I don't think I'm getting any shorter, but bunkers seem to be getting deeper. Since I spend about as much time in the sand as a feline with bladder control issues, I needed some help this season.
I dragged Nelson Long with me to the third hole at Century Country Club in Purchase, NY, where he is head professional (although he spends his winters as head pro at Tryall Golf Club in Jamaica, the dog). I pointed into the deepest of the two bottomless pits of despair they call bunkers next to that green and asked him what the heck I was supposed to do if my ball landed in there.
“You’re going to have to use a lot of force to go a short distance,” he replied in his native Virginia drawl. “So you have to sell yourself on swinging hard.” How hard? “It wouldn’t be uncommon for me to swing at this shot pretty much like I’m hitting a full seven or nine iron. Further back, I might go after it as much as I would a driver.”
Just hitting it hard can’t be all there is to it. What else? “Start with the club face open to the sky and keep it open to the sky,” he answered, smiling innocently. He then reminded me to hit the sand behind the ball, not the ball itself. Anything else? “Play the ball off your left heel, and keep your weight more on the front foot. The lower body remains in its starting position, kind of like hitting a bunt in baseball. The backswing is an equal combination of shoulder, arms, and wrist. Then, coming down, you kind of just turn through the shot”
“I rely on at least a three-quarter or full backswing,” he added. “A short backswing will get you into trouble. Sam Snead used to say he was always looking for an opponent with a short, quick backswing and a fat wallet.” Except for the fat wallet, it sounds just like me.
Long then blasted six beauties out of the sand, each one of which landed neatly on the green far above his head. He made this hard shot look easy, so I asked him for one key to remember. “Continue through the shot,” he said.
Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a romantic thriller about blood diamonds in the Congo