The “ Circle Drill” Will Solve Your Ills From the Sand

by Dan M | Posted on Friday, November 25th, 2011

by Tom Ward

Having spent 15 winter season’s living down on the beaches in Mexico I became very adept at playing out of the sand. Puerto Vallarta was my home during that time as I traveled all across the country as well as parts of Central and South America playing in tournaments and teaching during that period of my life. My first house(casa) in Spanish was right on the Pacific ocean and I had a private fenced in area of beach of about 175 yards. So every day I would head out to my backyard with a bucket of balls and practice diligently as the warm tropical breezes and splashing ocean water surrounded me in my own private sandbox. I would work on a variety of shots from all types of locations and  different scenarios. I had a bunch of palm trees in the yard that I would use as my targets to shoot at as well as having to navigate around them periodically. Coconuts that would fall from the trees were used as my tee markers in many instances.

I was like a lot of golfers that heard the old expression about hitting a inch or two behind the ball when you were faced with a bunker shot. At the time it seemed like a good idea and I was already a pretty decent player out of the sand. After endless hours and months of practice in my own little paradise I came to a realization that I was better off not focusing on an inch or two behind the ball as I prepared to hit my sand shots. It’s not that this classic tip isn’t solid and can help someone, but I found the more you stare at a particular point behind the ball the more likely you’re going to tighten up your muscles.
This mental angst is going to create a chain reaction of tension that is going to shoot up from your hands gripping the club all the way to your arms, neck and shoulders. You’re going to be so bound up with ill timed pressure in muscles that shouldn’t be that tense prior to making your swing. What I learned then a long time ago on the playa( beach) I still use today in my teachings around the globe. In the accompanying photos I am shown demonstrating how to properly extract the ball out of the sand trap. The photo on the far left is a picture of me making my backswing and I’ve highlighted some points in the photograph that I believe are essential to you becoming a great bunker player. I’ve drawn a line down my right leg to showcase the importance of staying flexed throughout your swing. If your right leg straightens or locks up your going to have some problems. Having your right leg flexed and braced will insure your lower body will work efficiently as you make your downward transition back into the ball. The other line I’ve drawn on the far left photo shines light upon the importance of maintaining the correct spine angle in your swing. By being bent over from the waist at the top of my backswing I’ve been able to maintain good posture and that’s a huge asset when it comes to making great shots out of the sand. This type of movement will help keep my head down over the ball as I complete my swing. The angle of the photographs unfortunately don’t shown how I have an open stance with my left foot flared outward. The shorter the shot I recommend you take a wider stance. For longer bunker shots I would employ a more standard stance depending upon the distance to the hole. I’ll discuss the importance of your footwork in the sand in a future article.
As I start my downswing I want to come into the ball at a shallower angle instead of a too steep. I can do this if I’ve kept my right leg flexed going back because as I start back down into the impact area my right leg can push off from the ground(sand in this case) and this will pull my arms into a great angle of attack. Look at how my right shoulder is working down and under through the ball at the critical moment of impact. My right leg is still flexed and hasn’t locked up meaning I have good footwork. This action will pull my club into the ideal position at impact allowing me to easily stay down and through the shot. I’ve drawn a line down my shoulders to show that I’m square with my shoulders at impact just like I was when I initially setup to the shot. This creates a perfect path for my arms to fire on through the ball and I will easily extract the ball from the sand putting a tremendous amount of spin on the ball to make it get airborne immediately and help it land softly like a ‘butterfly with sore feet’ once it reaches the green. Finally, the far right photo shows my ball with a hand drawn circle around it prior to hitting it. I’ve highlighted it even more with a marker. When your practicing you can draw a circle around your ball to assist you to learn to swing through the ball and not worry about swinging at the ball. This will free you up mentally I promise as opposed to trying to hit a specific point behind the ball in the sand. How big should the circle be? Well, I wouldn’t go nuts here, but start out small and gradually you’ll find your own comfort zone after a few shots. After you make your swings in the sand with the circle drawn around it check to see where your point of entry is with your clubface. If your picking the ball clean out of the sand you probably have the ball too far forward in your stance. Same goes if your hitting too much sand or behind the circle prior to impact as this is a great indicator on how your re-routing the club back into the impact area. The beauty of the ‘circle drill’ is you can’t cheat it! Always remember, when in doubt play it back as this will at least give you a fighting chance to make some decent contact. So go ahead and give this tip a try because soon you’ll be circling “sandy’s” on your scorecard getting it up and down from the bunkers with ease. Soon the circle drill will make your opponents ill and it will give you a big thrill.
Tom Ward can be reached at

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