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    Instruction: Hitting from waste bunkers

  • Ian Poulter hit from a bunker during Tuesday's practice round before the 114th U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2. (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)Ian Poulter hit from a bunker during Tuesday's practice round before the 114th U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2. (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

The recent renovation of Pinehurst No. 2 by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw helped bring back the look and character of the original Donald Ross design. Gone is the brutal several-inch thick rough that has become a trademark of the U.S. Open, replaced by enormous waste bunkers filled with clumps of wiregrass, pine straw, and other natural elements. Should a player hit their tee shot into one of these waste areas and be fortunate enough to draw a clean lie, they’ll have a much better chance at making par—even birdie—than they ever had hacking out of the rough in years past.
Waste bunkers are a very common feature with Donald Ross designs and many desert courses in the Southwest United States. The sand is typically very firm, but regardless of the texture you want to play the shot just as you would any fairway bunker shot—meaning, you’ve got to make ball-first contact. That’s Rule No. 1. Catch the sand first and you may find yourself in the waste bunker for your next shot as well.

To ensure ball-first contact, grip down on the handle about a half-inch to an inch, but no more. (You don’t want to grip down too much or you’ll top the ball.) Because you’re gripping down, the ball won’t travel as far so make sure to club up—i.e., from a 7-iron to a 6-iron. You’ll also want to stand slightly closer to the ball than normal. Position the ball just back of center in your stance and move your sternum closer to the target so that it’s directly in line with the ball. You don’t want your spine to tilt excessively away from the target; it should be neutral (i.e., straight up and down). All of these set-up adjustments should encourage a steeper, more descending blow and ball-first contact.

The No. 1 fault with amateurs on this shot is that they try and help the ball up in the air, either by scooping or hanging back on their trail foot. This moves the low point of the swing behind the ball and into the sand, causing them to hit the shot fat. As you swing the club back and through, try to keep your lower body relatively passive and your upper body centered over the ball. The less active the legs are, the easier it is to control the low point of the swing and contact the ball first. Pick out a dimple on the front half of the ball at address, and make that your focus point through impact, and it should help you remain relatively quiet and centered over the ball.

It’s also very important that you continue to rotate your body with the clubhead into a good, balanced finish position. Do not stop moving your body as this will cause you to get too handsy through impact.

One other note: Waste areas are not deemed to be hazards, so you can ground your club and remove loose impediments without penalty. Bunkers, however, are considered hazards. Many of the bunkers at Pinehurst No. 2 have undefined edges to them and a very natural, rustic look. Because of this, a walking rules official will accompany each pairing during this week’s U.S. Open to help distinguish the difference between the two. Dustin Johnson infamously incurred a 2-stroke penalty on the 72nd hole of the 2010 PGA Championship for grounding his club in a designated bunker where spectators had been standing, costing him a spot in a playoff.

John Stahlschmidt is a Master Instructor and Director of Operations at TOURAcademy TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. To learn more about John and to book a lesson, click here .