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Tampa golf pro gives tips for sand shots

In a perfect round of golf, bunkers would be seen but not actually played. Of course, very few play a perfect round. Knowing how to get up and down from a greenside sand trap, or how to get distance from a fairway sand trap, is key to shaving strokes. Chris Slattery, head professional at Avila Golf and Country Club in Tampa, has been teaching amateurs how to play out of sand traps for years. He played golf at the University of North Florida before becoming a teaching pro at Innisbrook in Palm Harbor and at Dearcreek Country Club in Jacksonville. He has been at Avila for more than a year. He shared a few tips on playing in the sand.

The greenside sand trap

There are three key elements in getting the ball close to the hole from the sand: the grip, the stance and the swing.

• The grip doesn't change much from a regular fairway shot, but the position of the club does. Slattery said an open clubface is a must in getting the ball up and out of the sand. But don't just grip the sand wedge then open the face.

"Open the clubface before you take your grip,'' he said. "If you take your grip and then open the clubface, your hands are going to be off.''

With the clubface open, it's time to address the ball.

• The greenside sand shot requires a different stance than any other on the course. Since the clubface is wide open, the stance has to adjust. The front foot needs to be open as well.

"The most important thing is the setup,'' Slattery said. "You want your stance to be about 45 degrees open because the clubface is wide open, and if you don't compensate then the ball is going to shoot off to the side.''

Before taking a swing, make sure you dig your feet into the sand slightly for traction. And remember, you can't ground your club in a sand trap.

"Make sure you have the ball a little forward in your stance and have your weight a little forward,'' Slattery said.

Now it's time for the swing.

• The biggest mistake an amateur makes is taking a half swing in the bunker. The sand shot should always involve a full follow-through after the clubface lands about 2-4 inches behind the ball. The backswing is the key to distance. Because of the stance and grip, the backswing naturally starts up, instead of long and flat like a fairway swing.

"The distance is controlled by the backswing,'' Slattery said. "You generally want to take the backswing at least past 10 o'clock, maybe a little longer depending on the distance. And always follow through. If you don't follow through and just punch at the ball, you are usually going to have another chance at it because the ball's not coming out of the bunker.

"The displaced sand is actually moving the ball. The club is like a blade slicing underneath the ball. It will come out spinning, and ideally it will land about 5-10 feet from the hole and release.''

The buried lie

Sometimes this is referred to as a "fried egg.'' It usually happens in a greenside sand trap, and if it does, take a different approach.

• Do not open the clubface. This is going to require a closed-toe clubface in order to dig the ball out of the sand. Hit down on the ball and continue to follow through.

"The ball is going to come out like a Tim Wakefield knuckleball,'' Slattery said. "The object is to get it to come out as softly as possible. And instead of trying to land it 5 feet from the hole, try to land it 20 feet from the hole because it's going to release.''

The fairway sand trap

This shot requires less loft and more distance. For a fairway sand shot of 100 yards or longer, the goal is to make contact with the ball first instead of displacing sand. To do that, pay attention to club selection.

• Slattery suggests taking more club than you usually would for a fairway shot. For example, if your sand shot is 150 yards, select a club you would usually hit 175 yards from the fairway. Also, choke up on the club slightly and keep the clubface square.

• Unlike a greenside shot, the stance should be square and not open. The weight should be equally dispersed, but there is a difference between a fairway shot and a fairway sand shot.

"You want your lower body to be as quiet as possible,'' Slattery said. "The more the lower body moves, the more of a chance to hit it fat. Fat is our enemy on this shot. If anything, it's better to hit it a little thin than hit it fat.''

Take a full swing using the upper torso with the legs still. Try to hit the ball before taking a small divot. And again, don't ground your club in the sand at address.

Rodney Page can be reached at page@sptimes.com, golf@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8810.

>>FAST FACTS

Stats

The best players in the world average 50 percent for sand saves. That means they are able to get the ball out of the trap and into the hole in two shots, usually to save par. Dudley Hart leads the PGA Tour and Su A Kim leads the LPGA Tour, both at 64 percent. Tiger Woods was at 52 percent last year.

Tampa golf pro gives tips for sand shots 09/03/08 [Last modified: Thursday, September 4, 2008 1:10am]
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