Summer reading has a new twist. There are no papers or pop quizzes and the only grade will occur on one’s golf scorecard.
Welcome to our new coverage wrinkle, a monthly discussion with an area pro regarding shot-making situations. Different variables emerge on the course that can blow up the round if not contained. Yet minimizing their damage can save one’s score.
One of these threats comes via the sand, either in greenside bunkers or fairway traps. This situation can either pile on several strokes or provide one of golf’s most satisfying experiences, the “sand save” of getting out of a greenside bunker, onto the green and holing one out in one putt.
We caught up with Matt Callaghan, who runs an academy at Twisted Dune Golf Club in Egg Harbor Township and has instructed golfers for nearly 30 years. His academy menu includes summer clinics, camps, video analysis and private lessons. Callaghan is an expert not only in shot execution, but preparing to strike the ball properly.
A successful sand shot begins with the right mental approach, he says.
“It’s a very important part of the game, especially for the average or high-handicap player,” he indicates. “You can give away a lot of shots if you are leaving the ball in the bunker or ‘blading” it (striking the ball first, rather than the sand) and then you can’t control where the shot ends up.
“There are different goals people will have when they are in the sand, depending upon their ability level, but for many, the idea is simply to get it out.”
Callaghan illustrated the proper technique for blasting out of a greenside bunker with a relatively high lip at Twisted Dune. He drew an arrow straight ahead, aimed at the pin, and drew another to the left, illustrating body positioning.
“You want to leave your stance slightly open to the target, and then hit a couple inches behind the ball, he says. “You want the sand to move the ball out. This is the only time you are hitting a shot in which you are NOT making contact with the ball.”
Callaghan advises placing the weight more on the forward foot and maintaining the angle of the club face through the shot. The hands stay ahead of the ball. The size of the lip at the top of the trap will determine the angle of the club face. A wider angle will generally pop the ball up faster. The club face will be square if one encounters hard sand.
Callaghan, a stickler for alignment, calls golf a target game and says many players are not pointed in the direction that will help them succeed.
There are additional strategies for greenside and fairway bunkers that will require some judgement. Being caught far back in a greenside trap, for instance, may force someone to use a more powerful club than the sand wedge, because a blast-explosion type shot may not advance the ball far enough to clear the lip of the trap.
Callaghan suggests using one club more than normal in fairway traps, because sand will slow the speed of the club, and, unlike the greenside bunker, one wants to strike the ball first, not the sand.
The golf course is one place you don’t want sand in your shoes. Yet it does not have to be uncomfortable.
Following the basics of target, stance and club-face position will help players attain what Callaghan calls “a consistent entry into the trap.”
There are avenues for more experienced players regarding how hard to swing, whether to steer the ball in the direction of how the green is breaking or to take into consideration how much green they are working with to measure their shot.
But that’s an advanced idea. This was the basic “lesson” for today.
Class dismissed. Good luck on the course.