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Sunday, August 7, 2011

Pitching Over a Bunker

It's been a week since I've posted a playing tip of some kind, so I figured I better get my act together!

While looking for something I haven't tackled before, I realized I haven't done a post about playing short shots over hazards -- something which most of us end up doing far more often than we'd like. Either we mis-club and leave the ball short of our target or we mis-hit the shot and send it too far to the left or right of the green.

And then we compound the error by mis-hitting our recovery shot right into the hazard instead of over it!

The true irony here is that this is actually an easier shot than most of the trouble shots we face. Unless we've hit it into a really funky lie, this shot takes no special skill to hit it well. In today's video that's the situation we're in -- we've got a decent lie. The problem is that yawning bunker (in the video I've chosen) or that brackish water hazard sitting in front of us, and that's a mental problem.

This video is by an instructor whose expertise I've tapped frequently -- Denis Pugh. His approach to playing this shot is so simple that I'm amazed more teachers don't use it:

The technique for hitting the ball over trouble is exactly the same for hitting any other shot -- you want to hit down on the ball. The problem is that you want to "help" the ball get over the trouble, so you flip your wrists as you hit the ball. That causes you to hit it thin and skull it right into the trouble.

The solution Denis suggests is that you focus on the position of your trailing wrist when your followthrough stops. (For you righties out there, that's your right wrist; for you lefties, it's your left wrist.) Let me explain it in a slightly different way than Denis does. Between the two of us, you should find an easy swing thought you can use to make this shot.

Do you understand why you flip your trailing wrist? It's actually very simple. When you swing the club away from the ball on your backswing, your trailing wrist cocks, or bends, slightly. Then when you swing back down to hit the ball, your leading hand stops swinging just as you hit the ball and your trailing wrist has to uncock to keep the club going. This makes the club hit up on the ball instead of down, and you don't get under the ball.

When you pitch over a hazard, what you want to do is keep both hands moving together all the way into your followthrough. That way, your trailing hand doesn't uncock early. That's simple enough, isn't it?

Doing this also gives you an extra benefit: It helps keep the clubface pointed straight at the target so it doesn't twist sideways and cause you to pull the ball. You not only get over the hazard, you hit a more accurate shot as well.

If you pitch this way -- it's not a bad idea to pitch this way all the time when you have a decent lie -- you'll quickly lose your dread of hitting over hazards. And once you remove the mental obstacle, you'll remove the physical obstacle as well and hit better pitch shots.

Best of all, this is a move you can practice in your backyard. You don't even need a ball! All you have to do is practice the motion. When your dread of pitch shots over hazards vanishes, the high scores your fear used to cause will vanish even more quickly.

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