf and Country Club in Lemont, Ill., is a three-time Illinois PGA Teacher of the Year, one of Golf Digest’s Top 50 instructors, and a 2013 GRAA Top 50 Growth of the Game Teaching Professional.
I was teaching bunker shots in a junior clinic when one of the students asked me what bounce was. After explaining the concept, I thought the kids would get a clearer idea if I showed them what it was and how it worked. So I had the idea to hit a shot off a painted plank of wood, which leaves a paint mark where the club impacts the wood.
After seeing what part of the sole needs to hit the sand first to hit a good bunker shot, the kids immediately got the concept of how to properly use a wedge out of the sand: Most golfers think they need to use the leading edge of the club to dig the ball out, and take swings that are much steeper than they need to be as a result. By using the painted board to communicate how the bounce of a sand wedge really works, I’ve had great success with junior and adult students in turning the bunker shot from their most feared shot to one of the easiest shots in golf – and you can do the same with your students.
Getting on board
I start this bunker lesson by getting the student into the sand in a good setup position to hit an explosion shot, then I place a painted board in the hitting area along the target line. You can use any color paint you want – I find red shows up the best on the sole of the club, and you can tell your student that the shots they eventually hit out of the sand will clean the paint off the club. Then have the student hit a shot or two off the board, and show them where the paint has marked the bottom of the club. The paint should be along the trailing edge, which gives you the chance to explain that this is the part of the club that needs to hit the sand first to keep the club from digging.
Keep it simple to build trust
The key to this lesson from the teacher’s perspective is to keep it simple. I don’t talk a lot about opening the clubface or angle of attack. You can get more specific in later lessons. The important thing to realize is that most golfers are deathly afraid of hitting bunker shots. When you get them to understand how to use the design of the sand wedge to execute the shot, they start to see why skilled players see the bunker shot as truly the easiest shot in the game. It also builds a lot of trust with a student that you’ve able to use a simple method to teach them how to hit what used to be a tricky shot, and that can lead to a long-term relationship with that student. I also have a bag of demo wedges that I keep with me so I can offer clubfitting advice if a student has the wrong wedges for the shots they’re trying to hit.
Drawing a line in the sand
Once you’ve shown the student how the trailing edge needs to hit the sand first, remove the board from the bunker. This is when I draw a line in the sand that is perpendicular to the target line and in the middle of the golfer’s stance, right behind the golf ball. Then I take away the golf ball have the student make a swing with the goal of hitting the line with the trailing edge of the club. I take away the golf ball so the student can focus on the line and not how they hit the ball. It may take them a few tries to hit the line with the trailing edge, and I don’t just let them swing away; if they’re missing the mark, I’m giving them instruction between swings to fine-tune their approach. I want them to see that this is not trial and error, but a reliable, repeatable way of hitting good bunker shots.
Having a blast
Once your student is hitting the line with regularity, put the ball in front of the line and have them swing through the line. It usually only takes two or three shots for the student to start hitting crisp explosion shots, using the bounce on their sand wedge to pop the ball out of the sand and onto the green. Once they realize how the bounce on the sole of the wedge works out of the sand, I can help them apply that knowledge to other scoring shots around the green from a variety of lies.