This past week I experienced a bit of an embarrassing learning experience while golfing with fellow golf blogger John Duval of IntoTheGrain.com. We were playing at Soldier Hollow Golf Course here in Heber, Utah, which had been getting pounded by rain and even hail. The bunkers (known by some as sand traps) had been compacted and not maintenanced. So that meant the sand in them was extremely hard and even had a bit of a crusty layer on the top.
On one of the six, yes six, par-3’s on the Silver Course, I had trouble getting out. I kept blading shots and line-driving them into the lip. Luckily for John the lip stopped one of them, or my ball might have killed him, or at least caused severe eye damage. Inside joke there. Like the extremely intelligent golfer I am, I kept trying the same shot and getting the same result, blading shots into the lip. After a few of them I picked the damn ball up with my hand and threw it at the hole. That was the shot of the day.
A couple of holes later on yet another par-3 I was again in a greenside bunker. This time a bunker quite short of the green, about 20 yards. Instead of sand wedge I chose lob wedge. I got out of the first bunker no problem, but went into the 2nd one. Lob wedge again from the 2nd one was no problem onto the green.
The Reader’s Digest version of the lesson was that out of crusty, hard, compacted sand my lob wedge was a better choice than my sand wedge. Why? The design between those two clubs in my particular bag is quite different.
My sand wedge, and the majority of most sand wedges has a lot of bounce. The bounce comes from the sole of the club, or the bottom line which is what touches the ground when a golfer is holding the club in position before a shot. This area of the club head can be flat, rounded, v-shaped, or custom ground into all sorts of shapes. The shape of bottom of the club produces a certain amount of bounce. Most common in sand wedges is about 10-12 degrees, quite a bit of bounce.
Why a lot of bounce? In regular sand which isn’t hard like the sand I described above, a club will go into the sand and dig or burrow in. This can stop the club or severely slow it down. A club which is decelerating in sand will not produce a good shot. This is why most amateur golfers hit fat shots in the sand, and the ball only goes a foot or two, leaving them another sand shot. The bounce of the sand wedge helps the club deflect off the sand and prevents it from digging in. This way the club travels through quickly and gets the ball in the air and out of the bunker.
Bounce and hard sand? So if the sand is extremely compacted and hard, the design of the sand wedge will make the club bounce far too much. The club will not go under the sand. Instead it will bounce up and the leading edge of the club, or blade, will hit the ball. This is called “blading a shot” and is what produces the line-drive shots I was hitting into the lip.
Lesson one is that clubs with a lot of bounce are generally not a good idea in hard sand or on very hard ground.
My current lob wedge has quite a different design or “grind” on the sole of the club compared to my sand wedge. Rather than 10 degrees of bounce, it has only four. This is not a lot of bounce at all. When I switched to the lob wedge in the 2nd trap, the club did not bounce in the sand. It went under the ball without going back up too soon from impacting the sand. Therefore I did not blade the shots. The first shot didn’t travel far enough because of the loft of the club and how hard I swung it, but the ball got out of the crusty sand with no problem at all.
Conversely a lob wedge or club like mine with a small amount of bounce may not be a great club selection for an average golfer who is hitting out of soft sand. The club will not bounce off the sand but will dig in, producing a fat shot which will come up short.
Lesson two is that clubs with very little bounce are a good idea for compacted sand or very hard ground.
Left: 56 degree sand wedge with 10 degrees bounce | Right: 60 degree lob wedge with 4 degrees bounce
Look at the image above. Left is my sand wedge and right is my lob wedge. The green line shows the leading edge of the face. The pink line shows the bounce. You can see that the sand has much more mass and the angle of the sole (between the pink and green lines) is much higher. That’s the bounce!
Lesson three from this experience which I learned, probably re-learned, is to not be too lazy to go get the right club. Once I hit that first bouncy bladed sand shot into the lip I knew the ground was too hard and the sand wedge was the wrong club. I should have gone to my bag and gotten my lob wedge before taking another swing. Instead I was too lazy to go get another club. The result was a big number and loss of hole.
If it were a tournament or important situation other than a casual round, I would have changed clubs.
Next time you find yourself in a bunker, look at the sand and get a feel for it with your feet. Is it hard? Is it soft? Now you may have a better idea which of your clubs is the best choice. If by chance you choose the wrong club, don’t hesitate to take a few more seconds to grab the correct club and save some strokes.
