It’s hard to believe, but it’s that time of year again: best of the year list season is upon us. With fewer than 10 Tiger Tuesdays remaining before Christmas, we’re counting down Tiger Woods’ 10 best shots of the year and how you can implement his shot types into your own game with PGA Professional and SwingU instructor Aaron Ungvarsky’s help.
At this year’s Arnold Palmer Invitational, we saw Tiger Woods put himself in position for a victory thanks to shots like this. Facing a lie in the bunker near the lip and a forced carry of over 200 yards, Tiger played aggressively with a 5-iron.
With an adjusted setup and swing for the bunker, the ball carried the lip of the bunker, the trees in his path and landed softly on the green. This set Woods up for a look at eagle, but settled for a two-putt for birdie. Your next fairway bunker shot may not be as demanding, but you can learn from this perfectly played shot.
Why do so many amateurs cringe when they enter a fairway bunker? The answer usually stems from improper setup and not understanding what impact should actually be. By combining a proper address with the visualization of where we want the club to hit (hint: it isn’t the sand), students start executing long bunker shots better than ever.
To start, your address should resemble more of a standard shot from the fairway versus a greenside bunker shot. Yes, you are in the sand, but the key to pulling this shot off is a shallow attack angle and not hitting the sand before the ball — very different from a bunker shot where taking sand is what moves the ball in short game shots. Build a stance that has your feet shoulder-width apart and the ball positioned standard for the club you are playing, but DO NOT dig your feet in.
Next, feel free to club up. Taking more club means you can stand taller at address and maintain posture and body lines during the swing. Clubbing up also reduces the need to ‘hit’ at the ball; instead, you will feel at ease turning smoothly through the shot and trusting the ball will travel the desired distance.
After the setup, we focus on a bit of theory for our students struggling with this shot. I was afforded an opportunity to learn a teaching method from Stan Utley, a great instructor and short game expert, on how to help students play from fairway bunkers. Stan’s goal is to make sure the player knows they can thin or skull this shot and still execute it perfectly. Chances are you are puzzled by this, just like I was.
I asked, “Stan, you want me to tell my students to skull the shot?”
But here is the key; as long as the leading edge of the club contacts the ball between the equator (or middle of the ball) and the bottom of the ball, the engineering of the clubhead does the rest. The club hits just low enough on the ball to provide lift for the shot to get airborne and out of the bunker. The surprising part is how far and accurate the shot travels. If you picture attacking the ball in a motion that would normally produce a thin shot, the execution becomes easier.
Planning for a slight out-to-in motion and playing a fade is a great way to start working on this shot. Aim slightly left and build the stance discussed above, making sure to stay tall and not dig in. A smooth overall swing motion and favoring extra club will lead to an excellent result next time you are playing from a fairway bunker.