Talking Stick Pro Tim Mahoney Solves the Downhill Bunker Shot Puzzle

Not that you would ever watch golf on television, but if you did you’d likely see Tour players executing the occasional shot that might cause you to reflect: ‘I’d be as likely to grow antlers as make a shot like that.’  And I’m not just talking about 300-yard drives or high, perfect five-iron shots that plunge to the green and jump into the hole.  I’m talking about shots that seem to defy physics and appear as if they’ve been created by the special effects department.

Tim Mahoney Director or Education at Arizona’s Talking Stick Golf Club

Here’s an ironic fact: the players who can successfully pull off these shots are also the least likely to need them.  Sure, I can bury an approach in the sand, trickle my tee shot into a shallow creek, or spray a long iron into dense shrubbery.  But once I get there, I’m the guy who might slash at the ball three times before using the Johnny Unitas wedge– which is to say throwing my ball back onto the grass.  That’s why I’ve consulted some of the West’s best golf instructors, who offer the following advice on how to hit a few of these seemingly impossible shots.

The only thing worse than having your mile-high wedge shot fall two feet short of the green and plug in a bunker (the well-known “fried egg” lie) may be to have it sail over the green and plug in the back bunker—on a downslope.  For a good visual of a golfer hitting an impossible bunker shot, consider Ernie Els’s nearly mystical escape from a bunker beside the 13th green in the final round of the 2002 British Open at Muirfield.

For guidance on how to hit a plugged, downhill bunker shot I turned to Tim Mahoney, Director of Education for Troon Golf and an instructor at Talking Stick Golf Club in Scottsdale, Arizona.  Mahoney, who is a GOLF Magazine Top 100 Teacher, offers some general advice before getting to the specifics.

“First and foremost, never hit two shots in a row from a bad lie,” he advises.  “Get back to the grass.

“Second, never attempt a miracle shot after you’ve hit a bad shot.  Take your medicine and get back in the game.

“To hit this shot you need to understand how a sand wedge works.  It’s built like a shovel, and is the only club that has bounce.  The worse a lie is the more sand you want to take with your shot.  Here, to take a lot of sand, tilt the club up by closing the face at address or leaning the shaft forward, toward your target.

“Then position your body to swing along the slope by setting your shoulders parallel to the slope.  On a downhill lie, lean left and put more weight on your lower foot.

“Finally, trust your shot.  The golf ball will fly in the direction of the slope.  And remember that there’s no rule that says you have to fire at the flag.  You can always go sideways or backward.”

Mahoney adds that this is really an easy shot—but that’s why he’s Troon Golf’s Director of Education and I’m the one who buried it downhill in the bunker to begin with.

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