I have a lot of testing to do. Added to the list is the Zepp motion sensor. This is a device which attaches to the golfer’s glove and sends data to the player’s smartphone or tablet. The very valuable is then shown to the user to help improve his/her swing, and even compare swings with pros like Keegan Bradley. I know better than to compare my swing with Keegan though. I’m trying to match is pre-shot routine…
Awesome glove sold separately
Here’s a list of the data collected for golfers by this interesting unit:
- Speed (not sure what speed this is yet, probably club head speed)
- Club plane
- Hand path
- Backswing position
- Hip rotation
Stay tuned for my full review soon, after I’ve had a chance to put the Zepp though the rigorous HOG test battery.
The courses have been closed for months here in northern Utah. I’ve enjoyed the break from golf, mainly the break from my short game. So during the winter layoff while working in my office I’m watching Tom Watson’s Lessons of a Lifetime II, a multi-DVD golf instructional program with over 3.5 hours of instruction. Who better to teach me chipping and pitching than one of the best ever?
Watching some short game lessons during the big snowstorm
Every aspect of the golf game is covered by Mr. Watson, from full swing to short game to putting. There are even lessons targeted specifically to kids, and seniors. Here are most of the topics:
- Basics of the grip
- Ball position
- The swing (takeaway, backswing, downswing, finish)
- Shotmaking (high, low, draw, fade, hook, slice)
- Bunker play
- Playing in varying weather conditions
- Short game
- Handling pressure
- “The Secret”
- Pre-shot routine
- Bottom of the arc (perhaps the most important factor in many swings)
What I like about Tom’s style is how clearly and easily he describes the situations, the objectives, and how to execute the shots. I’ve been trying to absorb as much as I can from Tom, especially that pesky short game.
Most Valuable Lessons For Me
I’ve found there are several things I’m not doing in my short game which Tom says are crucial: Find the bottom of the arc and put the ball slightly behind it. Set up square to the target, then open up the body, but close the left hip/side. Pick a landing spot, and see how long the roll is with varying clubs while still hitting the same landing spot.
I’ve watched Tom’s tips for handling pressure a few times now. Since I only compete in high pressure situations a few times per year, I seem to get pretty jumpy and nervous. I find it hard to slow my heart rate down and calm down. When the snow melts and I’m in one of those first pressure situations this next season, I’m looking forward to employing Tom’s advice.
This multi-DVD set is full of great golf lessons and I should be better at playing it more often to help my own game. It’s nice to pick a point of focus, like short game, putting, bunker play and try to absorb the concepts.
For a price less than a single golf lesson, this DVD set from Tom Watson has hundreds of great golf teachings which can be viewed over and over again. What a value.
During the last couple of practice sessions on the putting green I tried the technique Jordan Spieth sometimes uses on shorter putts. He will actually look at the hole and execute his putting stroke. He’s not looking at his golf ball or having his head/eyes down in the stroke. Conceptually it is not that odd. Think about foul-shooting in basketball. The shooter is looking at the basket, not the ball. Well maybe anyone but Shaquille O’Neal. No idea what he was ever looking at.
It was weird trying this technique. I made the first one. It felt strange and was very odd to see the hole, then have the ball appear in my field of vision, let alone being on the proper line and then going into the hole.
I’d say using this technique I was making a large percentage of the putts in short range. I was surprised to make as many as I did without even looking at the ball. I suppose that means my stroke is fairly pure and consistent, even when I’m not looking at the ball.
Will I put this in play? Nope. I make a lot of putts and I’m very confident in my putting. No need to mess with something that isn’t broken.
Someone should have told that to Tiger Woods.
A gentlemen recently asked me a question which he wasn’t sure was etiquette related or rules related. The question is about playing order. He wanted to know if it is a rule that the person who won the previous hole goes first, or just etiquette. This is actually a really good question and there are two basic answers, one for stroke play and one for match play.
In stroke play it is common courtesy or etiquette for the person who shot the lowest score on the previous hole to go first. It is not a rule and if it speeds up play for other players to go first, in other words “ready golf,” then do it.
It is also common courtesy for the farthest player from the hole to go first but is also not a rule. In the interest of pace of play, or perhaps getting a tap-in putt out of the way of a longer putt, the closer player can and should go first. In my opinion “honors” is trumped by pace of play. Always go for the faster option!
Match play is a different animal than stroke play with regards to playing order. In match play the person who won the previous hole must go first. Further, the person farther from the hole must go first. If another player goes out of order, his opponent(s) may require that his shot be replayed.
The gentleman who asked the question also asked if a golfer who has the honor can “defer” playing first and make his opponent play first. The answer to this question is no.