Back to Bunker Basics with the Dollar Bill Drill

When you play a bunker shot properly, the sand flies up in a plume--but in reality it's a small amount of sand, only about half a cup

Ever get in a “bunker slump?” It’s a devilish bit of golf torture that can strike experienced players and get them feeling paranoid about landing in any “cat box” on the course, even the shallow ones that offer plenty of landing space between bunker edge and green.

For help with this basic golf stroke, we turn to Ed Hoard of Athens Country Club in Athens, Ga. This former PGA Professional of the Year begins by reminding the bunker-slumping player of a simple, sane reality: You’re not hitting a golf ball to escape the bunker, “you’re just moving sand.” It’s against the rules (and Hoard is a renowned rules expert whom you may have seen officiating play during the PGA Championship) to practice moving sand during a round, so get back in the swing of your basic bunker play by “advancing sand” in a practice bunker–don’t even use a ball at first, advises Hoard.

“It may help to think of it as a divot of sand,” Ed offers. “I have my students do this a half-dozen times to get comfortable, then put a dollar bill down on the sand, with a golf ball on top of President Washington’s face. Then I have them make a swing with the idea of contacting the sand at the front edge of the dollar bill. They find they can advance the dollar bill (on a calm day) eight to 12 feet, and the ball pops out cleanly without them even thinking about it.”

Hoard restates the fundamentals as his golfers continue this drill. Your setup should position the ball even with your own center of balance, perhaps your sternum. The swing is relaxed and even-tempo but with a no deceleration and a full follow-through. The furthest point of entry from the ball is one-half the length of a dollar bill, but it could be shorter, depending on conditions. Above all, says Hoard, don’t get oversold on the idea of DIGGING the ball out.

“I come back to that idea of a divot,” says Hoard, “and it’s a divot that’s only a half-inch to an inch deep at its deepest point.” He has another image to suggest, this one involving water. “Think of kids in a swimming pool having a little water fight,” he suggests. “If they want to advance a plume of water at the other kid, they bring the heel of their hand in on a shallow angle, not a steep one. The way you want to move that sand to hit a bunker shot is just like the way kids in a pool send water at each other.” Sounds like advice that could help you win a dollar bill or two out on the golf course.

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