Harvey Penick’s Little Red Book should be required reading for golfers looking to improve their games. Penick had a gift for making the complex seem simple, and his teachings ring true to this day. With the PGA Tour heading back to Penick’s home of Austin later this month for the Dell Match Play, there is no better time to revisit the best secrets from his Little Red Book. In this article, we learn the simple fundamentals for bunker shots.
Finding the sand spells doom for lots of recreational golfers — but it doesn’t have to. All you need are the proper fundamentals and bunker shots will become a breeze.
The most important thing to remember when hitting a bunker shot, according to Harvey Penick, is to stay aggressive. The sand will grab and decelerate your club if you let it. To combat this, you need to be conscious of swinging with confidence.
Once you get your mind right, it’s time to focus on the physical components of the shot. Grip the club “high on the handle” like you would on any other iron shot. “This encourages you to take a full swing all the way to a high follow-through without quitting on the shot when the club strikes the sand,” Penick said.
Remember to grip the club tightly with your right hand. When you hit the sand, the clubface will try to roll closed — don’t let it. You want an open clubface as the club glides underneath the ball.
“Play the ball with the shaft poining at your zipper and your hands slightly ahead,” Penick wrote. “Take a square stance and open your clubface so it points right of the target.”
In recent decades players have more often opened their stances slightly by moving their lead foot back, taking their hips and shoulders with it. This will make your body aimed left of the target (for a right-handed player) and your clubface pointed directly at the target. Finally, favor your weight on your front foot.
Now it’s as easy as making a normal swing, but with one key caveat — hit three or four inches behind the ball. Your club should glide through the sand beneath the ball and lift it out of the bunker and onto the green.
“Practice this shot for a few hours and you will see what I mean about becoming aggressive with it,” Penick said. “You won’t need to worry again about merely escaping from the bunker somehow. You will be shooting at the pin.”
To alter your distance on the shot, change where you hit behind the ball.
“The longer the shot, the less you hit behind the ball,” he said. “The shorter the shot, the more sand you must take.”
It’s as simple as that.